2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
A number of years ago, my wife and I used to grab snacks, beer and soda on Friday nights and wail away on each other with Tekken. Used to be, in more civilized parts of our marriage we'd get Chinese and watch Nick at Night until we dropped if we weren't out with friends. Eventually, the friends came to us and we'd all have mini Tekken Tag Team parties, to the point when enough people joined in, we'd treat it like actual elimination rounds until the last video fighter was standing behind his or her controller. Then repeat the cycle until everybody felt like they had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
I am nowhere near the video game geek I was at age 12 when Atari 2600 ruled the world. Video games are so realistic these days I understand their appeal to today's generation, but sorry, not for me. I do, however, admit to liking the silly fighting games that have always been top dog sellers since as human beings, our initial impulse is to want to kick the crap out of other people who piss us off. Being that scruples and the law prevent us from doing so at will, games like Mortal Kombat and Tekken have long satiated the inner beast in all of us.
It's almost peculiar that it's taken this long to whip up a live action Tekken film. Sure, there's been animated Tekken movies, but considering we've had numerous video games translated to film, i.e. Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Max Payne, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and others, what's the deal? Why this long and why now to have a Tekken film with actual actors arrive? Most gaming fans are screaming for the Halo movie instead of Tekken at this point.
Welp, it's here, folks, so now the real answer we want to know is, is it any good?
Jon Foo stars in Tekken as Jin Kazama, a street runner in a post-apocalyptic world that's been delineated by eight domineering tech corporations spread across the continents of the globe. The United States has fallen under the Tekken jurisdiction and of course, society had been supressed. Interesting that the Tekken cotillion is run by the Japanese, inferred by the games and this film as having its revenge upon the U.S. for Hiroshima and Godzilla 1998.
It costs a fortune to buy an orange, coffee and chocolate, all rare commodities in this major-suck world. Each year in the Tekken sector, the Iron Fist Tournament is held in which flashy gladiators and martial artists vie for supremacy. Usually the winner is Tekken-controlled, thus establishing order by controlled violence. This unfortunately includes slaughter and destruction in the streets to any resistance movements, which is how the legend of Jin is sculpted from the video-verse of Tekken. Jin's mother Jun (Tamlyn Tomita), has taught him his exceptional martial arts skills, which she forbids him to use for vanity purposes, in particular the Iron Fist Tournament. We later learn Jun was a Tekken fighter in her day, gasp! Of course she was, duh! She's one of the best of the best if you've played the damn game and know the combinations to turn her loose.
Naturally all hell breaks loose as the Tekken enforcers learn of a rebel hacking session and they burn everyone in sight, including Jun, who is stalked down in search of her son. It's not really explained why Tekken is seeking her child out, particularly when Jin vows vengeance and enters the Iron Fist Tournament without initial interrogation. His mission, naturally, is to execute Tekken honcho Heihachi Mishima (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Yes, the same old man in the game who fools opponents into thinking he has limited powers then runs roughshod over your disrespectful asses. Don't expect the same variation in this flick.
After taking a clobbering by Martial Law (Cung Le) in a wild card pit fight that rewards the sole winner entry into the Iron Fist, Jin summons his gusto and wins with a spectacular finishing move that actually looks better than anything the video games have ever dished up. Jin then hires a manager and sponsor, Steve Fox (Luke Goss) then has trouble withholding his fury in the first round held in the Tekken arena. Strange that the character Steve Fox is limited to a managerial role, but it's stated that Fox is a former Tekken fighter in order to appease faithful gamers who are likely already crying foul left and right at the order and structuring of their favorite fighting personalities. Gaming geeks know it all, don't they?
Veteran character actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Memoirs of a Geisha, Balls of Fury, Pearl Harbor, The Art of War and the Planet of the Apes remake amongst many other roles) is also no stranger to video game adaptations. He's well-remembered as tournament overlord Shang Tsung in the first Mortal Kombat film and his rendition of Heihachi Mishima operates in a similar fashion for Tekken. The difference is, Mishima doesn't have immortal powers and though he comes off initially as the tyrannical owner of Tekken, we discover Mishima has a soul after all and that Tekken was initially created as a stabilizing force ala the ancient feudal system of Japan in the midst of global fallout. Kazuya, his son, is a powermad S.O.B. who thinks nothing about snuffing out his own father for control of Tekken. Ian Anthony Dale plays Kazuya, chief baddie and not-so-surprising daddy, in turns out, to Jin.
Before you can scream "Luke, I'm your faaaaatherrrr!" Kazuya does his damnedest to have his underlings--including hired help amongst the fighters in the form of assassins Anna Williams (Marian Zapico) and Nina Williams (Candice Hillebrand)--to crush Jin before he has a chance to win the Iron Fist tournament. What becomes an initial desire to the keep the street rabble quelled by killing their "great hope" Jin becomes an odious battle by Kazuya to remove his "mistake" from the planet instead of embracing him as his future heir. Kazuya raped Jin's mother, hence the sins of the father, etcetera, etcetera. With this being an R-rated flick (whereas most of the video game films have been PG-13), it's surprising Kazuya doesn't taunt Jin by stating he would've done best to pull out when sticking it to his mother.
The thing with this live action Tekken film is it had the chance to be "the one" as far as these video game enterprises go. For more than an hour, Tekken is well-crafted, visually aesthetic and pretty creative in translating the game to celluloid. Bravo to the random shuffle fight selector the film hoists from the game. For awhile anyway, it brings the randomness of the game into play.
The fight choreography is fabulous and really, that's what you're here for, right? French stunt and fight choreographer Cyril Raffaelli is one of the premiere go-to guys in the business. He's overseen other films such as Hitman, both Transporter films, The Incredible Hulk, District B13, Ronin and many others. On Tekken, he has a field day with the physically able Jon Foo, a young martial artist and occasional stunt guy who can keep up with Raffaelli's blazing fisticuffs at whatever speed he calls for. Do open up the special features documentary on Raffaelli and his stunt crew, because it's even more entertaining than the film.
Most of the nine fighting segments in Tekken feel authentic to the original source. In particular is the elastic Lateef Crowder, who brings tumbling hip-hop snakester Eddy Gordo to bouncing life. Crowder's limber parries and trip-ups are nearly exact to the game version of Gordo. Gary Ray Stearns is also terrific as the iron-plated samurai Yoshimitsu. Raffaelli, along with Eric Norris (as in Chuck's son) take great pains to replicate the game to film and for most of the ride, you're saluting their efforts. Some viewers have expressed their offense by Kelly Overton's fighting style for Christie Montiero. As she is Foo's ridonkulously hot co-star of this thing, the film opts more to flaunt her bodacious ass and develop a relationship with Jin instead of just letting her shred.
Never mind Jin already has a girlfriend in the streets, Kara (Mircea Monroe) who appears ready to stand by her man once Jin reaps his revenge and wins the respect of the entire Tekken sector. Jin ices Christie after she's gone through her own bit of hell to help him survive. At one point, she stomps down her opposition and makes the glib joke she doesn't share, referring to Jin. At the end, Jin opts to ditch Christie Montiero, who declares him champion to the world and one expects the two to slobber kiss as they do in the scene at a techno rave and back in their rooms. Instead, he practically shrugs her off and slips away to a hokey salute by Kazuya's gunmen. Say what? Why bother to set up this steamy romance? How do we feel empathy for a pain-eating killing machine who obviously wants to slip Montiero the sausage after getting greased by Kara towards the beginning of the film? Then he has the gall to just walk off without even a thank you to Montiero, much less the proper dash of affection that's been built up? A tushie honk on his way out might've shown us he cared a little about her.
Worse, the final duel between Jin and near-android Brian Fury (Gary Daniels) is just awful. Never mind before this big clash we have no viable explanation how Jin and Fury have made it to the deciding match. There's no revelation how the few remaining contestants (including Christie Montiero, being held at gunpoint by Kazuya) actually lost. At this point in the film, Kazuya has declared all remaining matches to be to the death. When did Montiero lose, much Raven (Darren Dewitt Henson), who gets to kick ass in his prior scenes before he takes a bullet in the arm but otherwise lives to give Jin a pep talk? Fury gores up Sergei Dragunov (Anton Kasabov) and then suddenly we've come to the penultimate game of death between Fury and Jin. Well, not really, since Jin has to face down the double axe-swinging Kazuya after surviving a severe thrashing against a supposedly indomitable opponent. Jin gets mauled up, yet he climbs a parapet, goes aerial and takes Fury down with a head kick.
WTF? Ehh, must be in Jin's glove. No wonder everybody wants to be him on the controller. Him and Paul, the latter he of the screaming hair tower. Paul, for the record, is merely mentioned in this film as having lost in a match. What, all the metro faux hawks running about like the worst hair fad since hi-top fades and they couldn't recruit one for Paul? Guess they're best left to softcore porn and reality t.v. whoring.
It's the sloppy, rushed finale to Tekken which really perturbs, because the rest of the film is pretty damned good. Thus the first Mortal Kombat (and not its lame sequel, Annihilation) remains the supreme video game-inspired popcorn flick to this point. It's probably this reason why Tekken was only released theatrically in the Philippines and parts of Japan. That's a shame, because a lot of money went into Tekken, $34 million, actually. Had it been released a decade ago, it might've stood a shot at being a summer blockbuster. Instead, Tekken sells itself out in the final 20-plus minutes and gets ushered into direct video as its just desserts. If a tournament-styled martial arts film is what you're craving, just go straight to Enter the Dragon or Bloodsport. Seriously, they never disappoint.
Sometimes the gaming geeks do know better.
Saturday, July 02, 2011