Rob Abrazado (flatvurm) wrote,
Rob Abrazado

Old friends and new

So I was sitting around late last night with nothing much going on, when I happened across this xkcd comic, which told me that it's the ten-year anniversary of the release of The Matrix. And to quote a character in that strip: "Holy fuck, ten years ago?" So, yeah, hardly feels like it, but it's true. Ten years since The Matrix came out. Inspired by xkcd, I decided to sit down and watch it again, since I happened to have it on DVD.

It was what it was. I won't rehash it much, since I'm sure you guys are quite familiar enough with The Matrix. It was still pretty exciting and fun to watch. The more I stared at it, though, the more and more patently ridiculous it became. Like...the premise of the film, taken on its face, just doesn't make any damn sense. I got distracted for a while there trying to work out what would make sense; like how could I make this movie and still have it tell a worthwhile story? I didn't really come up with anything; any new direction I tried to go generally ended up somehow involving aliens, so...I guess that tells you something right there. But, yeah, The Matrix. Great special effects, decent action, terrible story. So it goes. :)

But that's not really what I'm here to talk about today. Today I'm here to talk about the next stop on my tour of video game movies, this time taking a gander at DOA: Dead or Alive. Now...I have to be honest here, when I was queueing up the movie, I kinda forgot that Dead or Alive was a fighting game. I thought it was a beach volleyball game. This misapprehension was furthered, sadly, by the one preview image I saw of the film, which was a woman in a "Stars and Stripes" bikini. As time passed, though, and as I was making my way through other movies, I remembered...wait, wasn't that a fighting game?

Indeed it was. I think I may have even played it, too, back at Jay-Jay's place in El Barrio. It was a'aight, as I recall. It was a 3-D fighter, along the lines of Tekken or Virtua Fighter, as I recall. I think it's big contribution to the already saturated world of fighting games was big, jiggly breasts. And, as I recall, I think that was the reason that it did, actually, later become a beach volleyball game, which is why I thought that to begin with. Pity, too...I think it would have been pretty challenging to make an exciting movie based on a video game about beach volleyball. I'd watch that. :)

But anyway...fighting game. I'm pleased to report that this movie did what all movies based on fighting games should do: it was about fighting. Specifically, it was about a fighting tournament, which is what most of those games are about, too, including Dead or Alive. A fighting tournament! Where people gather together! And fight! (There, you see, Street Fighter? Was that so hard? Fucking Street Fighter.)

Okay, so...what can I really say about this movie. It was, in a word, awesome. Seriously. Like, don't get me wrong, it was completely fucking ridiculous. Nothing in there really made sense. But, come's a fighting game. I mean, what do you want, you know? I want some different characters, and I want to know just about as much about them as you could fit on their little introductory bio on their info screen on the fighting game. I want them all to gather together in one location for some reason or other, like, say, a fighting tournament. Then...I want them to fight each other. If at all possible, I'd like it to look cool.

And you know what? This movie totally delivered. Probably the best part about this film is that it completely did not take itself seriously at all. It followed the hallowed precepts of fighting game "story"-telling, which was basically, "Look, this is just how it is. Go with it, okay?"

This film concerns itself primarily with following the stories of three women: Kasumi, a ninja princess; Tina, an American pro wrestler; and Christie, an international jewel thief and assassin. I mean, come on. It's a fighting game, you know? :) So anyway, they (and many other people) all get invited to some remote island to attend a fighting tournament. Hijinks ensue. And, uh, they all fight a lot. I mean, what's not to like?

Probably the best illustration I could give you on the ridiculousness of this movie is to describe our introduction to one of our three main protagonists, Kasumi. Or Princess Kasumi, I should say, as she is, as I mentioned, a ninja princess. That is...the princess of a ninja clan housed somewhere remote in the mountains of Japan. Yeah. So Kasumi has become the princess of this ninja clan because of the death of her brother, Hayate. However, she of course doesn't believe he's dead, so she wants to leave the clan to go search for him. She is begged not to go by Hayabusa, her brother's best friend, who reminds her that in leaving the clan, not only will she become an outcast ("shinobi," by the way; *shrug*), but she will have to fight her own palace guard in order to leave. This does not seem to phase our royal heroine, and she confidently strolls out of the palace anyway in order to leave.

Not so fast, though, young missy. Even though the vast majority of the palace guard seems unwilling to face their princess in combat, we see that one person is brave enough to take up this task. Ah, it is Ayane, a female member of Kasumi's ninja clan who was so in love with Kasumi's brother Hayate that she is honor-bound to kill Kasumi should she leave to look for her brother. (Yeah, I don't know, either. Dude, it's a fighting game.) Anyway, they fight a little, but Kasumi's heart isn't really in it. She doesn't really want to fight Ayane, see? Seeing as how she's just doing her duty...and is also somehow in love with Kasumi's presumed dead brother. Also...did I mention Ayane is a white girl with purple hair? Whether this hair color was chosen to match her purple katana pommel, or vice-versa, I do not know. Anyway, Kasumi decides she has to leave now.

Here's how she does it. She has taken someone's katana so she could fight, and she is currently squaring off against Ayane while surrounded by the amassed forces of her elite palace guard, who are currently bowing to her in supplication. She throws the katana through the air toward the wall of the ninja stronghold, and then she runs after it, her footfalls leaping from bowed head to bowed head of her loyal palace guard. She, of course, keeps reasonably good pace with the flying sword, which eventually impales itself in the compound's bamboo wall. Kasumi jumps on top of the impaled sword, using it as a step from which she vaults over the wall...and into the empty space beyond. See...this compound is apparently set atop a very tall mountain with very steep sides, and so Kasumi finds herself now in freefall through the cloudy skies of Japan. Not that she wasn't prepared, as we see. As she is plummeting to her fate, her outer robe strips off in the wind, revealing...well, an inner robe. And also a backpack.

I know what you're thinking. Because I was thinking the same thing. "Wow," you're thinking, "She has a parachute on under her robe." You would be perfectly reasonable to think that.

You would be wrong.

It's a hang glider.

Yes, the ninja princess had cleverly concealed under her robe...not only another robe, but a backpack that turns into a hang glider. Dude. When you have to escape from a mountaintop, you have to escape from a mountaintop. I mean, what do you want?

Anyway, as she is hang gliding away from her ninja clan, forever branded an outcast and on her way to search for her brother, she catches in her hand some kind of shuriken that has apparently been hurled toward her while she is plummeting from the mountain. This is not just any shuriken, by the way: the center of it is actually an LCD display which informs her that she has been invited to participate in the next DOA tournament. So...there you go.

It was about this time, as I was sitting on my couch, watching this scene unfold before me, that my finally shut my mouth from gaping in surprise, and I broke into a wide, satisfied grin. My shock had turned to glee; this was going to be one hell of a movie.

And so it was. For those of you following the chase-a-flying-sword-through-the-air-on-the-heads-of-your-bowed-minions scene, you may start to think that there is some HK cinema influence on this movie. And you'd be right! This film was directed by one Corey Yuen, one of the big, big names in Hong Kong action direction. Even if you don't know the name, if you're into HK action films, you probably know his work. He did Dragons Forever, which I think is my favorite Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung/Yuen Biao extravaganza. Americans probably know him best for The Transporter. In any case, there was a lot of Hong Kong action crew on board for this film, and it really showed: the fight scenes were awesome. And that's really all I want from a fighting game movie, you know? Fight scenes! And no one can do fighting game fight scenes like a Hong Kong action director, know what I'm sayin'? So that was real, real, real good stuff. A lot of wire fu, flying bodies destroying sets, great stunts, good martial arts, and copious action.

But the goodness doesn't stop there, my friends. I'm pleased to report that the mastermind behind the tournament was played by none other than the King of the B-Movies himself, Eric Roberts. I had no idea about this casting choice going into the viewing of this movie, and so seeing Roberts show up was an, extra-special treat for me. What was really great about Roberts' appearance in this film was that, to me, anyway, it sort of sealed the deal as a movie that didn't take itself seriously, so that made it perfectly fine for you, the audience, not to take it seriously, either. I mean, let's face it: if this movie was serious, Eric Roberts would have been David Carradine. For real -- they would have been completely interchangeable in this role. But David Carradine is David Carradine, and Eric Roberts is Eric Roberts, know what I'm sayin'? So, yeah...Eric Roberts.

Also awesome: Kasumi's brother Hayate. Sure, he's a super-cool ninja fighter and head of his clan. But anybody can do that. This guy fights people with acupuncture needles. You really don't see enough of that in American films, my friends. I've got Kiss of the Dragon, but that's about it. (And I know there are some Kiss of the Dragon fans out there in my readership, but I'm sorry, guys...I just couldn't get into it. Jet Li just hasn't done that well for me in his American films.)

One other thing I wanted to mention before I leave this one alone: something else that made this movie great was that not only did it not shy away from it's video game roots, but it out-and-out celebrated them. Part of the deal in this movie was that all the contestants' fights in this tournament were monitored by computer. So you'd see people fighting, and then you'd see people fighting on a computer monitor, and overlayed on their fight would be...well, basically, health meters. :) The computer would project how long until a fighter got knocked out, and it looked just like the health meters from the game. :) Also, when a fight ended, a computer voice would say, like, "So-and-so wins! K.O.!" and like that. Too funny. Also, right in the middle of things, a beach volleyball game broke out. I mean, come on! You know this movie brings the ruckus.

And so, I give DOA: Dead or Alive two solid thumbs-up. None of the reasons for all this enthusiasm include anything that could really be considered "good movie" characteristics. The plot was horribly contrived, the acting ranged from mediocre to fairly poor at times. (The big exception I'd say goes to Collin Chou, who played Hayate, who I thought did a great job. In that same breath, though, I'd point out that he doesn't do that much except kill people with acupuncture needles, so...take that for what it's worth. Also, though, just so I'm clear, I will never fault Eric Roberts for anything.) Anyway. All that said, this movie was all the great parts of a fighting game, without me actually having to sit there and play a fighting game. Plus it was better, because the fights looked awesome and were brought to you in full-on Hong-Kong-style splendor. And there were some yuks. Plus, the movie's pretty short. What's not to like? Watch it today. :)

So that's it. I'd say DOA is so far the hidden gem of this whole Video Game Movie Project. I can't see anything getting better than this. :) Next up: either the House of the Dead series, or Max Payne; I haven't decided yet. Any opinions there? :)

P.S. Bonus Video Game Movie Casting Crossover Moment. So remember Ayane, the purple-haired Caucasian ninja warrior girl? I looked her up, actually, just to see if she actually was Caucasian. Turns out...yes and no; she's actually half-Filipina! Nice, now I can add her to the list of ethnically awesome. Like Rob Schneider. Anyway, though...that's a nice little factoid, but it's not the Casting Crossover Moment. The casting crossover is: when I saw the actress' name, Natassia Malthe, I couldn't help but feel that that name looked familiar. I had looked her up on Wikipedia instead of IMDB, but I stared at her filmography and nothing jumped out at me. Then I stared again. Still nothing. Then I stared again. HOLY SHIT! She was Rayne in the second BloodRayne movie, the one in the old west! Jesus. :) So if you want to see Natassia Malthe in a movie, take your pick: old West, poker-playing, gunslinging half-vampire? Or purple-haired Caucasian ninja warrior? The choices are endless!
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