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Fantasia Review: In a Valley of Violence
In the future, the world will be ruled by corporations. The most powerful corporation is the Tekken Corporation, ruled by Heihachi Mishima. When Tekken Corp destroys his ghetto home and murders his mother Jun, Jin Kazama swears revenge and enters the annual Tekken-sponsored King of Iron Fist tournament to eventually meet and kill Heihachi Mishima. Standing in the way of Jin's revenge is Heihachi's own son, Kazuya, who seeks to usurp his father as head of Tekken Corporation himself.
Anyone who knows me knows that besides being a horror movie nut also knows that I'm also a video game nut. Fighting games are one of my favorite genres, despite the lack of a real in-depth storyline. Tekken is one of my favorite franchises, and when compared to other fighting games actually has a bit more developed storyline to it than most others. That said, it all boils down to kicking the shite out of your opponent. With all that out of the way, TEKKEN the movie seeks to try and outdo other films based on fighting games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Dead Or Alive. Round 1!
Now obviously, the games that the film is based on (and fighting games in general) aren't known for their plot. Coincidentally, the focus in TEKKEN is on the fighting, which there is plenty of. Rather than having the fighters meet up in a back alley or a forest or what have you like in the game, the combatants meet UFC-style in a giant arena with crowds and neon lights. The various fights are appropriately brutal, thanks in part to fight choreographer Cyril Raffaelli. Helping to fuel these fights are aggressive hard rock numbers that make you feel like kicking some ass yourself. Topping things off is director Dwight Little's attempt at creating a gritty and quasi-futuristic dystopian feeling for the film's atmosphere. Little works with the budget that he's given and comes out with a good effort on his part. It's not perfect, but you can do a lot worse with a $35 million budget.
Acting-wise, it's a film based on a video game involving over-the-top fighters such as cyber ninjas, cyborgs and panda bears. Obviously, writer Alan McElroy has to make sense of not only this, but the backstory of the games, which admittedly are ridiculous. To his credit and the actors, things are for the most part kept grounded. The villains, namely Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Heihachi Mishima (and of MORTAL KOMBAT fame), do their job of grimacing and looking evil as well as you could expect. On the other side our hero Jin, played by Jon Foo, not only looks good in his fighting but makes his character exude a confidence and a strong demeanor in his mission.
With all that said, this is still a fighting game being turned into a movie. This means that there are often ridiculous things that made sense in the game's universe, like some of the character costumes, that just don't translate well to live action (to her credit, Candice Hillebrand probably wouldn't want to be in the outfits her character Nina Williams shoehorns herself into in the games). Also, there are some liberties made with the Tekken mythos here that some fans might not take a liking to, as well as character love interests that are basically as throwaway as some of the characters themselves. Also, despite director Dwight Little doing as much as he can with the story and the budget (and doing a fairly good job, mind you), the cheesy CG and tired premise of a fighting tournament with subplots has been all done before. Again, I know it's the source material, but non-fans will wonder why they'd bother seeing stuff that they'd already seen before.
So, what's to say about TEKKEN? Well, it's not a perfect film, which shouldn't be a surprise. The characters aren't exactly the most developed, the storyline is clichéd and the fighting, while brutal and wonderfully choreographed, doesn't cover up the fact that certain video games shouldn't be the basis for a film. Dwight Little has done the best that he can with what's given, and while you can appreciate the effort, it's still the same stuff that we've seen before. Fans of the games and fans of action films involving these martial arts tournaments will get more out of it than those who don't fall into either category. At least everyone involved can take solace in the fact that it's better than THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI.
Video: The AVC-encoded 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is an okay affair. It's not an eye-popping transfer, but offers a good range of colours amidst the overall dark look of the picture. Detail is okay, though people tend to look pasty at times. Overall, it's more of a case of the filmmakers wanting the film to look a certain way rather than the shortcomings of the transfer.
Audio: The lossless Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 puts the hurt on your ears with an engaging and loud presentation. Obviously, the big attraction is the film's fight scenes, which are brought to life with all the smacks, grunts and roaring crowd. Dialogue sometimes gets lost in the crowd noise, but it's all part of the immersion of the track, which works all the speakers.
Sadly (or not surprisingly), the film's only big extra is an episode of Stunt Stars, which is a 50-minute look at the stunts of the film. With fight choreographer Cyril Raffaelli at the helm, this slickly-produced documentary is a highly-entertaining look at understanding the folks who perform the fight scenes in the film, and deconstructs how they're put together.
The only other extra is the film's trailer.
As always, the DVD copy and digital copies of the film included in the package can f*ck off. The case is enclosed in an embossed slipcase replicating the cover art. Would it have killed director Little to do a commentary? I mean, I know that the film is based off of a video game franchise (and a successful one, at that), but come on.
Despite all the great fight sequences, TEKKEN is marred by the over-the-top characters and the typical fighting game storyline of its inspiration. It's an okay time-waster for fans of the genre and the games, and the shortcomings are made a little easier to swallow with the appropriate video transfer and soundtrack. A lack of extras specifically pertaining to the film's production is an indication as to just how much you can do in creating a film based upon typical fighting game source material.