October 24, 2012


Movies based on video games suck. You know it, I know it, we all know it, but somehow they keep making money. Uwe Boll, our generation's Ed Wood, has made an entire career out of awful video game adaptations. A terrible, terrible career.

So why did I bother with Tekken (2010)? It's based on a video game; why not assume it sucks and give it a miss? Because, my little droogies, there is actually one good video game movie out there. Yes, exactly one: Mortal Kombat. Even more amazing, it was directed by Paul W.S. "Resident Evil" Anderson. Mortal Kombat, like Tekken, is a tournament fighter, so all the makers of Tekken had to do was copy Mortal Kombat's formula. It's simple: Get your fighters together, get them into a tournament, give them a suitable bad guy to go after, and watch them kung-fu their way to the final showdown. That's all we want to see. Hell, even Bloodsport managed to be decent by following this simple formula, despite being saddled with the charismatic void that is Jean-Claude Van Damme. So I dutifully turn on Tekken, hoping in vain the screenwriter rubs both his brain cells together and comes up with a script half as entertaining as Mortal Kombat's. After all, the Tekken game series has a suitably diverse cast of fighters to make an entertaining tournament fighter movie. I didn't really expect to see the kangaroo wearing boxing gloves, the kung-fu fighting panda, or the living training dummy, but with a half-dozen games to choose from, there was still a diverse cast to work with.

Tekken is a godawful mess, packed full of unnecessary subplots and backstory. There is at least as much gunplay in this movie as there is martial arts, the latter being a weird and unwieldy mixture of faux-MMA and Movie-Fu. Who came to a kung-fu flick to see guys shooting at each other? I sure as hell didn't. If I want to watch white people wearing goofy outfits shooting endlessly at each other in dark alleys while a sexy chick parades around in leather fetishwear, I'll watch the next Underworld movie. This is a ridiculous story of an MMA fighter who liberates Japanese-dominated America from the brutal Japanese thumb of the evil Japanese Tekken megacorporation (that is from Japan) using nothing more than his ability to punch people really, really well. The movie reminds us at every turn that it's based on a Japanese video game. Tekken's machine-gun-wielding stormtroopers wear kendo masks so we know they're Japanese. Some characters occasionally speak the language (though only once do we actually see the face of the character speaking it). There are even two actual Japanese people in the film! Everyone else is of course white because, well, Lead Characters Are White.

"You hold on there now, Carl Eusebius! John Foo is half Japanese, and Ian Anthony Dale has, like, some Japanese in there somewhere." Yeah well, I don't care. They look white, the both of them. One is the hero and the other the villain, and crappy B-movies in the 2010s can't have coloured people in either of those roles. I mean, who wants to see an Asian hero? M. Night Shyamalan sure doesn't!

The hero looks whitest of all. The filmmakers don't even throw us a bone by making one of his parents white. Nope, we're supposed to buy that this kid was born of two Japanese parents despite looking like a credible candidate for the Hitler Youth. Of course, his father is played by Ian Anthony Dale, so I guess we know which side of the family he takes after. Long gone are the days of Mortal Kombat, when a Chinese hero could face off against a dastardly Japanese villain, and a woman could fight a man in hand-to-hand combat. Now everybody's white and a female villain is included so the female lead has someone to fight.

After our hero Jin Kazama (Foo) apathetically narrates the history of this highly futuristic future world about which virtually nothing is in any way futuristic (governments fell, corporations took their places, corporations are oppressive, yadda yadda), we are introduced to him. He runs technology through the Anvil, the massive slums outside the glittering lights of the corporation's wealthy Tekken City. After delivering a really big flash drive to a guy doing a bad Denis Leary impression (surprisingly not played by the actual Denis Leary), the anti-Tekken resistance that Jin refused to join because he's only out for himself and doesn't believe in causes is wiped out by Tekken's machine-gun-wielding stormtroopers. Jin normally wouldn't care about this, either, except that they also blew up his house with a rocket while his mom was in it. Since there's nothing Jin cares about more than his mom, when he learns of this Tekken atrocity, he swears revenge on Tekken CEO Heihachi Mishima (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa). The instrument of his revenge? Tekken's Iron Fist martial arts tournament. See, each of the dozen or so megacorporations of this terrible dystopian world sponsors a fighter in Iron Fist every year, with the winner bringing mucho bragging rights to his or her sponsoring megacorp. Jin plans to wreak his terrible vengeance upon Heihachi by winning Iron Fist while totally not being sponsored by Tekken. That's show 'em! A dish best served cold, indeed!

Jin is able to enter the tournament despite not being backed by one of the megacorporations because he defeats Marshall Law, a participant in the tournament who for some reason is in the Anvil to take on all comers. With this victory, he's dubbed the People's Champion even though the people had no hand in choosing him. He also picks up a manager who never actually does any managing. I guess they were drawn together by their mutual English-ness; despite Jin's having grown up in North America, actor Foo uses his native London accent. Hilariously, this guy gets Jin to take him on by saying that all the other fighters will have entire entourages from their sponsoring megacorporation, yet when Jin reaches the tournament, none of the other fighters will have so much as a towel-boy. Look at how many trainers, coaches, doctors, bodyguards, and assorted hangers-on accompany a champion heavyweight boxer to the ring. You're telling me corporations that run entire continents couldn't spring a few bucks for a guy to wring out their fighter's sweat-rag?

At the tournament, Jin immediately hooks up with Christie, another one of the fighters, despite the fact that he was having sex with his girlfriend when his house blew up. You might think the filmmakers forgot about the girlfriend, but no, throughout the film they cut to the set of The Running Man to show her watching Jin's matches on a giant flatscreen TV on the street. Being a self-proclaimed B-movie guru, I thought maybe they added the girlfriend character to get some boobs in the movie since the actress playing Christie never once doffs her top, but girlfriend keeps her arms strategically placed throughout the lovemaking scene to keep the movie PG-13, so I really have no idea what the filmmakers were going for here. I guess Jin is just a cad who would jump into bed with any girl wearing pants with a plunging crackline.

Tekken attempts to assassinate Jin so he doesn't win the tournament right after the head of Tekken says that Jin has no chance to win the tournament. When that attempt fails, Tekken makes it a point not to kill Jin. Whew, good thing the assassins they sent were so inept! Instead, they start changing the rules so Jin will be killed in the arena, because, well, Rollerball is as good a movie to rip off as any. We're repeatedly told that Iron Fist is vital to Tekken's maintaining its oppressive rule over the poverty-stricken masses in the Anvil; Jin must not win the tournament or the masses might realise they can overthrow Tekken. If that sounds familiar, it's because we're still ripping off Rollerball (1975). The film then proceeds in jaw-dropping idiocy to rip off the shitty 2002 remake of Rollerball by having Tekken, seeing the tournament's ratings spike when one of the fighters seems to have been killed on screen, order that all fights be to the death. (Hmm...I wonder what the other megacorporations whose fighters are in this tournament think of that little rule change.)

The difference, of course, was that in Rollerball the sport wasn't there to quell the resistance of desperate, starving people being brutally oppressed at every turn but of content, materially well-off people who don't even know what oppression is. And the point of the titular sport was to demonstrate the futility of individual effort, so that people would feel too powerless to ever group up and make themselves a threat. I think the people Tekken rules over are kept in line more by the random shootings, beatings, and blowing up of houses by its army of machine-gun-wielding kendotroopers than by its requirement that MMA fighters have a corporate sponsor in order to be allowed to win a gaudy martial arts tournament.

Jin wins his fights, of course, even when it turns out it's not only an MMA tournament but also allows swords, chains, naginatas--I don't know why somebody doesn't just show up with a pistol and kack his opponent right out of the gate. As noted, the tournament is also co-ed with three women participants, but only two of them ever fight, and of course it's with each other. This movie couldn't be more uptight and conservative white American if you put it in a three-piece suit and sent it to church every Sunday. During every fight he's in, Jin has a flashback to his mother's martial arts lessons, in which she's the same age even though he's a child. Flashback mom gives him a nugget of fighting wisdom that has exactly nothing to do with the situation he's in and doesn't help in any way. All that happens is that Jin hulks up, starts no-selling his opponents' attacks, and pummels the other guy's face until he is physically dragged away.

My hero.

This movie is so wrong-headed that Heihachi isn't even the villain. Yes, they have the villain from the game in the movie, but not as the villain. So let me get this right: You hired Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa--a Japanese actor who specialises in playing dastardly, over-the-top villains, and oh yeah, played the villain in Mortal Kombat, aka the Good Video Game Movie--and then you put him in Heihachi's ridiculous hairstyle and don't let him be villainous? Well then why is he there at all? I mean, they didn't include King in this movie, the fighter wearing the jaguar mask who is one of the game's most popular, enduring, and recognisable characters. So why have Heihachi, if he's not going to be Heihachi? Is it because he's *gulp* Japanese? Sure, that's a stupid reason, but I don't know of any other. Ian Anthony Dale as the villain Kazuya isn't awful or anything, but he has nothing approaching Tagawa's B-movie gravitas. Once again, this movie makes things complicated for no reason, with a subplot about Kazuya's coup detat against Heihachi. What does it matter, when Jin's only going to kill Kazuya anyway?

So despite Jin's entering the tournament to kill Heihachi, he never so much as lays a glove on Heihachi, in fact teaming up with him for a brief moment against Kazuya. I don't want to blow the ending of this movie for you, but Jin wins. With Heihachi killed by Kazuya and Kazuya dead at Jin's hands, Jin is somehow CEO of Tekken now. I didn't know Japanese corporations functioned like the Klingon Deep Space Fleet. Must be that Klingon style. With Jin in control of Tekken, the people are free. Or something. The film ends with Jin's girlfriend (where did Christie go?) giving us a Matrix-style ending speech, and roll credits.

All they had to do to make this a decent B-movie was plug the Tekken fighters into the Enter the Dragon template and hire somebody from Hong Kong to do the choreography. It wouldn't have been amazing or memorable, just something to entertain us for a few weeks and rake in the cash. Instead, they tekkened it up and came out with this. With all the non-Japanese who act Japanese, the use of Japanese imagery and language as window dressing on a thoroughly whitebread core, and the ridiculous outfits the women are forced to parade about in, I can't tell if this movie was made for weeabos...

...or by them.

1 comment:

  1. This almost makes me want to watch it... but the comments about the guns and stuff? Nah.