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“Street Fighter” failed. Twice. Despite the starring power of then-A-lister Jean-Claude Van Damme, the first “Street Fighter” movie couldn’t get pass its own cheese. The second attempt, with a TV actress as Chun Li – well, the less said about that monstrosity the better. “Mortal Kombat”, on the other hand, succeeded where “Street Fighter” failed. Twice. Sort of. The first film, by director Paul W.S. Anderson, caught most people by surprised by actually being decent, though was by no means great. (That’s a pretty standard reaction to most movies by Paul W.S. Anderson, natch.) The sequel did gangbuster business on its opening weekend before dropping off like Liu Kang’s girly locks in subsequent weeks. Thanks to those trailblazers, there are movie versions of other popular fighting games in the pipeline, including the long-delayed “King of Fighters”, and of course, “Tekken”. The latter film is now available on DVD in parts of Asia after a March theatrical release.
The movie version of “Tekken” is directed by genre vet Dwight Little (“Marked for Death”, “Rapid Fire”), and stars newcomer Jon Foo as our hero, Jin Kazama. Set in the near future, “Tekken’s” world has been taken over by evil, money-grubbing uber corporations (are there any other kind?), with the ubiquitous and decidedly Japanese Tekken Corporation (led by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Shang Tsung himself from “Mortal Kombat”, sporting videogame-faithful coif) having gained total dominance over what used to be the good ol U.S.A. (If the film really wanted to be timely, they would have made the overlords Chinese. But I digress.) After his mother is blown to bits by the soulless corporation for crimes Jin committed as a forager of illegal things, Jin decides to exact revenge by entering the annual Iron Fist tournament so he can get near enough to Tekken’s boss and, well, croak his old, murdering ass.
On his way to The Big Fight and sweet, sweet revenge, Jin picks up impromptu management by former Tekken fighter Steve Fox (Luke Goss). Our hero also makes eyes with fellow contestant Christie (the very fit and very gorgeous Kelly Overton), and the two are soon sneaking out to clubs to grind away the night. There’s also something in the background about an anti-Tekken insurgency that people are always talking about, but for some reason no one on- or offscreen ever really seem to follow up on. The script by Alan B. McElroy (“Wrong Turn”) throws in an ongoing power struggle between Tekken bigshot Mishima (Tagawa) and his eyebrow-heavy son Kazuya (Ian Anthony Dale), who really, really wants that CEO seat. How do we know he really, really wants it? Well, cause he talks about really, really wanting it every damn second he’s onscreen, that’s how. Let’s hope when the patricide-inclined bastard gets his way, he doesn’t have to shave those impressive ‘brows and carry on the old man’s bad taste in hairstyles.
When all is said and done, the fights are the thing in a movie like “Tekken”, and Little has chosen wisely in newcomer Jon Foo. After bit parts in “Batman Begins”, “The Protector”, and more recently, “Universal Soldier: Regeneration”, “Tekken” is a major step up for Foo on his way to becoming a star in the action movie circuit. The former stuntman brings plenty of chops to the role, and his performance is made all the more impressive because Foo shows plenty of charisma in front of the camera to go along with the fancy moves and spin kicks. Thanks to his stunts background, Foo probably didn’t need a whole lot of body doubling (if he needed any at all), which I’m sure Little appreciated. The film is full of highlight reel material for Foo thanks to the excellent behind-the-scenes work of fight choreographer Cyril Raffaelli (of the “District 13” films), who brings his A-game as well as some nifty parkour stunts early in the film.
Although it’s essentially a familiar been-there, done-that tournament fighting movie, “Tekken” manages to rise above the genre by keeping things as gritty and bloody as possible. By the time he rises through the ranks to face Gary Daniels’ Bryan Fury, the tournament’s reigning champ for the title, our hero Jin looks like he’s been run over by a truck at least a dozen times. Where he fails to properly illuminate, or indeed makes us care at all for the film’s “it sucks to live in a future America run by a corporation” angle, Little gets the action very right. “Tekken” was clearly not made on the cheap, and that comes through in the production values, particularly the film’s exteriors. It’s not “Blade Runner”-level in its futuristic visuals, of course, but for a film made essentially for the Asian theatrical market (and DVD releases elsewhere, including the States), “Tekken” definitely had a sizable budget to play with.
With all the focus on Jin’s quest and the Mishima family’s internal squabbling, the film doesn’t always make the best use of its colorful fighters. The Williams sisters, for example, spend more time engaging in threesomes with Kazuya than they do actually fighting in the ring. Then again, maybe I’m just miffed that I never got to see Anna Williams (Marian Zapico) fight in that skimpy little blue dress of hers. Honestly, how is she going to fight in that? I guess we’ll never know. Strike Force champ Cung Le (“Pandorum”) has a small role as the fighter that Jin takes down in order to enter the Iron Fist tournament, and Tamlyn Tomita plays Jin’s mother, who is blown to smithereens early on, but shows up throughout the film in flashbacks. Luke Goss delivers the film’s best performance as Steve Fox, and there are some very nice moments between him and Jin. Goss eventually gets to cut loose and whup some ass later in the film, which is nice and all, but what I really wanted was to know more about him instead.
I’m not the biggest fan of the “Tekken” games, mostly because I kinda suck at fighting games that require me to mash more than two buttons at the same time in the space of half a second. Yes, I’m the guy who always gets combo’ed to death at the mall arcades. As such, I couldn’t tell you how faithful the movie is to the game, though I suspect the filmmakers tried to keep the visual cues as close to the game characters as possible. Jin and his trademark “power gloves”, for example, and the various fighters’ colorful garb, including Bryan Fury’s immovable hair and Christie Monteiro’s outfit with its, er, revealing backside. Heck, they even gave Jin his trademark pants with flames going up one side. I could be wrong, but I believe they even replicated the background vistas from the game in the form of hologram “backgrounds”, though curiously they seem to ditch this after the first few fight rounds.
In the pantheon of videogame-to-movie adaptations, “Tekken” belongs with the successful ones like the “Mortal Kombats” and “Tomb Raiders” of the world. It’s definitely not a disaster like the “Street Fighter” adaptations, that’s for sure. In fact, Dwight Little’s familiarity with the genre, which translates well into the film’s fights, probably gives “Tekken” a slight advantage over Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Mortal Kombat”. “Tekken” caught me by surprise with its brutality, and the film is much grittier in its violence than I had anticipated. (There are also some sexy moments that I’m sure fans won’t mind one bit, albeit nothing overly gratuitous.) But if I were to go out on a limb, I would say that “Tekken” might end up being known as the film that launched Jon Foo’s career. Watching Foo in “Tekken” reminded me of what I thought when I first saw Scott Adkins in a little-known direct-to-DVD action movie called “Special Forces”: “Move over, guys, there’s a new asskicker in town.”
Dwight H. Little (director) / Alan B. McElroy (screenplay)
CAST: Gary Daniels … Bryan Fury
Luke Goss … Steve Fox
Ian Anthony Dale … Kazuya
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa … Heihachi Mishima
Lateef Crowder … Eddy Gordo
Jon Foo … Jin Kazama
Kelly Overton … Christie Monteiro
Mircea Monroe … Kara
Tamlyn Tomita … Jun Kazama
Cung Le … Marshall Law
Candice Hillebrand … Nina Williams
Marian Zapico … Anna Williams