Regular readers of this web site (if they exist outside of my imagination) will have noticed that I often post reviews of a film not currently in cinemas, being as I am away from a cinema for much of my working life (an english-speaking one, at least). For my latest, I was planning to catch up on multiple Oscar winner The Kings Speech, but unfortunately, my chosen method of film delivery informed me this wasn’t yet available. Fair enough I said, I’ll see what other award-worthy choices were on offer. First I noticed Let the Right One In – the highly acclaimed Swedish film of which I saw the disappointing remake a few weeks ago. Then I thought about watching Stone. Sure it didn’t make any waves at the major award ceremonies, but the pairing of Robert De Niro and Edward Norton sounded like gold dust to me. However, before choosing either of those, I noticed that one of the real heavyweight awards contenders was available. Finally, I had the chance to catch the potentially epic Tekken. With a credit list that includes “And Luke Goss”, how could I lose?
Okay, okay, I might be overhyping it a bit. While the above story is in fact completely true, it’s still somewhat unfair to lump Tekken in with those dramatic heavy hitters. Based on the Namco video game series of the same name, this is a film about beautiful people hitting each other. A lot. There’s an attempt at a plot in here but, taking inspiration from the video games themselves, there’s not much of it, and what there is doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Following a third world war, the governments of the world have crumbled resulting in the planet being split into 6 zones, each run by a different mega-corporation. How exactly this has come to pass is not really made clear. If governments crumble, are there still enough wage earners to keep these corporations in business? Perhaps if everyone pays 0% tax, they can spend more on luxury items? Hmm, very odd. Anyway, what used to be America is now run by the Tekken Corporation, who every year host a martial arts tournament. Again, why this is, is not really made clear, but I guess it beats holding an annual general meeting with their shareholders. Every year, each of the other corporations send one or more fighters and every year, Tekken Corp holds a pre-tournament competition to find a “people’s champion” to participate. Normally, every year, the people line up and get slaughtered by a ringer (Marshal Law) who guarantees’ another Tekken puppet in the main tournament. This time however, things are different, as Law is surprisingly beaten by the mysterious Jin. Well, not very mysterious if you’ve played any of the games and remember anything about the characters of course. But try to forget that. The movie version of Jin comes from a broken home. His father is missing, (hmm, wonder if that’ll come back to shape events?) and his mother is killed by Tekken solders for refusing to be appear in such a shoddy film for more than 10 minutes. So Jin has entered Iron Fist (that’s the name of the tournament, not some detour into horrific porn) to gain vengeance for his mother’s death and perhaps uncover the mystery surrounding his heritage (presumably by punching it).
Jin fights his way through the tournament, angering Tekken’s chief of security and heir to the empire Kazuya, who knows all about the boy’s lineage and doesn’t want to see him succeed. What this amounts to then is a series of fights against characters plucked from the source material, while Kazuya scowls in the back ground. When things get tough for Jin, we’re treated to a flashback of him training with his mother, where she passes on some second rate Yoda gibberish that even Scott Glenn would be embarrassed to spout (Random Sucker Punch reference – primarily to annoy Alex). The fights themselves are functional rather than standout but they are well enough staged and surprisingly bloody – things have come a long way since the films of genre mates Street Fighter & Mortal Kombat were released over a decade ago. Jin manages to bleed in every fight he’s involved in (often from precisely the same spot, suggesting some odd editing decisions were made) and comes out of several confrontations like he’s actually taking a pounding. Obviously, he’s shaken these injuries off by the time the next round begins but it’s still interesting to see that the filmmakers have at least attempted to show a level of realism in the physical cost of the characters’ activities.
Of course, such realism is nowhere to be found when it comes to the characters themselves. Faithfully recreating their video game forbears, every woman is a supermodel, built to a very specific sizing whilst every man is a muscular giant in peak physical condition. Clearly the majority of the actors have been chosen for their fighting skills, their likeness to the originals or both. Jon Foo plays the protagonist Jin, mostly because he looks Asian and because he can do that trick where you run up a wall them jump backwards over your opponent. At least I assume that’s why; he has not been chosen because he can act or because he can carry a film. The love interest Kelly Overton appears to likewise have chosen because she has a tremendous figure, rather than any actual acting talent. Ian Anthony Dale accepts that he’s there to sneer, scowl and sulk as Kazuya – the primary antagonist and to give him his dues, he’s probably the best thing in the film. However, in terms of recreating their video game character, nobody comes close to Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Veteran of the original Mortal Kombat where he played Shang Tsung, in a role cruelly snubbed by the Oscars), his rendition of Heihachi Mishima, complete with ludicrous hairpiece, is priceless.
And of course, towering above all of them is ex-Bros Legend Luke Goss. Playing Jin’s mentor and trainer Steve Fox, one of the few characters who bear little or no relation with their video game counterparts. He’s trying to portray the wise old veteran who takes the younger guy under his wing, but utterly fails to make any impact on proceedings. And that’s really the core problem with Tekken – despite all the punches thrown, nothing connects emotionally. I wasn’t involved with the events; I wasn’t even able to enjoy the camp value of the spectacle. The fight choreography is reasonable and much of the game is lovingly recreated, but that’s about your lot. To compare it to other fighting videogames that have been made into films (how on earth did that become a category containing more than one entry?), it’s significantly worse than Mortal Kombat, a little better than Street Fighter (but less ‘entertainingly bad’) and I have no idea how it compares to 2006’s Dead or Alive, because seriously, who saw that film? Stuck in the middle ground then, Tekken is simply the footnote that signifies that I may have to question whether “And Luke Goss” is quite the guarantee of quality I (and presumably Guillermo del Toro) thought it was.
Despite a fairly accurate recreation of much of the game, no one punches a bear. Or a kangaroo wearing boxing gloves for that matter. Most disappointing.