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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tekken (2010) review

Overall verdict: 6/10

The Good: brutal fight choreography, interesting dystopian future backdrop, fully fleshed out main protagonist, faithful to the game characters' looks, pulse pounding soundtrack.

The Bad: story diverges from that of the game, many narrative cliches, short running time, underdeveloped side characters, predictable plot twists.

Current Availability Status: in cinemas and DVD in stores now.

One lesson anyone knows by now is to never expect a movie adaptation to have an EXACT copy of the source material; not just for games, but for any other adaptation. For example, in the comics, Iron Man got his injury in Vietnam, the movie changed it to the middle east, yet not many people seemed to complain. If one were expecting 100% faithfulness to the game, one would not even watch a movie. Instead, one would just go and play the game or watch someone else play the game and pretend it is a movie.

In making the film more accessable to audiences who have not played the game, a good deal of backstory has been cut out. While the familiar science fiction elements were kept, the more convuluted superatural elements were left out. Moving the action into a dark dystopian future controlled by eight mega-corporations, Tekken follows the story of Jin, a strong hot headed street urchin living in the slums outside "Tekken city", scavenging, stealing and fighting just to get by. This is no big problem for Jin since his mother had trained him from birth to be a gifted fighter. But one night, his mother is killed in a police raid ordered by Kazuya Mishima, the son of Tekken's head honcho, Heihachi Mishima. Among his dead mother's belongings, Jin finds a Tekken Fighter I.D, indicating that his mother, despite her pacifist nature, had at one time participated in the famous fighting tournament "Iron Fist". Obsessed with vengeance Jin joins the "Iron Fist" Tournament as "the people's choice" representing the slums of "Anvil" in hopes to one day meet Heihachi Mishima in person and exact his revenge. The young protagonist soon proves himself a capable combatant under the guidance of one Steve Fox and makes it to the finals held in the center of Tekken city. There he must battle eight other fighters, each representing one of the eight powerful megacorporations. But unknown to everyone, even Heihachi himself, is a dark secret shared by Jin and Kazuya Mishima; one which Kazuya would do anything to protect.

Despite the few changes to the backstory and setting, Tekken has more respect for its source material than many previous game adaptations like Legend of Chun Li, House of the Dead and FarCry (and possibly the upcoming King of Fighters movie). For one thing, most of the actors look exactly like the characters they are playing, right down to the unique outfits. Even their fighting styles are lifted directly from the games. Some of the changes actually work well such as presenting a more sympathetic side to Heihachi Mishima who in the game was a one dimensional villain. The supernatural elements involving demons, devil genes and colorful special powers would have been jarring against the bleak dark gritty setting which borrows elements from other dystopian bloodsport movies like DeathRace and The Running Man. Jin's journey seems to have more in common with Rocky than with Street Fighter. Though Jin fights for vengeance, he represents hope for the people in the slums that even a street rat like him can rise to challenge the powers that be.

The main characters are given very distinct reasons for doing what they do. A clear purpose drives the actions of each fighter representing one of eight powerful megacorporations. Some fight for glory, others for money, vengeance, honor or just out of jealousy. Although their relationships and interactions have less-than-expected chemistry, the acting manages to pass muster; a huge surprise considering the lack of recognizable big names in the cast.

Director Dwight H Little is no big name in showbiz himself, his directing resume being mostly in TV series like Dollhouse and his small list of notable films include much maligned sequels Halloween 4 and Free Willy 2 and Anaconda 2. Yet his directing style is clear and concise, making each showdown a thrill to watch. Fights are choreographed realistically with minimal kung fu wire-work in order to maintain that brutal, down to earth feel. All this is then set to a pulse pounding electronic rock soundtrack reminiscent of Mortal Kombat.

To summarise this movie in a single sentence: "a combination of Mortal Kombat and Rocky by way of Rollerball, Running Man and Blade Runner."After all is said and done, there is little left in the film that would stand out to attract a crowd. Prince of Persia had raised the bar on video game movies by being both true to the original and massivelty budgeted. Where Prince of Persia at least had an insanely high budget which was put to good use, Tekken feels like a cheap made-for-TV flick despite claiming to have cost 35 million dollars. More time could have been spent fleshing out the sad futuristic world of Tekken or the inter-company politics between the megacorps. Then again, clocking in at only 87 minutes, it barely has enough time to fully develop Jin's stor in between all the fights. As a result, the other characters do not get any development other than being one dimensional opponents or allies to Jin.

Fans of the game would be disappointed at the changes from the source material, others would be put off by its cheap feel. At most, those who like brutally choreographed fighting films and dystopian future movies might be satisfied to a certain extent. Though not a true winner or "the people's choice", at least Tekken put up a decent fight by having some of the most brutal bouts in fighting game movies.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you like movies taking place in dark dystopian futures where money talks and power belongs to the rich, or enjoy some good old fashioned brutal throwdowns as well as a couple of hot babes
Avoid it: if you had expected a 100% translation of the video game story to the big screen or if you want to see an emotional drama about a boy who lost his mother instead of violent hand to hand combat.

Entertainment: B+
Story: B
Acting: C
Characters: C+
Music: B
Replay value: B-
"Brains": C

An unused pre-release poster. Honestly this poster evokes the look and feel of the game a lot better than the poster that was eventually used (see above)

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