DOA - Dead or Alive Review
It’s been a year since Princess Kasumi’s (Devon Aoki) brother Hayate (Collin Chou) went missing at the last DOA tournament. Convinced that he’s still alive she decides to leave her temple and search for him, but she’s warned by her protector Hayabusa (Kane Kosugi) that if she attempts to leave her life will be taken. Ignoring his warning she sets outside and is quickly confronted by Ayane (Nattasia Malthe) who was once in love with Hayate, but being bound by honour will do whatever is in her power to stop Kasumi from leaving. When Kasumi finally escapes she jumps from a cliff with a stupid parachute and heads off to find her brother at DOA Island, shortly after receiving an invitation. Meanwhile more promising fighters are being cordially invited to this year’s tournament by Helena Douglas (Sarah Carter) via some kind of flying metal message thingies that magically appear out of thin air: Christie (Holly Valance), a jewel thief and Tina (Jaime Pressly), a wrestler trying to live life more seriously join the others as more fighters around the world enter the biggest tournament in existence, run by the obviously evil Donovan (Eric Roberts). There are some other characters too.
Good God, what have they done? Tomonobu Itagaki must be rolling in his…big piles of cash. For those who aren’t familiar Itagaki is the man behind the success of the beat-em-up video game franchise Dead or Alive. The game is different from the majority of fighters for several reasons: interactive scenery in which you can throw opponents through windows or off roof tops; a solid countering system which enables you to get the better of your opponent and turn the entire match around, and of course large tits. It’s mainly due to the latter that the series gets quite a bit of stick; when a game starts to place a lot of emphasis on capturing realistic physics of jiggling breasts and skimpy outfits it soon becomes a bit pervy and less of a serious fighting game. However, overlook this and you will indeed find a very playable game, filled with realistic fighting techniques and fluid controls. Today the series has been pushed farther than ever with Tecmo’s/Team Ninja’s dedication to Microsoft’s XBOX, enabling even more stunning locations and - ahem - girlies. In 2003 Itagaki, who once said that he considered these female creations of his to be his children, released Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball on the XBOX system; a shameless game in which you select a female avatar and then have her play volleyball with friends, play pool games and try on hundreds of different bikinis. It’s here where the DOA series can be criticised for its gameplay; while the visuals were indeed nice the game was far too simplistic and treated the volleyball aspect as an afterthought. A sequel is due for release on the XBOX 360 in the New Year.
So, we’ve established that Dead or Alive is basically pretty girls in bikinis who get into lots of fights and play volleyball in their spare time. Sure there are male characters, but they never get pimped as much. So, this brings us to the inevitable movie adaptation. I suppose then if there’s one thing that Corey Yuen’s DOA: Dead or Alive achieves is that it follows popular conceptions of what the game is about. While Itagaki might be pissed off that boobs are all anyone seems to remember - something he never originally intended, but ended up exploiting anyway (just see the latest trailer for Extreme 2!) - DOA is all about the women, nothing more nothing less.
Chef Yuen’s recipe for success (or disaster). You, the viewer, decide:
+ Attractive women - check
+ Bikinis - check
+ Fighting - check
+ Volleyball - check.
+ Girls fighting while wearing bikinis, brandishing swords and stuff - check
+ Amazingly deep narrative and intriguing storyline - Come on, seriously?
DOA is likely to split audiences down the middle. Young men (no doubt its target demographic) will dig it, Christian groups will probably complain about it being exploitive and the work of the Devil and the hardcore game fans will likely weep and wonder how it all come to this. For the record I am a fan of the game and indeed there are problems with the film, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought they’d get it 100% right and the statement above pretty much applies. It does flaunt itself, the women are totally there to be ogled at and at the end of the day it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to care what people might think. I mean let’s be honest, I seriously doubt that these women read the script and suddenly thought to themselves “Wow! What a deep film.” You’d have to be pretty darn naïve to not know that all the producers wanted were tight bodied females who could kick the shit out of ninjas and look convincing doing so. Sex sells and no truer word could be said about DOA; hell, Holly Valance should know that better than anyone, and I’m not knocking her though, because she’s fit and she knows it. Is it a good film though? In the strictest sense no it isn’t. Think back to Street Fighter and you can expect to see awkward use of costumes that have been carried over from the games and prove the point that staying faithful to cartoons and games can sometimes be bad, in addition to a truly dire and predictable storyline that’s been done to death in martial arts films ever since Bruce Lee’s heyday - only with silly gadgets.
I’m reviewing this from two perspectives. One is from a fan and the other is from someone who just wants to be entertained. In terms of staying faithful to the video game DOA pretty much gets 70% wrong. While the game series never had intriguing storylines they did establish character positions and motivations extremely well. You knew who was who, where rivalries stood and how they affected the lives of those around them. In DOA there’s no complex running hatreds, everyone is practically friends; Kasumi and Ayane’s relationship, Helena’s dark past, Tina’s difficult father/daughter relationship - these elements are retained, but they’re so hackneyed and lack any kind of involvement (aside from the latter’s fun inclusion), which is indeed a great shame because they’re things that had they been written more appropriately could have provided DOA with the kind of depth that would make its actors read a script and think “Wow! What a deep film.” Even specific character’s martial arts are completely overlooked, with Valance’s Christie displaying none of her familiar snake and crane stance, while most of the combatants have little in the way of defining skills, which makes it all rather repetitive; Tina doesn't even wrestle for instance. In addition to this it panders too much to the gaming audience, in fact it down right takes the piss out of it, which is a trap that ends up pigeon holing it into a category that no self respecting film journalist would even acknowledge. There’s been a long standing debate as to whether or not movies based on videogames are any good, simply because they’re based on games, and while I’d certainly dispute that on some levels I can’t help but feel that DOA does nothing to prove the cynics wrong. Take the silly monitors that display characters fighting with energy bars that deplete and scenery that’s smashed up, or worse still the annoying computer expert geek who voyeuristically leers over these women as he grins to himself. I swear in one scene he even acted like he was covering up a hard-on as Eric Roberts walked in. It’s insulting. Do the film makers really see games players as being so sad and pathetic? In the end they disrespect their audience. That’s where Christophe Gans succeeded with this year’s Silent Hill. It may not have been 100% perfect but it retained the core of the games and had respect for those behind it and those who enjoyed playing it, and while some things can’t be expected to translate well, others are so simple that by doing so you can help an adaptation immeasurably.
If anything the film certainly looks nice, with authentic locations ranging from Bangkok to Hong Kong, and Corey Yuen certainly knows his stuff. This is a guy with a long and impressive background in action cinema with some wonderful titles under his belt, such as Ninja in the Dragon’s Den, Police Assassins and Fong Sai Yuk; he even directed another game-based flick in 2001 titled The Avenging Fist, which was meant to be Tekken until a whole big sorry licensing mess ensued and the film magically transformed into pure garbage. So it’s not surprising that DOA carries a distinct Hong Kong flavour, which I suppose has it deviate from the game’s distinct Japanese approach. As such, rather than concentrate on pure ground based fighting (although there are a few brief examples) he adopts the classic wuxia approach. DOA can easily be likened to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon mixed with Charlie’s Angels. That was the first thing I thought when I saw the theatrical trailer a number of months back. I still feel that way. We have the flying with swords stuff and tonnes of wire work which is all staged nicely enough, if only being disappointing due to the sheer amount of editing, which hides the fact that its main cast are not trained fighters - although they can kick really high.
Carrying the film is a cast of actors who aren’t very accomplished. In all this is a woefully cast film that does almost no one in it any favours. Holly Valance as Christie puts on an awful English accent; at least that what I think she’s doing because it doesn’t sound quite so authentically Australian (Dead or Alive's Christie incidentally is English), while Devon Aoki as Princess Kasumi struggles to get through, proving that when she doesn’t speak she’s a whole lot more effective (see Sin City). Sarah Carter’s Helena is chirpy, though nothing like her game counterpart and Ayane played by Natassia Malthe is devoid of almost any personality; why isn’t she even Japanese? It makes no sense. However there is one actor who steals the show; My Name is Earl’s Jaime Pressly as wrestler Tina Armstrong. Like most of the cast Pressly doesn’t takes things too seriously, but a slew of one liners and sly winks sees to it that she gets all the best opportunities; furthermore her chemistry with Kevin Nash - who is surprisingly good and very charismatic - is indeed solid and provides the duo with some nice opportunities to joke around (with a running gag about his daughter’s mistaken lesbianism being a lot of fun). Eric Roberts is even on show somehow as the big and boring baddie who is on about downloading fighter’s skills via special specs so that he can sell the plans and stuff. It’s all so over the top that it should probably be fun then. Unfortunately DOA doesn’t even fall into the “so bad it’s good” camp; most of it is bad, a little bit is fun, but it’s mostly bad.
It wasn’t until the credits started to role than I even realised Paul W.S. Anderson was a producer on this. Suddenly there it was as I said “Ah-ha” to myself. He’s like King Midas, only everything he touches turns to shit. DOA isn’t just a poor game adaptation, it’s a poor film in its own right, which at 87 minutes still drags on longer than it needs to. Aside from one or two energetic performances and some decent CG effects work Corey Yuen’s latest flick is a bitter exercise in bad film making. Game adaptations don’t have to be games themselves and if any film maker wishes to try and make another one in the future then he or she should live by that rule or not bother at all. A friend of mine said that whoever doesn’t enjoy this film is probably gay. I might have agreed had it been any good, but not even a group of fine looking ladies can save DOA from total disaster.