Tekken (US - BD RA)
Gabe visits the octagon for another "classic" video game adaptation...
I have played exactly zero hours of Tekken the video game. I found (find) the post Street Fighter II fighting games impossibly difficult, especially when put against friends that had the skill set to destroy me with a two million hit combo right off the bat. Apparently there are 17 or so games in the series at this point, along with an animated film, so the eventual presence of a moderately priced live action feature isn’t a surprise (though the nearly 17 years it took to happen seems excessive). As a noob, I have no real expectations except for those laid out by other video game films. I know that Tekken will either be a bad movie with redeeming entertainment value, like Mortal Kombat, or a soul-sucking bore with all the redeeming value of lyme disease, like Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. I do know something about director Dwight H. Little, and I’m surprised the production hired him, considering his years of experience. It seems to me these modest video game and live action anime films are usually put together by a relatively untested guy, usually one that comes from special effects, second unit, or stunt direction. Little can’t cost a lot, but he’s been in the game since the early ‘80s. His schlock pedigree is actually rather impressive, including Raiders of the Lost Ark rip-off Bloodstone, Halloween 4 (a film that distinguishes itself by being slightly better than Halloween 5), a strange slasher movie take on The Phantom of the Opera starring Robert Englund, one of Steven Seagal’s ‘best’ films ( Marked for Death), a genuinely entertaining Brandon Lee/Powers Boothe vehicle ( Rapid Fire), and two sequels nobody wanted or asked for ( Free Willy 2 and Anacondas 2). If that CV doesn’t scream ‘I’m ready to direct a movie based on a 17 year old videogame’, I don’t know what does.
Tekken starts with a prologue that explains the back-story in about a minute flat. Part of me thinks ‘Oh good, we don’t have to waste time on a derivative plot’, but another part of me thinks ‘Oh, there goes all the film’s narrative aspirations’. I’m sort of happy to turn my brain off, but more disappointed that the film promises not to over step my depressing expectations right off the bat. Even sadder, this creates the mood of a sequel no one asked for to a film that was never made. From here we learn about the characters (this guy is old, he listens to the Beatles, and we learn about the post-apocalyptic universe (nobody has heard of the Beatles). Most of this information is conveyed via the most blatantly expositional dialogue (‘This reminds me of that time this specific thing happened to me’), and most of the dialogue gives away the ESL roots of the screenplay thanks to awkward speech patterns. When not being expositional or pooping out bad one-liners, the dialogue is made up of inspirational speeches aimed at the main character, who has an apparently low sense of self worth. The flat, lifeless performances don’t help. Of course it doesn’t really matter because we don’t care about these characters at all, and the filmmakers have little interest in compelling us to change our opinions.
The three people it took to write this hogwash decided to use the Running Man template (which I’ve established in my Running Man review wasn’t Running Man’s original premise), and set the plot around a tournament meant to divert a sad population’s attention away from their problems. This is apparently not the story behind the videogame (I watched the film with a friend that filled me in on the basic factoids of the game). The ‘Reality TV/Game of Death’ trope is painfully overused, but does allow the filmmakers to set the story in the familiar world of MMA octagons, which isn’t clever, but probably sold a couple of tickets this way, and the move earns them a few context points (the Tekken universe is literally run by corporations as well, which makes the plotline, oooooo, topical). If we get down to the brass tacks, the point of the exercise isn’t originality, or even plot, but to create something that fans of the game will recognize. From this standpoint I have to give Tekken some credit for making a movie mostly about a martial arts tournament, and even including levels (the octagon grows set pieces) and character selection screens for good measure. If there was one thing unforgivably wrong-headed about the two Street Fighter movies it was the distinct lack of street fighting, and in the case of the second film, a distinct lack of anything from the games outside of character names.
Little does his job as a B-list director just fine. He sets up a consistent look, points the camera in the right direction, and manages to capture the action. Mostly. Unfortunately, for the most part this consistent look is dull. The overuse of over-cranked slow motion is the most blatant bad decision, but I’m also not too fond of the sub-Ridley Scott Bladerunner rip-offery. Every scene is shot using multiple gelled lights, but only just enough to be able to discern the images in the utter blackness. There’s also some smoke thrown in for good measure, just in case we didn’t get the whole Bladerunner connection. Little’s action direction is capable, save a scene he shoots through strobing lights (which blurs all of fight choreographer Cyril Raffaelli’s hard work), but he regrettably keeps things chaste enough for a hard PG-13 rating…which is too bad, because he still got an R. The R is then entirely wasted. Characters engage in dirty sex acts, but we never see it, and they punch each other into bloody pulps, but the gooey stuff almost all occurs just off-screen. In fact, I could almost swear I noticed some shivering cuts meant to delete some of the gory moments. If the film had earned its R rating with some kind of gut punch (I mean this literally), beheading, or eye gouge I might have been willing to forgive its other trespasses, because I’m simple like that. In their defense it’s entirely likely that the production simply didn’t have the money to resubmit the film for a PG-13.
Director Dwight Little’s cinematographic choices sit somewhere between the modern and the ‘90s, which is generally good for the 1080p transfer. The image is consistently colourful, and features a whole lot of high contrast texture. Everything is lit from, like, half a dozen angles, leading to unattractive mixes of green, blue and red, but these do show off the format’s abilities to separate elements. Important details are rarely lost in the mess of deep blacks and neon highlights, and the more vibrant hues rarely bleed or bloom, though the overriding green lighting schemes do wash out some of the blacks on occasion. Detail levels are consistent, though never exceedingly sharp, which isn’t really a problem considering the intended look. The one element that may turn some viewers off is the incessant fine grain. I’m guessing this grain, which mostly looks like real deal 35mm artefacts, has been added on purpose since the specs tell me the film was shot using digital HD cameras. If I’m correct (and lord knows I am not always correct) this means all these sharp, consistent little black dots are supposed to be here, and shouldn’t be counted against the transfer.
Overall this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is just fine, but not very impressive in terms of overall stereo and surround effects. During the fight scenes the majority of the fighting noise is entirely centered. The stereo and surround channels feature vague crowd noise, and the interminable throb of the musical score, but I only distinctly noticed a handful of directional movements during the fisticuffs, usually pertaining to a stylized, slow motion impact. The shooting and exploding scenes are punchier, LFE-heavy, and generally more dynamic, but even these aren’t particularly zippy, or directionally endowed. Many things make Tekken feel like it’s 10 to 15 years old, and the use of Nu-Meteal/Techno Metal on its soundtrack. Though the score is also spiked with ridiculously mawkish Celtic numbers meant to evoke touching moments. Both brands of music are kind of low on the track considering the total lack of subtlety inherent in the styles, but nothing warbles or distorts at high volume levels, and the LFE presence is plenty punchy.
The only real extra here is ‘Stunt Stars: Tekken’ (51:00, HD). This is a decent episode of some sort of TV or web series featuring fight choreographer Cyril Raffaelli, a long time favourite of Luc Besson, mostly known for his on-screen appearances in the District 13 movies, and the fact that he and his friend David Belle more or less patented Parkour/free running. Raffaelli’s presence clearly had a positive effect on the film, in terms of both the fight scenes, and the brief Parkour sequence. This featurette shows him planning with the actors and stunt men, playing the game for inspiration, and allows him to discuss his technique. Also included here is 2nd unit director Doug Aarniokoski, stuntmen Gary Stearns (whose final battle stunts are actually covered pretty extensively) and Ilya Nikitenko, production designer Nathan Amondson, and stunt coordinator Eric Norris (Chuck’s son), who talk up Raffaelli’s skills. The trailer, and trailers for other Anchor Bay releases are also included.
Fun fact: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who plays big scary headliner villain Heihachi Mishima, and who somehow walks away from this mess with his dignity in tact, also played the big scary headliner villain Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat. I suppose it’s good to have consistent work in this economy. Not so fun fact: Tekken is pretty much a terrible movie all around. I doubt fans of the video game series will like it very much, and I know non-fans will probably hate it. If it had really earned its R-rating with some truly irresponsible sex or violence some of us might have fun, but it’s mostly a very hard PG-13. This disc’s A/V quality isn’t anything special, but there are no immediate issues, and extras are brief, but not a total waste.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 19th July 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Stunt Stars: Tekken, Trailers, Digital Copy, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Dwight Little
Cast: Kelly Overton, Gary Daniels, Ian Anthony Dale, Cung Le, Roger Huerta
Length: 91 minutes
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