Film review by: Witney Seibold
Based on a video game, Dwight Little‘s “Tekken” so accurately reproduces the situations, conceits, characters, costumes and color scheme of a late 1980s fight film, that you could have replaced the lead actor, Jon Foo, with a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, changed some of the cellular telephone references, and you would have had pretty much the exact same film. It’s unclear whether the director was trying to actively keep some of the genre’s cliches alive after 25 years (Dwight Little was, after all, the director of ’80s theatrical staples such as “Bloodstone,” “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers,” and the 1989 version of “Phantom of the Opera”), or if he was trying to tap into the overactive nostalgia glands of people my age, who grew up in the 1980s, and have fond memories of the cheesy fight flicks of the era (think “Bloodsport”). Either way, we have on our hand a straight-to-video oddity that is so clunky and over-the-top that its embarrassingly enjoyable.
So here’s the setup, such as it is, and know going in that this film was based on one of those fighting video games to feature a colorful array of weird character waiting on each other for no reason: It is the future, and the world is now owned by a small handful of superpowerful corporations, who have set up martial law, and have a stringent economic system. To distract the masses, the corporation of Tekken hosts televised grudge matches, and supports a healthy betting system. Living in this hellish world is Jin Kazama (Foo), who is a hardass on paper (he regularly swaps contraband chocolate for sex), but who actually looks too friendly to pull it off. He lives with his wizened mother (Tamlyn Tomita), who has taught him martial arts, and is clearly marked to die.
Yes, she dies in a Tekken raid (?), forcing Jin to take revenge by competing in the Tekken fight tournament. The fights take place, bare-fisted, in an elaborate arena with a changing background (which is, I suppose, cribbed from the video game), and are overseen by the wicked Heihachi (B-movie standby Cory-Hiroyuki Tagawa) who has one of the goofiest villain hairdos this side of “Barbarella.” Heihachi also has a douchebag son named Kazuya (Ian Anthony Dale) who dreams of usurping the Tekken tournaments. We now get to meet Jin’s opponents in the tournament, including the token black guy, the mean female twins (who are never seen fighting, oddly), and the babe he’ll fall in love with Christie (Kelly Overton). I’d like to point out that Christie’s pants all throughout the movie look as if they were accidentally put on backwards, and then weren’t laced up all the way, giving us several loving shots of ⅓ of her her buttocks. Something for the boys watching. Oh wait. Girls wouldn’t watch this.
Also in the rogue’s gallery of bad guys is a mysterious half-android named Bryan Fury played by fight film impresario Gary Daniels. Daniels is one of those wonderful actors who crops up in some really horrid B-movies, but always manages to look like he’s having a good time, and who sincerely believes in whatever he’s doing. He’s a boyishly handsome stud with real fight chops, and a clunky passion for the drivel he’s often associated with. This also marks the second time Daniels has played a half-android fighter in a cheesy fight flick, the first being 1995’s “Heatseeker.” Look up his filmography sometime, and track down what you can. You’ll find that Daniels offers all kinds of unusual pleasures. There is a scene in “Tekken” where Daniels takes a roundhouse kick to the head, and doesn’t budge an inch. I’m convinced that Daniels is actually some kind of robot. What a cool dude.
I probably don’t need to return to the story at this point, as you know from the setup how it will turn out. A double-cross. A twist. A final rival that Jin will defeat in the ring. “Tekken” is determined not to throw in anything to buck conventions or toy with expectations. Because of that, there is an odd B-movie purity to the film that you rarely get from action films anymore. There is no attempt to be realistic or “gritty.” It’s a film, like “D.O.A.: Dead or Alive,” that is made for 14-year-old boys who are staying up too late, eating pizza, and are buzzed off too much soda.
The instinct from teen audiences these days seems to be a dogged comparison to the source material. I’m not familiar with the “Tekken” game, but I can still assure audiences that trying to find the comparative virtues between the two is a churlish exercise. Just enjoy the film. It’s stupid fun in and of itself.