Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Tekken: Blood Vengeance

A motorcycle speeds along a raised highway, most likely a bridge. The leather clad and helmeted rider, showing more cleavage than the average street hooker, sees a truck in the distance, and comments, unsurprised, about an ambush. The motorcycle and truck collide in a huge explosion, which rocks the bridge and sends pieces flying. Seconds later, the rider lands on her feet, unharmed. The truck is on it’s side, but somehow the truck door blasts off, and out jumps a brunette in a formal Chinese dress. The rider removes her helmet to reveal a long blonde ponytail. The rider is Nina, and the woman in the dress is her sister Anna. If you’re familiar with the title of the film, you are not surprised by what happened at all, are probably laughing or giggling, and you KNOW what happens next... If you’re not, I’ll give you a hint, it involves jump kicks.

The King of Iron Fist tournament got a CGI film in Japan, and the good old U.S. got a special showing today. As a bonus, the film was followed by a showing of a filmed interview between Dai Sato, the movie’s script writer, and Katsuhiro Harada, the lead designer of the Tekken series.

As a fan, the movie was a real treat. The CGI was incredible, and the 3D was really well done, with a lot of detail done to natural layers, rather than gimmicky “something is flying in your face” 3D.

The movie was NOT an adaptation of one of the games, instead choosing to focus on longtime character Ling Xiaoyu, an eternally young Chinese born school girl who fights mostly in a Japanese schoolgirl’s uniform with big ravery bead bracelets, Alisa Bosconovitch, a character new to the Tekken series, and of course, Xiaoyu’s superpowered panda, Panda.

The story takes place mostly in a school that Xiaoyu has been forced to transfer to by Nina in order to spy on another student, Shin Kamiya. He’s made up for this movie, so I can’t tell you much about him without spoiling plot points. Suffice to say, her assignment isn’t to get a hot date. While on said mission, she runs into Alisa, who claims to have a crush on Shin. Rounding out the cast are the aforementioned Nina and Anna, who are working for Jin Kazama and his father, Kazuya Mishima, respectively. Also in small roles is a very odd school teacher who reminded me of someone from the Soul Calibur franchise, and Ganryu, who appears briefly as Xiaoyu’s gym teacher in the school she gets expelled from.

The story is decently written, and the dialogue is, of course, translated, and as such, laughable a good chunk of the time. This does not necessarily make it bad, because the “supposed to be funny” parts are still funny, and it just means some of the extreme melodrama ends up being hilarious as well. The immediate complaint of fans will most likely be the exclusion of nearly 40 characters from the script, but I felt this is what gave the film it’s strength, a strength increased by the interview between the writer and game designer after the film ended. For example, Dai Sato explicitly wanted to focus on two young girls for a growth arc, and that he wanted one long time character (Xiaoyu) and one character brand new from Tekken 6 (Alisa). He said he saw Alisa as the only character to have an obvious spiritual growth arc (**MINOR SPOILER for non Tekken players** she’s a robot), to which Katsuhiro Harada said “Really? To me she was chainsaws.”

The film’s greatest weakness is simple: it assumes you’re a fan of Tekken. Even as a fan I was a bit surprised how little ramp up info they gave. Why is Jin running Mishima Zibatsu? Who is G Corporation, and why are we supposed to understand they are the bad guys if Jin took over the evil entity from the earlier games? How is the “M Gene” in any way related to the Devil Gene? Even the new guy is not explained that well, and I assumed I forgot about some less popular character (there’s 44, after all), until the writer talked about why he made him up.

If this comes to blu ray I would DEFINITELY rent it in THAT format (the detail is that good), and if you’re a Tekken fan, seeing this somehow would be my recommendation. In my opinion, this is how video game franchises (and fighting game franchises in specific) should be handled, outside of the scope of the games themselves, but well within canon for the franchise.