Review Date: 1/13/07
Director: Corey Yuen Kwei
Cast: Jamie Pressly, Holly Valance, Devon Aoki, Sarah Carter, Natassia Malthe, Kane Kosugi, Brian White, Ngai Sing (Collin Chou), Kevin Nash, Eric Roberts, cameo by Robin Shou
Unbelievable. Even worse than I dared to imagine. When an English language movie gets released in every country in the world except the United States, it can only mean one of two things: that it's too good for American audiences, or it's bad beyond belief. Unfortunately, DOA falls into the latter category.
I fear that veteran director Corey Yuen is losing touch with his audience and finally getting corrupted by Western filmmaking. Loosely based on the popular Japanese fighting game series "Dead Or Alive" (which is one of my personal faves), the story is about an underground martial arts fighting tournament on a remote island, where only the best of the best have been invited to compete. Hmmm, how original... What sets the movie apart from all of the other "Enter The Dragon" (1973) clones is that the majority of the combatants are hot young women. Ninja Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki) goes to the tournament looking for her lost brother Hayate (Ngai Sing). This act of defiance brands her a shinobi, and her step-sister Ayane (Natassia Malthe) is only too eager to assassinate her. Even though Kasumi is capable of taking care of herself, her trusted aide Ryu Hayabusa (Kane Kosugi) also betrays the clan in order to protect her. Meanwhile, the other characters all have their own agendas to attend to. Pro wrestler Tina Armstrong (Jamie Pressly) wants to prove to the world that she isn't a fake, master thief Christie Allen (Holly Valance) wants the prize money and whatever else she can steal, Helena Douglas (Sarah Carter) is there to honor her father, and everyone else just wants the fame and glory of the competition. But there's something far more sinister at work on DOA Island, which is ruled by a mad scientist named Donovan (creepy Eric Roberts). It's always a mad scientist that ruins the party...
Not surprisingly, as a video game adaptation, the film is AWFUL. Fortunately, it's still a movie about a fighting tournament, which is more than the dreadful "Street Fighter" (1994) can claim. While the names and relationships of the characters remain mostly intact, the personalities and execution are all wrong. So terribly wrong... Perhaps the worst offense is that my favorite character, the adorable Lei-Fang, has only about ten seconds of screen time before getting unceremoniously beaten by Gen Fu. The upside to this is that I don't have to bitterly complain about her terrible performance and how miscast she was, because she's effectively non-existent. While all of the girls look absolutely stunning, their acting is uncomfortably embarrassing. But a film like DOA is not about character development and dialog delivery, it's about action and girls in bikinis.
Thankfully, under Yuen's guidance and three months of intense training, all of the girls manage to hold their own quite well in a fight and perform most of their own stunts. Unfortunately, excessive wire-work, terrible digital effects, and invasive editing ruin most of the fight scenes, which comes as a huge disappointment from someone of Yuen's considerable talent, and effectively invalidates all of the hard work that the girls put into their physical performances. Fortunately, Yuen also has some experienced martial artists in the cast, including Kane Kosugi and Ngai Sing. Only during Kosugi's fights does the camera linger on the action long enough to see his movements follow through, although numerous hits are still cut short. Yuen's increasingly disturbing use of ridiculous computer animation effects only cheapens the experience and distracts from the real action.
The most recognizable character in the movie is Ayane, whose purple hair and ninja garb most closely resemble her game model. She's also the most convincing actor in the cast, and seems to be the only one who takes the movie seriously. Devon Aoki is fun to watch and has just enough physical grace to pull off her part, but her delivery is amazingly lifeless. Jamie Pressly is probably the most physical of the bunch and her fights are fairly convincing, but sadly her character is played mostly for laughs. Holly Valance is pure sexual eye candy, and embarrassingly, I can't even remember any of her fight scenes. Sarah Carter is the most sorely miscast female in the group, and her cute and bubbly portrayal of Helena is downright appalling. She's supposed to be a sophisticated and cultured opera singer, not some bimbo in a bikini on rollerblades. However, the intensity of her fight scenes is extremely impressive and her physical performance is the most inspiring of the bunch. On the flip side, the best casting in the film is pro wrestler Kevin Nash as Bass Armstrong, Tina's father. He fits the part perfectly and his experience with pro wrestling makes him a natural physical actor. While he's played mostly for laughs, he pulls it off with endearing charm and subtle humor. Although Brian White is a good fighter, he does not make a very good Zack. I think he was trying too hard to be funky and cool, whereas Zack's goofiness and arrogance know no bounds. The actor who played Bayman certainly looked the part, but was actually pretty ridiculous. However, the guy who played Leon was very impressive. Nearly the entire cast of the game made it into the film, even if only for a few seconds like Lei-Fang, Jann-Lee, Gen Fu, and Brad Wong - strangely, all of the Chinese characters... It was also a bit disappointing to see wushu expert Robin Shou ("Mortal Kombat" (1995) ) reduced to mere cameo status as a comedic foil for Tina. *sigh*
Once again, I feel compelled to ask the question, "Why are video game adaptations so bad?" There's great stuff in the source material, so why do screenwriters always insist on throwing that away in favor of writing something original and completely unrelated? Something that ultimately offends and alienates the core audience, while confusing the mainstream. Even the best adaptations only succeed in capturing the spirit of the material, but never the actual stories, struggles, and emotions of the characters. I refuse to believe that it's that hard to do! A movie like "Tomb Raider" (2001) could have and should have written itself with no effort involved, but again the filmmakers felt compelled to reject the source material and replace it with farce. With more and more video game adaptations on the horizon, one can only hope that someone will eventually get it right. And if nothing else, I'm grateful that the notorious Uwe Boll had nothing to do with this film. I shudder to think how that might have turned out...
Notes on the American release: Much to my surprise, DOA was finally given a theatrical release in June of 2007. Naturally, it completely tanked at the box office, bringing in less than half a million dollars of revenue. This is what happens when you theatrically release a movie that's already available on DVD. What's the point? As far as I can tell, The Weinstein Company enjoys sitting on properties just to piss people off. It certainly doesn't make them any money. And by the time they get around to making them available, it's far too late for reconciliation.