Nostalgia! That wonderful/awful sensation Don Draper describes as “the pain from an old wound”. The feeling that drives us to purchase every season of The Muppet Show on a whim (totally worth it), and causes us to misremember Labyrinth as a masterpiece (it isn’t). It toys with our memory, overrules our common sense and has the power to direct the torrent of our gut instincts. My generation is currently in the throes of a nostalgia-driven marketing onslaught; one which has spawned films based on Hasbro toys and countless video games. I guess we’re an easy target. We hear the theme tune to Super Mario Bros 2 and we become entranced, not unlike the lullaby-loving serial killer in Dario Argento’s Deep Red. We cradle a Namco G-Con, and get Vietnam-esque flashbacks of Point Blank parlour games. And indeed, when we hear the phrase “Tekken”, we think longingly back to a simpler time in which video games could fit on a regulation-sized CD and whose FMVs were not oft-skipped annoyances, but rather technological wonders akin to today’s Avatar.
I blame nostalgia for both the creation of, and my curiosity in, the Tekken movie. Based on the classic – and still popular – fighting game of the same name, Tekken is sure to ensnare the interest of those who spent countless nights pounding away at their PlayStation controllers trying to defeat the menacing Heihachi in battle. And, like most nostalgia-driven exploits, any attention awarded it is undeserved.
I spent much of my youth playing Tekken 2 on the original PlayStation, but even at the height of my obsession I would not have been able to tell you the game’s plot. I remember it being a fighting game – a tough fighting game, but a fair fighting game; classier than Mortal Kombat; more of a fighting simulator than the cartoonish, arcade-ready Street Fighter – but I don’t recall a plot of any kind. Dwight H. Little’s film adaptation offers a cursory storyline. Whether it’s faithful to the game’s mythology is irrelevant. It’s ludicrous.
It’s the distant future, and the world has been torn apart by an undefined global war. The continents are now run by a bunch of evil “corporations” (damn those vaguely defined corporations who make their money through international genocide!). America is controlled by a company known as Tekken, headed by the impressively moustachioed Heihachi Mishima (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and his imprudent son Kazuya (Ian Anthony Dale). For no particular reason, Tekken runs an Iron Fist Tournament in which fighters battle for … glory? Perhaps this is an important commodity in a dystopia. One of the fighters is Jin (Jon Foo), a street urchin eager to avenge the Tekken-commissioned murder of his mother.
All these plot elements – as unnecessary and quaint as the “I’m delivering a pizza” scene at the beginning of a porno – are lain down in the first 30 minutes, allowing for an entire hour of almost uninterrupted fighting and mindless action set pieces. But don’t let that get your hopes up. The fight-sequences – dreamlike and almost-spiritual in the original game – are relegated to UFC-style octagons, shot like shaky-cam snuff and soundtracked by Insane Clown Posse-wannabees. It’d be headache inducing if it weren’t so damn boring.
It gets the occasional thing “right” (such as certain characters’ signature moves), but a slavish dedication to the source material is not something I’m looking for in a video game adaptation. For instance, should a studio adapt Frogger for the big screen, they’d be better off hiring Werner Herzog to direct and having absolutely no reference to the addictive game within the film. A faithful adaptation would be inane. That doesn’t mean the game is bad. Rather, it should simply remain a game. The same goes for Tekken. The film – hilariously – attempts the grand gesture of crowbarring a plot where it doesn’t belong, and then settles for scene after scene of punching. Neither works. Could it be that a video game about punching is unlikely to produce a feature film of much worth? Shock horror, I’m sure.
This is a film in which characters actually say the lines “That’s gotta hurt” and “We gotta move”. At one point in the film, the text “Anvil: Green Zone – Tau Sector” appears on screen without context. Is that to designate a specific area? If so … it’s very specific. So specific, that it is the only area designated throughout the entire picture. Does it really need three individual signifiers? Prior to that point, the most we knew about the film’s geography was that it took place in Tekken-run America. What’s an Anvil: Green Zone? Speaking of Tekken-run America, the set design is generic post-apocalypse porn. Actually, that’s an insult to pornography, which often lack originality (see my “pizza” reference from earlier), but at least offer some level of enjoyment to the viewer. That being said, Tekken also offers an occasional, inexplicable, badly-lit sex scene to augment proceedings.
Part of me feels bad for the director, the screenwriters, the actors and the countless others who worked on this $35 million production ($35 million! Where did that money go?!), regardless of the fact that they have created a terrible, terrible film. No one intends to make a bad movie, and I’m sure everyone involved tried their best. My disdain is aimed squarely at Tekken’s rights-holders (who should know better than to sully their game’s reputation), and the producers who tried to capitalise on our nostalgia by churning out lazy drivel. We’re not idiots. We deserve enjoyment and quality cinema just like anyone. I’m not just saying the same amount of effort that goes into adapting Jane Eyre ought to be replicated in an adaptation of Dead or Alive. I’m saying all films deserve the same amount of effort – the highest amount of effort. If you’re going to sell us a product, it better be damn well worth purchasing. And maybe if it weren’t so clearly a commodity, and instead, oh, I don’t know, a work of art, we’d be more inclined to hand over our money. Tekken isn’t the worst film in the world, but anything other than a full-throated condemnation of it is a celebration of nostalgia-abuse; an urge to movie producers to take advantage of our innocuous fond memories and churn them, Rumpelstiltskin-style, into gold.
Tekken is arrives on DVD and Blu-ray November 10, 2010.