I was warned about this one. When I mentioned to one friend that I had borrowed the Dead Or Alive film, he solemnly told me it is one of the worst films he has ever seen. And he spends a lot of time watching bad films. He has seen many classics, but also more all-out bad films than a sane human should ever subject themselves to. He likes Old School.
But I knew I was in for a bad film. I have a film rental subscription of the type that gives you better value for money the more films you see. So, in among the Korean revenge cinema and edifying documentaries, I add the occasional guilty pleasure. The two main points in this paragraph are dependent ones: just because one watches a film does not mean one has experienced value; just because a film causes feelings of guilt does not mean it will provide pleasure.
So we have DOA. It’s a cheap, cheap film based on a video game. Its cast includes a pro-wrestler, a supermodel and an Australian soap star-cum-telephone huckster. When your resident thesp is someone from My Name is Earl, you know you’re in for a rough ride. But who cares, as long as it passes the time, right?
I don’t even know where to begin, so let’s focus on the good points. There are lots of pretty men and women on show: it is a feast for those who like skimpiness and ripped-ness. The aforementioned pro-wrestler is none other than former WWF champ and old, old man Kevin Nash. It doesn’t hurt that he’s probably the most self-aware fake fighter out there, has a killer sense of humour and is actually rather a decent actor. As far as wrestlers go, anyway.
There is the occasional snippet of actual cinematic competence, too. Yes, the more eagle-eyed DOA viewer may detect a fleeting good angle here and there. A couple of the fights are well choreographed. We’re not talking Yuen Wo-Ping here, but the forest fight and the brawl with the henchmen (and hench-ladies) are both rather good. The scenery, too, is occasionally eye-catching and pleasant. I mean, no more so than, say, a modern videogame, or Sandals ad, but nice is nice. The funniest line is ‘thanks, Wellington’. I suppose you had to be there.
I think that’s it for good points. Generally, it’s a ham-fisted grotesquerie whose lingering butt- and leg-shots give gratuitousness a bad name. The premise of the film is an international fighting tournament, to which only the best fighters are invited. Their invitations appear as soon as they’ve done an impressive bit of knacking, perplexingly. But DOA admittedly provides many a perplexing moment. But more on that in a bit.
Yeah, the plot is nothing you haven’t seen before, as long as you’ve encountered either a film or a game that involved people beating each other up. It’s essentially the world’s worst Enter the Dragon. Or the world’s worst Best of the Best II. At least, it’s the worst example of the form I have seen. And I don’t even suggest Enter the Dragon was in any way a classic of the cinema. What it was, though, was a good film that made some sense and featured some fantastic choreographed fights.
There are no fights in DOA that are a patch on any fight in ETD. In fact, for sheer fight quality, you’d be wiser to watch Bolo vs. Those Unfortunate Scrotes on a loop for 80 minutes than this delight. And Kevin Nash, cool as he is, isn’t much of a charisma challenge for Bruce Lee. Or the dude with the afro. Or the white dude. But Jaime Pressley does have a nice set of abs. More than Bruce Lee, DOA bites relatively recent flicks Hero and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. There is plenty of (mediocre) wire work in settings such as epic palace exteriors, lush forests and… giant Buddha heads. It’s obviously an insignificant speck when compared to the Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou classics.
The biggest crime the film commits is not entirely DOA’s fault. The idea of a film in which people get together from around the world to kick each other’s faces off is an archaic one. It was fine in the 1970s, and the 80s. It was eve fine when the Streetfighter II game came out. Now, though, we live in an era of mixed martial arts. Since 1993 the Ultimate Fighting Championship (and, for about a decade, the Japanese Pride Fighting Championship) has been pitting actual fighters from around the world against each other in hand to hand combat. So the idea of a ninja fighting a cocky American, or an old man with a white beard competing against a Chinese school girl, is a bit crap. Unless, that is, cinema can use its mysterious powers of ‘scripting’ and ‘editing’ to create the illusion of something believable and awesome.
So DOA may not have the best dialogue ever. Or good dialogue, for that matter. It may be cheesier than the Bee Gees… being the Bee Gees. It may even commit the heinous act of dragging – it’s bloody 80 minutes – as it goes. But these are not cardinal sins for what the film is trying to achieve. In fact, stupidity should be encouraged in a film like this. No, the crime is to not be as entertaining as its real life equivalent. When you can switch on ESPN and see better, more varied fights, involving more engaging (and ridiculous) characters, your film’s sole justification for existing (aside from cash, natch, o cynical reader) has vanished as quickly as DOA ninjas Hayabusa and Kasumi might do.
Still, I bet DOA’s better than the new Dragonball live-action film. That one has me in a constant state of shudder.