DOA: Dead or Alive

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“Fists of Fury”

I think it’s safe to say that I came into this with low expectations. That’s despite the presence behind the camera of Corey Yuen, who has made some great films in the past; he’s best known in the West for The Transporter, but Savior of the Soul is a personal favorite, and Yuen is no strange to the action-heroine genre, having also directed Yes, Madam and She Shoots Straight. Still, this was utterly buried on its theatrical release – it lasted a whole week at the cinema – and then consigned to ‘Exclusive to Blockbuster’ DVD oblivion. Almost two years after its originally-scheduled US release of August 2006, and 13 months after finally escaping, the movie finally made it onto the screens at GWG Towers.

And…it’s not as bad as we feared it might be. Admittedly, I am not the best person to judge its merits in comparison to the video-game from which it was adapted. While I’ve mashed buttons on it and got my ass kicked by our son occasionally (and, somewhat oddly, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, despite being a jiggle-fest of epic proportions, was a great favourite of our daughter), I don’t care one whit for how accurate the movie is to the game. The fact that Character X does not have the right colour hair, or Character Y’s kung-fu is from a different school, does not bother me in the slightest.

No-one is ever going to mistake any of the supermodel participants as great, unsung martial-arts talents, but between the editing, wirework, doubling and occasionally impressive moments from the actresses themselves, Yuen does a credible job of putting things together. There are certainly no shortage of action scenes, and while the editing is, of necessity, from the rapid-fire school, it does manage to retain coherence – thereby putting it above many action films, which really ought to know better. Particularly memorable is the introduction of jewel-thief Helena (Valance), who beats up a few of Interpol’s finest, unencumbered by clothing. It’s sufficiently tongue-in-cheek to come across as fun, rather than sleazy, and captures the spirit of the original nicely.

It remains, however, a movie based on a video-game, and almost inevitably this means the storyline is absolute pants. Yet another martial-arts tournament, sponsored by a rich ne’er-do-well; has nobody ever seen Enter the Dragon? [Actually, there are a couple of nods to suggest the writers have indeed done so] In this case, the particularly ludicrous Donovan (Roberts) intends to capture the skills of the participants using nanobots, and turn them into a pair of nifty sunglasses which give him all their fighting abilities. As you do. However, Kasumi (Aoki) is seeking her brother, who vanished at the same tournament last year – but because she left her clan, an assassin (Natassia Malthe) is on her trail. And so on, and so on.

The weakest link in the film is likely Roberts. Not only does he sport an embarrassing pony-tail, he may also be the least convincing martial-arts star since Julian Sands in The Tuxedo, and even Yuen is hard-pushed to make him look even slightly-convincing. When Jamie Pressly has got better moves than you, it may be time to rethink your choice of roles. One yearns for someone with genuine skill to show up as an adversary for our heroines: about the closest we get to it, outside the stunt doubles, are Robin Shou, star of Mortal Kombat, who bookends the film as a pirate. Another issue is it is often difficult to tell Tina, Christie and Helena apart, especially when they are playing beach-volleyball in bikinis. That is my excuse, anyway, for why I was playing particularly close attention during those scenes. :-)

Characterization is about as deep as you’d imagine: not very. Helena is the only one who comes over as having more personality than could be scrawled on the back of a console cartridge. This really isn’t much of a problem, since no-one involved with the project is under any illusions about why the viewer is watching this, and it isn’t for subtle character studies – any more than that’s why we play the game. That’s really the key to getting the most out of the sugary confection, thinly disguised as a cinematic experience, to be found here. If the film is eminently forgettable, that will just make it all the more entertaining the next time you watch it.

Dir: Corey Yuen
Star: Jamie Pressly, Devon Aoki, Eric Roberts, Holly Valance

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