While the interactive experiences that video games provide players with have grown increasingly sophisticated since the ’90s, video-game adaptations are still stuck in the dark ages. Tekken, a new live-action movie based on the popular PlayStation fighting-game series, is mismanaged on just about every level thanks to director Dwight Little’s slavish devotion to outmoded video-game narrative storytelling. Little and screenwriter Alan B. McElroy go to great pains to reproduce the quality of the first Tekken video game’s dialogue and story. Which is to say, they try to preserve the lack of nuance in an already brain-dead franchise. Now, as passive viewers, gamers can watch Little and McElroy replicate the most dimwitted and self-serious aspects of the Tekken games in a totally lifeless Tekken movie.
Tekken introduces us to the video games’ piecemeal futuristic world with a clunky voiceover spiel. In the not-too-distant future, after a cataclysmic event known as the Terror Wars, eight companies formed a giant mega-conglomerate called the Iron Fist. Being generically evil companies that presumably don’t actually produce any products other than pure evil, Iron Fist is most visibly represented by Tekken, the corporation that took over the American territories. After a group of armed Tekken guards kill his mother, Jin Kazama (Jon Foo), a talented martial artist raised in a slum called Anvil, becomes determined to kill Heihachi Mishima (Mortal Kombat star Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, the elder statesman of video-game movies), Tekken’s CEO. To get his revenge, Jin enlists in an Enter the Dragon-type fighting tournament that Mishima hosts every year.
Little and McElroy’s blind devotion to replicating the gaudy look and feel of the Tekken video games is their biggest misstep. For example, many of the characters look almost exactly like they do in the games, inviting unflattering comparisons to overzealous cosplayers. The white hair on the sides of Tagawa’s head is spiked so that it looks like he has mini devil horns, and his eyebrows are dyed with an extremely fake-looking white that makes him look like Sisqo’s grandfather. Likewise, fighter Nina Williams (Candice Hillebrand) traipses around in her signature pair of purple chaps and a matching purple bikini. These things shouldn’t exist in real life, and yet there they are.
Similarly, that Little tries to reproduce the games’ supposedly cinematic flashbacks reveals just as much about his lack of imagination as it does about the original video games’ creative deficiency. Take the pre-fighting taunts that Jin and Bruce Lee-esque fighter Marshall Law (Cung Le) exchange. When Jin barks, “I’m going to Iron Fist and you’re in my way,” and Marshall robotically replies, “You need to learn some respect,” it’s just like the video games in the worst way possible. Likewise, a scene where Jin sifts through his mother’s things and finds a photo that triggers a cheesy training montage is pretty tortuous. In the scene, Jin remembers how she instructed him in martial arts using vicious, sub-Mr. Miyagi-level quips on how he should never give up, always adapt, and blah blah blah, sweep the leg, yada yada yada. This sequence doesn’t work in the context of the video games and it doesn’t work here either. It’s choppy, un-nuanced, and inherently inert. But that’s the way Little likes it, so that’s the way it gets reproduced.
Anyone watching the Tekken movie is bound to be so distracted by Lee’s lifeless copy-and-paste aesthetic that they’re more likely to notice that Christie Monteiro (Kelly Overton), Jin’s love interest, has a massive coin slot peaking out of her white leather pants than the fact that Tekken is morally bankrupt. Jin is presented as “the people’s choice,” according to the Iron Fist Tournament’s announcers and what the people want is brutal violence. Nobody watching the tournament bats an eye when Mishima’s son Kazuya (Ian Anthony Dale) suddenly changes the rules of the tournament so that each match is a fight to the death, not even Jin’s supporters. They love the fact that everybody is expendable and so apparently does Jin. In an early fight scene, Jin breaks the leg of one of his opponents. Then, after throwing his crippled foe out of the ring, he proceeds to pummel him. When his manager tells him to back off, he does, but there are no negative repercussions to Jin’s outburst, not even a perfunctory cry of, “What have I done?!”
That’s because even in the video games Jin is a graceless brawler with no moral scruples. He’s more like Bloodsport’s Frank Dux than The Karate Kid’s Daniel Larusso in that way. And apparently, that’s okay. Which makes sense considering that the maudlin flashbacks of Jin’s mother show her teaching him how to crush his enemies, see them driven before him, and do everything short of hearing the lamentation of their women. There’s no ethical disconnect here, so when nobody bats an eye at Kazuya’s kill-or-be-killed rule change, it’s not especially surprising, even if it’s pretty nonsensical. Win or lose, that’s just how Tekken rolls.
Anchor Bay's DVD release features a very sharp transfer, perfectly preserving the color balance of director Dwight H. Little's over-ripe color palette. The stereo soundtrack is similarly nicely layered, even if the score is often mixed in such a way that it's louder than either the background noise or dialogue.
Apart from a theatrical trailer, the only special feature Anchor Bay included is a behind-the-scenes featurette about Cyril Raffaeli's action choreography. Raffaeli's stunt work is so impressive that his presence almost singlehandedly makes this otherwise mediocre featurette interesting. Raw footage of Raffaeli jumping around and beating people up is pretty neat even if nothing else about Tekken the movie is, including the scenes of actors doing the exact same stunts in the film.
Neither Gon nor Doctor B make cameo appearances in Tekken the movie. You do not want to see Tekken the movie.