Thursday, 19 October 2006

DOA: Dead Or Alive (2006)

Mostly harmless

DOA is a movie adaptation of the arcarde fighting game series of the same name, famous for its stable of well-endowed female characters and its physics emulation engine, which is used not to create realistic battlegrounds or fight simulations, but rather to produce realistic facial expressions and more importantly, the trademark jiggly, bouncing appendages of the aforementioned female characters. More recent instalments of the game feature female character designs with skimpier clothing and even more realistically jiggly parts, as well as a beach volleyball sidegame for the overwhelmingly male fans of the series.

All these features appear in DOA: Dead or Alive, making it one of the first relatively faithful movie adaptations of video games this decade. For the movie, the plot is harvested from different campaign stories of the later DOA arcade games, involving an international fighting competition organised by the mysterious DOA organisation. This puts the DOA movie into almost the same genre claimed by Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. The only question you should be asking is whether DOA can top the very fun and irreverent Mortal Kombat, or whether it is as toxic as the Street Fighter movie.

I like the fact that the writers of DOA did attempt to structure their movie like the actual arcade game. It’s very promising and fun in a nudge nudge, wink wink sort of way - the main characters are introduced and their backstories and motivations for joining the contest told in quick succession and in summary form, just like the obligatory pre-fight sequences in the arcarde game itself. The writers even manage to work in a live-action arcade hybrid style more than once, complete with health bars and huge K.O. titles at the end of a fight. With the help of CGI and blue screens, fight locations are pretty close to those in the game, and the entire cast of fighters in the movie are faithful to their characters in the arcade. Even the main overarching plot and conspiracy is taken from the game itself. So what’s there not to like? Why am I not saying this is more superior than Mortal Kombat?

Part of the problem appears to stem from the budget of the DOA movie project. Although backed by 4 production houses, including one that benefits from generous German tax exemptions (witness Uwe Boll’s remarkable oeuvre), most of the CGI effects have a very raw and rough feel to them that screams "this effect would look decent if we had more money!" This is offset by Corey Yuen’s faultless choreography, but unfortunately choreography cannot carry this action movie through, for the simple reason that there is way too much dialogue, and limp dialogue at that. It’s not bad enough to the point of cheesiness or pure entertainment, and at times, I wished I could just press any button on the arcade console to skip the dialogue to get to the next fight already. Maybe the director should include this feature in the DVD version. There is either not enough realistic jiggling of scantily clad female parts, or the martial arts director simply isn’t the right man to direct a fighting film that feels sensual and sexy.

But in the end, it is the lack of a real sense of fun and wild abandonment that marks DOA as agreeable but mostly harmless fare, instead of a genuine crowd-pleaser. You might well get more entertainment out of playing the actual game on an arcade machine.

First published at incinemas on 26 October 2006

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