Best Movies You’ve Never Heard of: DOA: Dead or Alive #DeadorAlive

Best Movies You’ve Never Heard Of: DOA: Dead Or Alive – Not the Video Game Movie that We Deserve, but the Video Game Movie That We Need!

Video games being made into live action movies: a dicey proposition at best. Quite a few have tried to make a decent flick out of a concept that originated as a video game and many have failed miserably (I’m looking specifically at you Uwe Boll & Andrzej Bartkowiak). That’s not to say that all of these films have been bad. On the contrary, Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia, Paul W.S. Anderson’s Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil film series, and Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill were all entertaining films. I found Duncan Jones’ Warcraft film to be particularly good as well. Even Neveldine and Taylor’s Gamer, though not tied to an existing video game franchise, was a fantastic social commentary on modern society, the future of gaming, and how vacuous and depraved gamers can be (oh, and they soooooooo can be). Ultimately, it’s a tough balance to bring video games to life on the big screen, so when one does it well, its definitely worth mentioning, which is why today we’re going to celebrate the over-the-top glory that is Corey Yuen’s 2006 masterpiece, DOA: Dead or Alive, based on the video game series made by Team Ninja and published by Koei Tecmo Games.

Now, I know what you are thinking… a masterpiece? Really? Too which, I shall first respond by blowing you a virtual/digital raspberry, and secondly I will say yes, it is a splendiferous masterpiece of video game live action film-making glory. Truthfully, it’s probably just a guilty pleasure, but it’s damned fun guilty pleasure! I understand that this is not an overly deep film, yet at the same time I knew I wasn’t thinking that I was about to sit through the video game equivalent of Citizen Kane when I bought the ticket to see DOA: Dead or Alive in the theater 9 years ago (I think I was one of 10 people to see this in American theaters, kinda of like the MST3K the movie… sadly). The reason that I classify this film as a masterpiece is simple, it embraces all of the various idiosyncrasies of the franchise and lovingly flaunts all of them. Overt sexuality – check. Hard core martial arts action – check. Tongue-in-cheek humor – Check. Ninjas – check. Paper thin plot – check. Xtreme Beach volleyball – check. Out of nowhere goofball sequences – check. In the grand scheme of things, this movie does its level best to hit all of the markers that make the Dead or Alive franchise so much fun in the first place. DOA is a curious enigma in the gaming industry as it is decidedly racy (which was bold when it originally released way back in 1996, and even doubly more so in this modern needlessly politically correct news media environment), oddly goofy, and yet at the same time an excellent fighting game with exceptionally tight controls. On one hand it’s hard to take it seriously, and on the other it’s hard to not take it seriously once you dig into the in deep combo and the counter system. What sets DOA apart is that it has personality, uncommon within the fighting game genre which has such vanilla titles like Tekken, Street Fighter, and Soul Calibur – which are all excellent technical fighter with absolutely no personality at all. Here’s a few examples of the bizarre range of the Dead or Alive series of games:

The modern face of DOA, still as bizarre and fun as ever!

Kasumi’s ending cutscene from Dead or Alive 4 (hint, it has absolutely nothing to do with the game’s story and is out of left field in a HUGE way!)

A little Xtreme Beach Volleyball

and of course, some uncompromisingly hardcore ninja action!

And this is the Dead Or Alive experience, in a nutshell. It’s chaotic, haughty, overtly erotic, hardcore, goofy and downright bizarre sometimes. Which is why this film is such a delight. It truly embraces all of these aspects of the DOA franchise and wears them with absolute pride. The actors are sexy, the fights are intense, the scenarios are outrageous, they play volleyball and the plot has lots of ninjas. What more could you ask of this film? What’s the movie about? Basically, a powerful business man named Donovan, is hosting a fighting tournament named Dead or Alive. He has invited fighters from all across the globe, in an effort to recruit the best fighters in their chosen style of martial arts. the reward for winning is 10 million dollars, however; Donovan’s actual plan is to collect data from the fighters (via nanobots secretly injected into their blood during their physical assessments) to create a new form of predictive AR attack weapon that will make him billions of dollars in the international arms black market.

The director, Corey Yuen, is no stranger to action movies having spent a majority of his career working with martial arts icon Jet Li on a host of very successful projects: The Legend, the Defender and the Enforcer to name a few. He also directed the Jason Statham vehicle, the Transporter as well. Bottom line, this man knows action, and it shows in the choreography. There are ton of action sequences in DOA: Dead or Alive and they are slickly filmed and well staged. Each fight is unique, not only in setting but in the match up between fighters of various size and skill. It’s clear that a lot of thought went into each and every action sequence. On top of that, it is very evident that a ton of hard work was put in by the actors, some of which had never performed heavily choreographed action sequences before. Kudos all the way around for the action.

Check out one of the many well filmed action scenes in this clip:

Visually, DOA: Dead or Alive pops impressively on screen with lavish, bright colors and well realized sets. The production designers and costume designers should be given a round of applause for trying to squeeze in as many iconic visuals and outfits from the original games as possible. I love the little flourishes that are added in as well. Environments are fully destructible and mutli-tiered, just like in the games, which means that fighters are flying through walls and being knocked off of platforms left and right. Also, they pepper in fun visual cues, like a flurry of cherry blossom leaves flying through the air during an action sequence, or the strategic use of rain during another fight. All in all, the director and production team did a tremendous job putting together a visually fun movie that is a treat for the eyes. So many action movies, especially martial arts films, rely heavily on drab colors, browns, blacks, greens, off white, etc., but DOA: Dead or Alive flourishes with a bold color palette that truly sets it apart from other movies in the genre.

Although, the action and the pretty pictures are what lure us into the filmed world of DOA, what keeps us interested are the characters! It is immensely fun to watching the actors breathe life into characters who had existed beforehand in battle through a handful of loosely tied together cutscenes in the video games. Here, we get to see them as never before, interacting during training, relaxing between fights, and making bonds/friendships. Jaime Pressly puts in a fine performance as Tina, keeping her fun, driven and very athletic. Devon Aoki takes the time to mine Kasumi’s character for all of the determined, yet misunderstood bravado that makes her a staple of the game series. Holly Valance is having way too much fun playing the master thief Christie, and it totally shows. Brian J. White rocks the goofy mini mo-hawk, as he keeps it funky playing Zack. Kevin Nash gets to play to his strengths as the ever popular pro-wrestler Bass. Colin Chou is super hardcore as the ninja extraordinaire, Hayate. Sarah Carter even gets to have fun playing the martially skilled Helena, who’s unfortunately been misguided by the nefarious Donovan. Eric Roberts puts in a deviously nuanced turn as Donovan, the architect of the evil scheme that brings the combatants of DOA together. There are quite a few actors that will go unnamed, but be advised all of the DOA characters make an appearance, even if only briefly.

It isn’t all rainbows and puppy dogs, especially if you are a fan of the series. The character of Hayabusa, affably played by Kane Kosugi, is awkward at times, to the point of being embarrassed to be around women. The Hayabusa from the games is a stone cold ninja, who is hardly afraid or intimidated by anyone or any situation. It is unfortunate that he is used for such comic relief, but to Kosugi’s credit – when the action starts his Hayabusa kicks a lot of ass! Also, the character of Maximilian Marsh, portrayed by Matthew Marsden, seems wholly unnecessary. Max (a thief that works with Christie) does not exist as a character from the franchise (that I am aware of), and there’s not much that he brings to the table that Christie couldn’t have done by herself. Marsden is likable enough, channeling a circa 1970s super charming cat burglar vibe, but ultimately his character feels tacked on, and what makes his character even more curious is that he is specifically added as a combatant in the Dead or Alive tournament. However, they did add another new character, Weatherby (portrayed by Steve Howey), a tech genius who runs all of the computer systems as Donovan, and he works perfectly as comedy relief and a love struck nerd, likely because he is not brought on as a fighter. On a final point of nerdy dissension, Helena, for one reason or another, is not an opera singer or entertainment performer of any kind, but I digress…

Unfortunately, this movie bombed at the American box office (it had moderate success in the international market). Likely it was a lack of star power that did DOA: Dead or Alive in. Perhaps if they had been able to grab Tom Cruise for Donovan, or Lady Gaga for Helena, this movie might have been a hit (and yes, I am totally joking. This movie was never going to be a hit). However; we would have been denied the great performances by Eric Roberts and Sarah Carter, which would have been a shame because they were both a perfect fit for the film. Honestly, this is a large part of the problem with films in America – so many entertaining films never even scratch the surface at the box office because they do not have a bankable star or established film franchise to guarantee success, and as such they are not successful. As a connoisseur of action films, it’s a shame to see so many flicks with vast potential get shot down at the box office because an audience isn’t willing to take a chance on something different or out of the ordinary. Films like Haywire (2011) with Gina Carano and Outlander (2008) with James Caviezel struggled to find an audience purely because they didn’t have a bankable lead with solid international appeal. I understand the economics of this paradigm, but it doesn’t make it suck any less.

The good news, is that streaming media services has made it easier to get your film distributed to a proper audience that is willing to try movie going experiences with actors that they are less aware of, and while forgoing the box office experience altogether. Hopefully, films like DOA: Dead or Alive, will find an audience in the streaming cloud and future films like it will be made exclusively for those type of services. Certainly, you should give DOA: Dead or Alive a watch, so that you might bathe in the hedonistic glory that is this film. A delight to watch from the first frame till when the credits roll, it can be purchased on Blu-Ray, DVD, or various Digital rental/purchase methods.

On a final note, I realize that a sequel to this is probably never going to be made, but if Corey Yuen got the cast and crew back together again for a sequel crowd funding campaign, I would help fund that project in a heartbeat. DOA: Dead or Alive is so much fun, and it gets the tongue-in-cheek nature of the franchise. It’s just begging for sequel. You heard me DOA cast and crew, get you act together and hit the Kickstarter to get us a sequel made right now!

Check out the trailer, because you’ve been invited to DOA: Dead or Alive!

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