Friday, August 15, 2014

An Accute Case of Sequilitis: TEKKEN 2: KAZUYA'S REVENGE (2014)

Once upon a time in a land far, far away someone decided to adapt these newfangled video games to the magic of the silver screen. At the time, video games weren’t exactly story driven and the most popular of these were simply things like a yellow pie shape eating dots in a maze or a slightly obsessed Italian plumber navigating an under-construction building while avoiding a never ending supply of barrels that were left at the top along with a very angry gorilla. If you were going to adapt them, you were going to have to fill in more holes than “Load Runner”.

Modern video games make things a bit easier by providing back-stories, but any time a movie is adapted from a book, a game, a cartoon, whatever, there are going to be changes, it’s a fact inherent of the medium. Even if you do something incredibly faithfully (say, 2009s WATCHMEN or 2012s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS), there will be those that are furious that one little detail has been slightly altered. Don’t be that guy.

That said I have a confession to make. I’m not a fan of the “Tekken” games. I know there are legions of them and I know they are vociferous. Understand I don’t hate them, I just never could get into them. Because of this I’m going to leave the ranting about the differences between the movies and the games to the people who sit around on message boards trying to pick fights with anyone who dares to have a slightly different viewpoint.

TEKKEN (2009) served as the first live-action version of the game. Directed by veteran genre director Dwight H. Little, it envisioned the King of the Iron Fist tournament to be an underground bloodsport in the year 2039. Taking place within the walled city-corporation of Tekken, it is overseen by the fascist Heihachi Mishima (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Within the walls of Tekken City, corporations and the wealthy lived in luxury while outside the walls, the lower classes live in filthy, abject poverty. Mishima’s death squads would frequently kill civilians for apparently no reason whatsoever, instigating riots and unrest. In one of these situations slum-dweller Jin Kazama (Jon Foo) sees his mother killed and sets out for revenge by entering the tournament as a way to get close enough to Mishima to kill him. Even though I am not much of a fan of the game, I've played it enough to know that they at least got the look of the characters right. Even SUPER MARIO BROTHERS (1993) managed to screw that up somehow.

Badly scripted and terribly acted with “futuristic” clich├ęs flying fast and furious, Little at least made the fight scenes interesting. Not exactly great, but better than the average DTV fodder. Pilloried by fans of the games and completely dismissed by everyone else, we flash forward five years and suddenly have a sequel. Well, actually, a prequel. I know the title is TEKKEN 2, but it’s a prequel. Not that it matters in the least.

Set in an unidentified time frame that we know is prior to the original only because the marketing says so, a man suffering from amnesia (Kane Kosugi) wakes up in a hotel room in the slums with a Tekken death squad running up the stairs. After fighting off the troopers, he is knocked cold by a hot brunette in a pleather outfit. Waking up, once again, the man finds himself tied up in the courtyard of a man called The Minister (Rade Serbedzija). The Minister alleges to preach the word of god and dubs our amnesiac “K” (since he is the 16th recruit). 

After telling K that there is a bomb implanted in his chest and demonstrating its cranial combustion ability on a guy he didn’t like, he tells K “By the sweat of your brow shall you labor until you return to the ground.” To which K replies “You crazy!” If K didn’t state the very obvious, he would have no dialogue whatsoever. 

What this all boils down to is the fact that The Minister is going to use him as one of his hitmen. His stable of killers take out the people that The Minister is paid to hit. Though he doesn't do children. No children! Well, unless the price is right (not that this movie dares to show him having kids killed). His current top killers include a woman dressed up as a school girl (Charlotte Kirk), who sucks a lollypop and uses her feminine wiles to lure men to their deaths, which of course we have never, ever seen before. Apparently this heinous cliche is not even related to the game in any way. Seriously, I wish "Sukeban Deka" had never been made.

The Minister keeps K locked up in a cage until he has proven that he can, I guess, stumble blindly into places where people are going to fight him. One such place has been cleverly decorated to appear like a very small warehouse lined with steel barrels. Presumably these are intended to be settings from the video games, but they get absolutely no set-up and while I realize this is supposed to be a slum, the sets are impoverished at best. Since K has no memory, we get no backstory and little dialogue. What dialogue we do get is so inept that it borders on legendary. A character called The Janitor (Sahajak Boonthanakit) is introduced specifically so that he can give his backstory to break the monotony and have exchanges with K, such as this one:
K: “What is this place?”
Janitor: “To some it is home, to others it’s a prison.”
Thank you for that enlightening pearl of wisdom.

Also to fill in the void, we have The Minsiter rambling incoherently over a PA system saying that people should kill each other in order to “stop the violence”. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be part of his nutty character, or whether it is just an indication that the script was scratched out on the back of a cocktail napkin the day before shooting. To give context to this monologue, we get a few random scenes of people in the compound killing other people. Why? To stop the violence, of course. Did someone really get paid to write this?

In addition to the fact that K has nothing to say and his expression never changes, every scene is weighed down by somber music and slow motion walking, looking and standing, desperately trying to give the film a serious and emotional tone that would be utterly laughable if it wasn’t so dull. The only emotion wrenched out of the audience is due to the fact that they are bored to tears.

K kills a couple guys in a PG-13 kind of way and is allowed to have an apartment with a hot neighbor who he saves from some British bullies. See? Just because he murders people, he ain’t a bad guy! Conveniently she also works at a clinic which qualifies her to remove explosive implants. Finally we get some flashbacks of K in a chair with bandages around his head and Mishima (who they couldn’t even bother to make up to look like Tagawa’s character in the first film) berating him for being weak. Oh, and we also get flashbacks to the scenes we just saw! The most cruel of blatantly obvious padding ploys. This movie is slower than a short bus with two flat tires and a broken axle. It literally takes 70 minutes to get anywhere near something that resembles a “plot”.

You’d think that at least the fights and assassination scenes would be a break from the monotony but writer Nicole Jones-Dion (also responsible for the previous year’s DTV turkey DRACULA: THE DARK PRINCE) insists on making it as lethargic as possible. In one sequence K is required to kill the owner of a “gentleman’s club” in which girls in bikinis do not strip, but stand around looking as if they are waiting for some stage direction. K doesn’t even bother to try to look like a club-goer, staring in every direction to find the owner, who spots him immediately and sends his bodyguards after him. Ok, I hear you say, this should make for the time honored bar-fight scene in which many liquor bottles will be put to death. Sucker! Nope, we cut to K breaking the owner’s neck while the bodyguards look at the ceiling in bewilderment.

Director Wych Kaosayananda's dubious claim to fame is having made the big budget trainwreck BALLISTIC: EKS VS SEVER (2002), which was made for $70 million and returned $7 thousand on its opening weekend. It took him ten years to get someone to bankroll another film which turned out to be another disasaster and yet somehow he managed to land this job. Clearly the producers didn't care about anything in this movie other than the title. If you are looking for the epitome of "shameless cash grab" this is it.

Even worse, when there is a fight scene, they are brief and badly shot. Kaosayananda's is one of those directors that feels that if the camera is not moving he is not doing his job. The only time it is still is during “dramatic” scenes in which people walk determinedly in slow motion. In Parma, Italy, the thought is that anyone can make prosciutto by burying it in salt. It takes a real craftsman to cure the leg with a small amount of salt. In other words, have the good sense to allow the ingredients to do their job, don’t go overboard like a clumsy oaf. During the brief bits of action, Kaosayananda loves to assemble over-edited close ups of hands and feet, and do shots that start at the feet and quickly pan up to the faces during the fight. This results in a hodge-podge mess that does a disservice to the talented martial artists that he hired to do the fights in the first place.

Kane Kosugi may not be in any danger of being winning an Olivier Award, but since the writer has no idea what to do for a plot and uses the conceit of amnesia as an excuse to not have one at all, this means that Kosugi must be stonefaced through the entire film up until the final couple of minutes where he actually gets angry because he finds out why he has amnesia. Not that it really matters then, because there is no resolution due to the fact that it is a prequel! Instead of a showdown with a boss character at the end with an opening for the sequel/original movie, he simply fights a couple of random dudes who walk in from off screen! That said it is the best fight scene in the movie, but I think it's apparent that none of the fights had much time to choreograph and reherse, as we have seen much better out of Kosugi in NINJA II (2013).

Not content to tarnish the Kosugi name, Kaosayananda has Gary Daniels pop in for a completely pointless bit part as Bryan Fury, one of The Minister’s escapees. I get that he is supposed to be foreshadowing his part in the original film, but they can’t even be bothered to get him into make-up and costume! It looks like he was on his way to the grocery store and stopped by to shoot a few scenes. As if that wasn't bad enough he is saddled with dialogue that does neither him or the audience any favors. When telling K that he escaped from The Minister, he says "Trust me. I'm your only friend. And I'm not your friend." Huh? Who thought that looked good on paper?

The original title for the film was TEKKEN: A MAN CALLED X, which should give you a clue as to the mess that the movie is since throughout the majority of the movie he is a man called “K”. TEKKEN 2 desperately wants to be UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012) and is not even close. Not even in the same ballpark, not even in the same league, not even in the same sport. I could completely forgive the total lack of production values (oooh, another fight on a patch of asphalt!) and the clueless, meandering script if they had shot some good fight scenes. That’s all I ask. I’m easy, I don’t care if you don’t actually have any real connection to the game, just don’t waste Kosugi and Daniels. That’s it. Instead we get what is without question going to be the most tedious action movie of the year. Ok, maybe that’s not true. I did see the life-draining Renny Harlin SOV actioner 12 ROUNDS (2009) this year, but then again you can’t really say John Cena was wasted in it.

Sadly Kosugi and Daniels’ next film will be in Kaosayananda’s latest (technically his previous), ZERO TOLERANCE, which started life as a film titled ANGEL. The film was released only in Vietnam in 2012 and has subsequently been in another post production after getting a major overhaul with Scott Adkins being involved in the reshoots. Even though heavy re-edits and re-shoots are usually the kiss of death, I figured with Kosugi, Daniels and Adkins in the ranks, it couldn’t be all bad. After seeing this sloppy, half-assed mess, I can't imagine what sort of disaster ZERO TOLERANCE will turn out to be. I may have to hand that one over to Will to review. I don't think I can bear to see the dream team of Kosugi, Daniels and Adkins ruined by this man. Besides, misery loves company.

1 Reactions:

  1. Watchmen really wasn’t a faithful adaptation aside from on the surface. Snyder replicated the visuals but missed the point of most of it completely. Case in point:the back alley scene where Silk Spectre and Night Owl beat up the gang. In the comic it’s kind of sickening that two superheroes beat a bunch of regular street punks nearly to death effortlessly. In the movie it’s a slick set piece played up for style and cool factor.

    And the guy playing Ozymandais was nowhere near right for the part.


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