I have fond memories from way back in the heyday of the original Playstation. I remember popping the black-bottomed discs into Sony’s little grey box and waiting for the fun to start. The CG pre-rendered sequences that introduced games such as Tekken and Resident Evil were like nothing the gamer of the 90s had ever seen before. I remember being blown away by the exciting introduction the Namco’s Tekken 2. “Wow!”, thought the younger Christor, “Imagine if somebody made a whole movie like this! How cool would that be?”.
It would take more than a decade, but eventually it did indeed happen. Much has happened in the gaming industry in the intervening years. Fighting games have fallen somewhat out of favour, as the market flooded with a million indentikit shooters featuring identical space marines or commandos. So the Tekken brand is perhaps not quite what it once was, but it retains a dedicated hardcore fan-base nonetheless.
This is the third attempt to adapt Tekken for the screen, following a traditionally animated anime OAV (originally released here by ADV), and a recent (and reportedly awful) live-action flick. The CG feature Tekken: Blood Vengeance has the automatic advantage – seeing as it is based on a 3D game – so the characters look exactly as they do in the games.
The visuals are of a high standard, with some impressive animation. The character designs (carried over from the games) are appealing; at least if you’re a fan of them from the games. Crucially for a Tekken movie, the fights look great, and recall the scraps from the game itself, making extensive use of motion capture. The visuals are not photo-realistic but somehow managed to avoid the creepy ‘uncanny valley’ effect that can often result with CG portrayals of human characters. Your mileage may vary, but in comparison to the 2008 CGI feature Resident Evil: degeneration this is a definite improvement.
The plot jettisons the game’s usual excuse for all the fisticuffs, the titular Tekken (or Iron Fist) tournament, in favour of a more complex tale. It revolves around the search for a mysterious gene that is thought to be the secret of immortality. Chinese high-schooler Xiaoyu is caught up in the battle between the two corporations that seek the carrier of the gene, in a story that takes in espionage, giant robots, sexy spy sisters and a loyal panda. The film retains the occasionally goofy sense of humour that the game series has shown (hence the panda), sitting oddly alongside the darker moments in that uniquely Japanese way.
Tekken: Blood Vengeance is really aimed at fans of the series, as it relies somewhat on knowing the backstory to the characters and their relationships. I have to confess to not having played the most recent games in the series so there were a couple of characters I did not know. If you come into this completely without having any knowledge of the games you could still get some enjoyment out of it, but it definitely works better if you are already a fan. The events of the film seem to take place after the games (based on references to past events), yet a post-credits sequence also confusingly suggests it could also be a prequel. There’s actually less action than I expected from a Tekken movie, so this has the potential to disappoint, but I also found that overall it hung together better as a movie than I was anticipating. The biggest disappointment is perhaps how few of the large roster of characters who have appeared in the games feature in the film. It is probably a sensible decision, as many fighting game adaptations have failed by trying to squeeze every character in. With a large cast, most are underused or even reduced to cameos, and the end result is unsatisfying. Here they opt to focus on a few of the more popular characters. However it is still disappointing if your favourite characters are the ones who didn’t make the final cut.
As well as the DVD release, this feature is also included in the PS3 game ‘Tekken Hybrid’, and even on the cartridge of the Tekken coming to 3DS, so the most hardcore Tekken players might prefer to pick up one of those.
This movie is definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of the Iron Fist. My expectations were low, but it was a lot of fun, slickly animated and brought back memories of gaming past. This is easily one of the better video game adaptations to date – animated or otherwise.