BnB Shame #8: DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)

Ever thought about putting your house up for and AirBnB? If so, did you ever give a thought to the judgment potential renters might give you from your DVD collection? You don’t know how it got there. Maybe it was a gift. Maybe you got it at a 3 for $5 sale at Wal-Mart. Or, perhaps worst of all, maybe you actually like it. Welcome to “BnB Shame”.

Exhibit A:

DOA: Dead or Alive

Not to be confused with the other movies entitled “DOA” or “Dead or Alive”, especially the much more disturbing Dead or Alive that I reviewed some time ago.

Why make it:

Perverts.

To elaborate: this is literally a video game series that the built on the promise of “jiggle physics.” And if you don’t know what that is… well, your parents will explain it to you when you get older. It’s probably notable that this is a fighting game franchise that earned an “M” rating from the ESRB not because of blood and gore but because of excessive amounts of jiggly bazooms. The only other video game franchise to match it in sheer shamelessness is likely Rumble Roses.

Let’s just be happy that jailbait characters like Leifang are not prominently featured.

The series is also known for beach volleyball, which happens in this movie. This is crucial. If they eliminated the beach volleyball scene, there would be complaining about the lack of game accuracy to the high heavens.

Bravery Leads To An Early Death:

One of the stars, Jaime Pressly (who plays Tina), was happy to see DOA tank, by the way. “I think for gamers, a lot of the stuff was inaccurate because they changed it along the way.” I dunno, Jamie. The movie features plenty of fan service, which I am pretty sure was the only reason gamers ever picked up the series in the first place.

The movie opens with master thief Christie (played by Holly Valance) foiling her captors by tossing her bra up in the air, doing some high kicks, stretching out her arms so she can put on her skivvies, and grabs the gun that she had thrown in the air. If that’s not faithful to the Dead or Alive games, I don’t know what is.

It’s Showtime!:

One of the characters in the game is named Bass. He is a buff wrestler who wears red and yellow, has blonde hair, and a handlebar mustache. He is basically Hulk Hogan. And he’s being played by fellow nWo stablemate “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash.

That’s surreal.

Also crucial: the movie’s villain is played by Eric Roberts. You cannot get a slimier and greasier villain than The Talking Cat!!?!? himself. Anyway the villain’s plan deals with injecting the fighters with nanobots so he can download their movies into a pair of sunglasses and thus become the ultimate fighter, a technology which he will sell for money. I am not joking that there was more motivation in setting up the beach volleyball scene than there was in the villain plot. Roberts has an obvious stunt double wearing a long gray wig during the fight scenes, and it’s kinda delightful.

Robin Shou also shows up as a random pirate. Between this, his appearance as Gen in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, and his starring role as Liu Kang in the Mortal Kombat movies, I suspect that he has a running bet to star in as many fighting game adaptations as possible.

No Matter How Much You Try, You Still Won’t Beat Me:

Surprisingly, the fights can be pretty damn ferocious. That’s because the movie’s director is none other than Hong Kong action director Corey Yuen. He’s the stunt choreographer between several Jet Li movies (including The Legend), worked with John Woo on Red Cliff, and directed the first Transporter movie.

It shows. Pressly looks like a legit boss in her one-on-one fight with Zack (Brian White). It’s set in a minimalist ring straight out of a Zhang Yimou film. I winced watching as the combatants’ faces slammed on the ground. While this was a fight between a woman and man, I never felt that Pressly was out-classed. She looked every inch Brian White’s equal. (The character of Zack, incidentally, was based on Dennis Rodman.)

Holly Valance looks great as well in her artfully shot battle during the middle of a rainstorm with Helena (Sarah Carter). Yes… it’s two women in swimsuits fighting on the beach. Theoretically the scene is meant to tittilate. Yet it barely registered as the focus was on the fight’s brutality. Corey Yuen knows his craft. This movie would be held in such higher esteem if there was less fan service and more fighting.

But then it wouldn’t be Dead or Alive.

It’s also interesting how much of the story is told purely through athleticism. A ninja princess (Kasumi, as played by Devon Aoki), a pro wrestler, and a master criminal all become fast friends through the most efficient means possible. They have to make it to the gathering place before time runs out. Together, they scale an impractically tall tower. One of the ladies goes first to the top. While it would have been fair for her to continue and leave the other two behind, she stays back and helps the next woman, who then in turn helps the third. No woman left behind, even if one of them is a con artist and duplicitous by nature. They forge a bond of honor built on mutual admiration for each others’ athletic abilities. It’s simple yet believable.

Beyond that, this movie is full of bizarre touches. There’s a whole society of secret ninjas that live in an imperial castle. Invitations to the DOA tournament are delivered via shuriken with digital displays. Who’s throwing these things? Best not think too hard on DOA logic.

In probably my favorite touch, the fights are televised on the island for the other contestants to watch. We get snippets of battles with minor Dead or Alive characters like Jann Lee (the Bruce Lee homage that seems to appear in every single fighting game) and grey-haired drunk Brad Wong. When the fights conclude, the winner stands around with the wind whipping around them like they known they’re posing for the victory screen.

This Is Mugen Tenshin:

There are far too many plots. Kasumi wants to find her brother. Ayane (Natassia Malthe) is pursuing Kasumi for abandoning the ninja clan. Tina wants to step out out of her most famous father’s shadow. Christie and her thieving partner (Matthew Mardsen a.k.a. Not Nicholas Hoult) want to rob Eric Roberts blind. Helena wants to live up to the family legacy. Every one of these storylines has to be resolved… and some are dropped altogether. Both Bass and Zack are set up as major characters early on, and they disappear halfway through the movie. It’s a jumbled mess, which is all too common an issue for these more adaptations for fighting games.

Heck, it seems like at least four of the characters in the movie are associated with Devon Aoki’s character. She’s nominally the main character of the entire movie. Yet she’s probably the least interesting of the main characters. It turns out ninja princess is an exciting occupation in theory. Her feud with Ayane is almost nonexistent, as she pops in and out at random like she’s trying to cash in on her Money In The Bank opportunity.

Yuen, though, approaches all of this with a cheeky and self-aware touch. Compare that to, say, the Resident Evil movies that want to be The Matrix or the Super Mario Brothers that wants to be cyberpunk. I won’t call it a good movie. In fact, I’d probably be shamed, bullied, cajoled, disparaged, hornswaggled, hogtied, and bamboozled if I were ever caught watching this on TV. But is it a fun movie? It was far more entertaining that it had any right to be.

This may have been one of the most accurate video game-to-movie adaptations in the sense that watching it was like taking in the cutscenes and the gameplay. The backstories don’t matter. The plot doesn’t matter. What does matter is that people are pulling off slick acrobatic moves and looking like the coolest people on the planet.

Maybe that’s all I ever really wanted from a video game movie.

Potential BnB Renter’s Assessment:

If this is ever seen on your shelves… no one is staying at your house and the renters may in fact demand a refund. They are right to do so.