If there’s one thing you can count on in the world of video games it’s that if something is successful, there will be copies. With the massive success of Street Fighter II, it was no surprise the market was flooded with fighting games, each with their own unique additions to help differentiate them from their competitors. For Mortal Kombat it was the gore and fatalities, Virtua Fighter took fighting games into 3D, and for DOA: Dead Or Alive, it was a blisteringly fast fighting engine and boobs. So many boobs.
Movies are not exempt from this follow-the-leader mindset. In the years since the Paul W.S. Anderson succeeded the guilty pleasure early 90s camp that was Steven E. de Souza’s Street Fighter with New Line Cinema’s Mortal Kombat in 1995, we’ve had several more films based on fighting games; John Leonetti delivered a Mortal Kombat sequel a few years later, while Gordon Chan brought us King of Fighters (2010), indie studio Crystal Sky debuted a live-action installment of Namco/Bandai property, Tekken (2010), as well as follow-up Tekken: Kazuya’s Revenge (2014), 20th Century Fox gave us Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li (2009) and Joey Ansah took the wheel directing and acting with an ensemble cast for Street Fighter Assassin’s Fist (2014).
Of course, this list no less includes the 2007 an adaptation of DOA: Dead or Alive, directed by Hong Kong action master Corey Yuen, which falls into strange realm between the hit-or-miss fluctuations and varying degrees of terrible among this engrossing roster. For every Street Fighter Assassin’s Fist there’s King of Fighters. With DOA: Dead Or Alive however, it’s hard to call it “good” in a traditional sense, but it is easy to call it successful as the film accomplishes everything it sets out to achieve with a real sense of fun and camp.
The secret weapon in DOA is Yuen. Helmer of such Hong Kong classics as Yes, Madam! and the Fong Sai-Yuk films starring Jet Li, Yuen gives the film far more attention than it probably deserves. None of the main cast (with two exceptions) are screen fighters, but Yuen knows how to shoot the fights in such a way the the actresses are convincing – at least in the fantasy sense the movie sets up. Yuen expertly mixes stunt doubles with wirework to create fights that entertain, even if you’re not going to confuse them with something like the masterful performances seen in Righting Wrongs.
The MVP of the cast is the always charismatic and charming Jaime Pressly as wrestler Tina Armstrong. By this point Pressly was off of her very successful run on “My Name is Earl” where her natural comedic chops were on full display. She brings that same energy to this film, and also clearly put in the work for the fight scenes, as Yuen appears to use fewer doubles with her. Of the main cast Pressly impresses the most during the fight scenes. Pressly trained for four months prior to the film and the work shows, and it also helps she shares a bit of history in this aspect featuring in select episodes of TV series, “Mortal Kombat: Conquest”, as one of Quan Chi’s treacherous fighting minions.
Of the other leads in DOA, Holly Valance’s Christie and Sarah Carter’s Helena also stand-out. While Pressly is the most physically impressive in the fights, Carter arguably gets the best fights. Carter and Valance’s fight in the rain is a visual standout, with cinematographers Chan Chi-Ying and Keung Kwok-Man making sure both of the actresses and their surroundings look stunningly beautiful. A fight scene later on involving Cater taking on multiple bad guys impresses in its editing; Even though it’s clear Carter is being doubled, the edits conceal it well. Yuen and his editing team of Cheung Ka-Fai, Eddie Hamilton and Angie Lam set out to make sure that no matter the skill level, the leads look as impressive as possible throughout the film.
Yuen also helps bolster the fight scenes by bringing a couple of ringers. Ninja: Shadow of a Tear’s Kane Kosugi plays Ryu Hyabusa, a character well known to fans of the Ninja Gaiden games, and provides the most technically accomplished fight scene. Flash Point’s Colin Chou shows up at the end to show off his skills against big bad Eric Roberts.
Make no mistake, DOA is not a perfect film by any means. While most of the actresses acquit themselves well, lead Devon Aoki is incredibly flat, which is a problem since she has to carry what dramatic weight there is in the movie. Roberts chews an appropriate amount of scenery, but the amount of doubling necessary in his fight scenes lessens their impact. Roberts is a long way from Best Of The Best though, unfortunately. Several of the other characters are in the film only because they are in the games and function mostly as glorified cameos, including Brian White’s Zack and Kevin Nash’s Bass. None of these really detract from the tongue-in-cheek fun of the film though.
Despite the fact it’s less than 15 years old, DOA: Dead Or Alive feels like a relic from a lost era. A film unconcerned with narrative explanations for fighting skills, and not interested in setting a larger shared universe. What Yuen and his team set out to provide, and ultimately did, was an entertaining fight film set in a beautiful locale, with beautiful people engaging in competent if not spectacular fights. And boobs. So many boobs.
Click here to learn where you can catch DOA: Dead Or Alive.