Sunday, September 24

DOA: Dead or Alive

Fighting and Fanservice.

Okay, I've finally gotten to see what all the fuss has been about. I saw DOA: Dead or Alive in a theater here in Manila, and so far it seems the movie is doing well (a print ad for the film has DOA being "The No.1 Movie in Manila"). That's not surprising since we love beautiful and sexy people here in the Philippines, and the movie has more or less an Asian flavor thanks to the HK director Corey Yuen.

As I've no doubt explained in tons of earlier posts, DOA follows the time-tested, If-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it plot of "Shady organization holds martial arts tournament, attracting various fighters". In this case, the DOA Tournament is set up by the smarmy Victor Donovan (Eric Roberts), who took over from the previous administrator. Of course since this is Eric Roberts, you know something bad is behind all the precedings. Dead or Alive's schtick is the abundance of hot lady competitors in the cast, and the movie wisely focuses on this. Charlie's Angels meets Enter the Dragon, indeed. For the most part, the film version follows the source material closely, save for quite a few liberties with some characters.

Kasumi, for example, is played by Asian model/actress Devon Aoki, whose main facial expression is looking bored out of her head. Whether you accept her as the character or not depends on whether you like the actress or not. Luckily for me, I do find her fetching so what the heck. On the other hand, her slightly aloof manner lends well to her character as some sort of ninja royalty. And her bored look CAN be accepted as 'looking focused' (It worked in Sin City). In terms of action scenes, she does have some nice moves in the film, having the most wire-fu stunts of the girls.

Christie, played by gorgeous Aussie star Holly Valance is the most radically changed from the game. Instead of the cold-blooded assassin from the game, we get a more benign but still deadly femme fatale, but with a more playful side. Otherwise, Miss Valance gets the look down and the feel that this is one dangerous but hot lady.

But the one who really gets her character down is 'My Name is Earl's' Jaime Pressly, who plays Tina Armstrong. The movie version of Tina has the big sister/tough cowboy babe personality without the obnoxious star complex from the game, so she's likeable off the bat. That Miss Pressley has a killer physique makes her even more believable that she can kick your butt.

There are two more main girls- Sarah Carter's Helena Douglas is a simplified version from the game... she isn't French, nor is she an opera singer. But she's hot and classy and plays the role well, acquiting herself well especially in the fight scenes. Finally, Natassia Malthe plays Ayane, Kasumi's rival, and has the dubious pleasure of going through the movie in a purple wig. To be fair, she's quite easy on the eyes and has the vicious glare and cool poses with katanas down pat. It would not have hurt to have given her a bit more screentime.

The rest of the supporting cast do well- real-life wrestler Kevin Nash as Bass and Brian White as Zack are note perfect. Kane Kosugi seems a little young for Hayabusa, but otherwise he's great in his fight scenes. The Matrix's Colin Chou makes a late appearance as Hayate, but he's pretty awesome while he's there. The rest of the DOA character have to make do with little cameos; Bayman and Leon at least have good exposure as Donovan's henchmen, though lose their backgrounds and become mainly villain muscle. Lei Fang and Gen Fu are seen up close in some scenes and share a short fight. Other than that, the rest pass by in flashes that you will miss if you blink. Brad Wong is seen getting smashed by Bayman. Jann-Lee falls to Christie. Eliot is seen briefly in a fight with Hayabusa. Karate kid Hitomi is in the credits but I never see her. It'll be fun to pause through the opening fights on the DVD to see the cameos in full.

Well, after all that, the fighting action makes up most of the movie, with the plot developments happening in between- kinda like cutscenes in the game. It's fast and at the very least- never boring. I only wish that some of the fights were longer. Director Corey Yuen clearly knows what he's doing, borrowing imagery and stunts from some of the best recent martial arts flicks such as Hero, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers. There's wirework and CG stuff but still you do see that the stars, the girls in particular, put a lot of work to make the fights look good.

Are there any faults? Yeah, quite a few. I really dislike the characters of Maximillian Marsh (Mathew Marsden) and Weatherby (Steve Howey)... both are pretty irritating (Marsh is a smarmy scoundrel who gets by totally with luck while Weatherby is a creepy computer geek) and really, unnecessary to the precedings. Perhaps a way to please the supposed gamer market? Please.
I also dislike the way that the 'Ultimate Weapon' is a pair of skill-enhancing sunglasses that can be removed so easily... why not goggles? They won't fall off. Or how about getting some straps to keep your ace-in-the-hole from falling off your face, Donovan? Oh well.

In the end, the movie's a fun, enjoyable watch. It's not an Oscar wannabee but there's a fun, playful tone to the whole thing that makes it pretty clear that it's not really taking itself too seriously, and that's refreshing. It also certainly doesn't hurt to see so much hot bodies around in the film, though I've read so many reviews seeing this as a negative. It's FUN, people. Turn off the serious brain side and just enjoy the action and the beautiful people.

So, when's the DVD coming out?

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