If there's one video game that I suck at big time, it will be The King of Fighters. Already I was struggling back then with mastering all the Street Fighter character moves, then this game came along, where one has to master 3 characters as a group and face them off either with some artificial intelligence (now programmed to be smarter at your neighbourhood video game store), or with another human challenger who finds it easy to cream me with one character in full energy left to spare.
Things have been relatively low key for the film version of the video game, and perhaps rightly so since it's not automatic that films from Japanese video games, manga and animation make that dignified live-action leap onto the silver screen, most falling short in the process – last year's disastrous Dragonball Evolution and the lacklustre Street Fighter Legend of Chun Li being very recent examples of the bad aftertaste left at the box office. Audience these days demand a lot more, and the in-built fan base no longer representing a ready market, but a base of high expectations that are difficult to meet even as they are aware some tweaks to characters and storylines are necessary for the change of medium. This Gordon Chan directed effort however, is expected to fall short given the extremely flimsy, cookie cutter storyline that reeks, and for an action film, the cardinal sin of having limited action, almost all of which are left to the last 30 minutes.
Maggie Q marquees this film as Mai Shianui, working undercover for Terry Bogard (David Leitch) of the CIA (I hear yawns already) to hook up with Iori Yagami (Will Yun Lee) who teaches her the background myth of having a necklace and a mirror combined to open a door to another dimension. There's a sword in the picture as well belonging to the Kusanagi clan, but one rumored to be lost, and required by chief villain Rugal Bernstein (Ray Park) in order to reign supreme in the King of Fighters MMORPG since he's stolen the other two items and tweaked the system so that his rules apply in the virtual world and is working to combine all dimensions and realms into one. That's basically it, with the heroes trying to convince the Kusanagi clan heir Kyo (Sean Faris who plays a half-Japanese, that explains his Caucasian looks) to cough out the legendary sword, and stop Rugal from destroying civilization.
What's neat is how Rita Augustine and Matthew Ryan Fischer managed to fuse the fantastical elements of the fights that nods at the Matrix experience, with combatants jacked in through bluetooth-like earpieces in order to fight in the virtual MMORPG dimension complete with superhuman powers from the game, though the fights during the first hour had just a very little glimpse of what the finale would promise. The King of Fighters then is a tournament where combatants rise in the ranks through each victory, though with the compromise now by Rugal, death in the dimension also means death in the real world.
What didn't work, happens to be a lot of things. For starters, we have the usual cardboard characters (OK, so this is based on a video game) with CIA agents, hokey Japanese philosophy talk, and just about every situation, setting and background of the characters being extremely contrived. As mentioned the first hour of the film is talk, talk and more talk on the usual genre themes like responsibility and destiny, Then you have heroes who are reluctant and blur, and how one gets transformed from zero to hero is absolutely baffling based on pep talks from memory. The quest for the Kusunagi sword also happens in the most roundabout fashion just to bloat the film's runtime, and amongst all the characters, Terry Bogard happens to be the most carelessly designed on screen with that out of place jacket and baseball cap (keeping to the game I know), with a really obnoxious, ignorant attitude, and a CIA dimwit a-hole to boot.
The fight sequences happened to be a mixed bag, though Hong Kong influences are clearly heavy in the way the fisticuffs are designed. Special effects inspired by the game are also limited, which is most unfortunate as the game is famed for the various combo-moves that the characters can execute, which is all but lost in the film version. Even then, whatever effects all seemed to be reserved for the extended battle sequence at the finale for an all-out duke out, and audiences will have to be patient with all the talk for the first hour before things start to get remotely interesting since all the money shots get concentrated toward the end.
Naturally movies of this nature will have an ending primed for sequels to continue where it left off especially when the box office response is positive, but my money's on the “Nay” list. If I have to compare, then this is ahead of Dragonball Evolution and The Legend of Chun Li, but only just. Strictly for the curious KOF game fanboy.