Should I Watch..? 'DOA: Dead Or Alive'
What's the big deal?
DOA: Dead Or Alive is a martial arts action film released in 2006 and is loosely based on the series of video games of the same name developed by Team Ninja that debuted in 1996. Directed by veteran martial arts choreographer Corey Yuen, the film depicts a number of combatants entering a mysterious fighting tournament and discovering a vile plot operating behind the scenes. The film stars Jaime Pressly, Holly Valance, Sarah Carter, Devon Aoki, Natassia Malthe and Eric Roberts. The film was a financial disaster with global earnings of just $7.5 million (it made less than $500'000 in the US) while critics savaged the film, slamming the quality of the film's acting as well as the ridiculous plot. While the games continue to be popular among gamers with numerous spin-offs and the latest edition being released in 2019, there is no apparent evidence that this film will continue in the same way.
What's it about?
All over the world, fighters and martial artists are invited to compete in the Dead Or Alive tournament where they will compete for a jackpot of $10 million. Held on an isolated island complex and hosted by the island's resident doctor Victor Donovan, the tournament attracts a number of entries - many of whom have their own agendas. Ninja-princess Kasumi is searching for her brother Hayate who disappeared during the previous tournament, American professional wrestler Tina Armstrong sets out to prove herself against her peers, Helena Douglas enters the tournament in tribute to her father who founded the tournament while thief and assassin Christie works with her partner Max Marsh in order to steal the contents of a hidden vault on the island.
As the contest progresses, secrets are revealed that threaten not just the contestants but the wider world. It soon emerges that Donovan has a top secret project running that involves the various fighters while Kasumi's life is in danger after she is targeted by Ayane, an assassin who shadowed Kasumi from her own community. But with so many people involved in Dead Or Alive, who can be trusted to save the day?
Dr Victor Donovan
J.F. Lawton, Adam Gross & Seth Gross*
Release Date (UK)
15th September 2006
What's to like?
If it wasn't already apparent then DOA: Dead Or Alive is strictly one for those of you who get your kicks for truly terrible movies. The film is almost insultingly bad but at least they worked hard to make the film as much as a flaming wreck as they did. For fans of the games, you'll have fun trying to spot all your favourite characters in the film but as I've never played any of the games, I have no idea whether the movie characters match their digital counterparts. In fact, the only thing I knew about the games was an astonishingly old-fashioned sexist approach to the beat-'em-up - in addition to skimpy costumes and endless beach volleyball spin-off games, the game's graphics allowed gravity to effect the female character's boobs so they bounced around like a kangaroo's occupied pouch.
At least Yuen injects a smidge of interest in the film's action scenes which do manage to replicate the game's frenetic pace. Yuen, director of Jason Statham's action film debut The Transporter, knows how to shoot martial arts and this film is full of slow motion kicks and throws in various locations. To their credit, the cast also appear to do most of their own stunts but the film doesn't really offer anything audiences haven't seen before besides Roberts throwing away what's left of his career. Speaking of the cast, Carter gives probably the best performance out of the bunch as the underwritten Helena but really, that isn't saying much compared to her costars. In truth, only movie masochists are going to get anything out of this as anyone with half a brain will be switched off faster than a lightbulb.
- The film was the first Western movie to shoot scenes at the Hengdian World Studios, the largest film studios in the world based in Dongyang, China. Among the other movies to shoot there were Hero, The Forbidden Kingdom and House Of Flying Daggers.
- One of the actors playing a pirate is none other than Robin Shou who is most famous for playing Liu Kang in the 1995 video game adaptation Mortal Kombat and its 1997 sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
- Among the changes the film made to the game's characters was a switch in Kasumi's personality from compassionate in the games to cold and stern in the film. This may be part of the reason why Aoki's performance in the film was heavily criticised by fans.
What's not to like?
Let's gloss over the fact that the script is such hogwash that it can't sustain the film for more than an hour and a half - imagine paying to see a film so short! Even after notorious films like the aforementioned Mortal Kombat and the even-worse Street Fighter, you'd have thought the producers might have reservations about another film based on a Nineties beat-'em-up game. In truth, fans of the games will only really care about the film if it has violence and scantily clad ladies which it does - but almost nothing else. To the surprise of nobody, the characters are little more than two-dimensional cliches and beyond the leading ladies, there is no-one else who stands out in the cast.
What really rankles with me is just how seedy and exploitative the film feels. The introduction of Christie's character, where she beats up several guys in suits after stepping out of the shower while getting dressed at the same time, is just plain silly and only really designed for its target audience of hormone-raddled teenage boys. Call me boring but I demand a bit more for my money from action films like a plot I'm invested into, action scenes that don't feel like reheated leftovers and a cast that aren't a bunch of vacuous pretty people. I wanna feel the rush, I wanna get excited by the spectacle of decent action movies but all DOA: Dead Or Alive gave me was a desire for a long shower with carbolic soap.
Should I watch it?
Incredibly dumb and derivative, this film is far more dead than it is alive with a silly story, shallow characters and uninspired action. The only reason I believe it is worse than the much-ridiculed Street Fighter is purely because I don't recognise any of the character having no previous experience with the games. But both films are horribly cheesy efforts with almost nothing to recommend besides some perverse pleasure at laughing at it.
Great For: teenage boys, pause buttons, very forgiving fans of the games
Not So Great For: grown ups, action movie fans, the #MeToo movement
What else should I watch?
Ever since the mangled Hollywood adaptation of Super Mario Bros. in 1993, video game adaptations have suffered an unfortunate reputation for being box office poison. From expensive box office bombs like Doom and Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time to more modest efforts like Uwe Boll's wretched In The Name Of The King and the critically reviled Tekken, it would seem that it's only recently that studios and filmmakers have actually started to try. Granted, they still aren't troubling award ceremonies but at least they are earning respectable amounts at the box office now as the likes of Rampage and Sonic The Hedgehog have proved.
Now you might think that I have a dislike for martial arts after reading this review but I can assure you that I enjoy a good kung fu flick as much as the next guy. Among my favourites are the timeless Enter The Dragon with the iconic Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan's comedic chaos seen in films like First Strike, the crisp cleaness of Jet LI in films like Unleashed or how about The Raid or its blistering sequel which feature some of the most jaw-dropping fight scenes you're ever likely to see.
© 2020 Benjamin Cox