Tekken is an odd film. On the one hand great effort was made to make the cast look like the characters from the game (with the exception of the Jacks, anyway…) and unlike our previous film the tournament actually takes place on Earth, which is nice, but then on the other hand it’s literally Tekken crossed with Hunger Games, which isn’t exactly in the spirit of the source material! Does it still work? Let’s find out!
In the late 2010s, after the Terror War has destroyed much of civilization, 8 megacorporations survived and divided up the world around them; the biggest being Tekken Corporation, which controls North America. In order to placate the masses, the corporation’s Chairman, Heihachi Mishima, sponsors the King of Iron Fist Tournament in which fighters from the 8 corporations battle until one is left standing and receives a lifetime of stardom and wealth.
In 2039, Jin Kazama witnesses his mother’s death at the hands of the Tekken Corp. and decides to enter the King of Iron Fist Tournament to try and reach Heihachi and gain revenge…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Yeah, you know what, that looks like a real-life version of Jin… minus the crazy haircut!
The core story is, well, pretty much completely different as I’ll get to in the part below, but the central cast of Jin Kazama (Jon Foo), Kazuya Mishima (Ian Anthony Dale) and Heihachi Mishima (Cary-Hiroyuki “Shang Tsung” Tagawa) do bare a resemblance to the games. Jin wants revenge for the death of his mother and finds out that Kazuya is his father, all the while Kazuya betrays and attempts to kill his father Heihachi. Admittedly, Kazuya is a loyal member of Heihachi’s company and then betrays him to take it over, there’s no childhood cliff-toss, no devil genes or fantasy elements like that, but the trio of rivalry is at least worked into the script. That’s… something?
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the characters do, for the most part, resemble the characters from the game, which is nice. Throw in the fact that the main story involves a tournament and we actually see the tournament take place (with a stage that creates new environments for people to fight in, for that little extra VS fighter reference) and they didn’t do too bad in adapting a fighting game into a movie. It’s the closer than any film has come since the original Mortal Kombat movie, which I guess is fitting giving the return of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who gets to play a little more nuanced villain than the scenery-chewing Shang Tsung… a little more. Really, Kazuya is the lead antagonist anyway, so it’s a more varied role in not just being the central villain. Either way it’s nice to have him back!
The fighting is fine. It’s not going to win any awards, and most of Jin’s fights are literal copy and pastes of each other (See below!) but in general, they’re entertaining enough.
Yeah, you know what, that looks like a real-life version of Heihachi… including the crazy haircut!
So as it states in the synopsis, this is a dystopian future where a large portion of the population live in slums and in squalor while the elite live in big posh cities, and Jin, who grew up in the slums and sees his mother killed by Tekken forces, enters a challenge where if someone can defeat Marshall Law (Cung Le) they become the “people’s choice” and enter the tournament. He does, and this is where it just becomes a bit too Hunger Games-y to me, as he tries to take down the rich people who are running this game and starts to inspire people of the slums as he moves higher in the tournament. Jon Foo is only 19 at the time, so it feels very YA in places, something I wouldn’t have thought I’d be saying about a Tekken film…
He’s being mentored by Steve Fox (Luke Goss) who is one of the few characters who, beyond blond hair and a British accent, doesn’t resemble his game character much, but hey-ho, and soon Jin rises through the ranks, befriending the likes of Christie Monteiro (Kelly Overton) and Raven (Darrin Dewitt Henson), as well as surviving an attempted assassination by Nina and Anna Williams (Candice Hillebrand and Marian Zapico). When Kazuya’s attempt to kill his recently-discovered son via pairing him up with Yoshimitsu (Gary Stearns, though it could’ve been anyone under the mask!) fails and Heihachi tries to save his even more recently-discovered grandson, the tournament is turned into a fight to the death, with a brief interlude showing Heihachi reveal the truth to Jin about his parentage before seemingly getting killed by Kazuya off-screen. Jin manages to survive the finals against Bryan Fury (Gary Daniels) only to have to fight his father as a final opponent… who he then defeats quite quickly. Jin returns to the slums, who have been watching this whole time via big screens and the like, and it’s implied he’s about to lead a revolution… Woohoo.
I think…. THINK he’s supposed to be the bad guy. Not 100%.
I mean, given some of the films I’ve watched recently in this marathon, I don’t want to be too harsh on it. It’s a fine tournament film if you’re looking for low-budget thrills, and why our lead is extremely wooden and stiff (which is certainly a common theme with these fighting game adaptations…) most of the rest of the cast are perfectly fine in their roles. They’re not going to win any Oscars, but they’re good enough for this level of film. I will say about Jin’s fights though, they’re all exactly the same! He fights on par with his opponent, then gets beaten down until he remembers a lesson his mother taught him when he was young, and then he fights back and ends with a leaping punch. It really stood out as the fights with other characters were all far more interesting. His final fight with Kazuya was different, in that it cut out the first and last part and just had him remember his mother’s lesson and counter his opponent once for the win… Odd decision, given it was the finale…
I think the film’s problem is more that in one scene they can get the look and feel just right, and then on another the setting and motivations for some characters are just backwards that it takes you out of it. Why is Heihachi’s company called Tekken and not the Mishima Zaibatsu like in the games? Why are the Jacks all wearing kendo masks instead of resembling the game characters when every other character looks either a bit or full-on like their game counterparts? It’s these little things, coupled with the post-apocalyptic setting and YA tendencies that just pull you out enough that you can’t watch it like it’s a good Tekken adaptation, but you can’t watch it like it’s not a Tekken film either because everyone looks like the game characters so much. It’s constantly being pulled in two directions.
The winners of the Tekken cosplay competition!
Tekken isn’t a bad film, it’s just a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s part Hunger Games, part tournament fighter film, part faithful game adaptation, part completely incorrect game adaptation… If it just stuck with one then it’d be fine, so long as you went into it knowing it’s quite low-budget and hasn’t attracted amazing actors, but instead it’s a bit of a mess. Still, better than the last two fighting game adaptations anyway, though that’s damning with faint praise if I’ve ever heard it…