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The DOs and DON’Ts of Video Game movie making (Fighter Edition)

November 23, 2010

"Survival is no game"

Out of morbid curiosity, I decided to watch the Tekken movie.  I had seen a preview at the theater at some point in the last 4 or 5 months, but hadn’t heard a peep since.  My guess is that (after seeing the final product) everybody who had supported the endeavor tried to let it die quietly without having their names drawn through the muck.  Having only recently managed to shake most of the newest Street Fighter movie from my memory, I knew this could be a very self-destructive task.

Let’s be clear, I don’t expect much from a movie based upon a video game series.  In fact, I expect them to be pretty bad.  However, I am consistently surprised by exactly how bad they can get.  Even as a kid, when I loved the original live action Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat movies, I knew they were pretty bad.  Maybe it’s nostalgia kicking in, but I honestly feel like these last two abominations failed to even achieve the campy badness that made those movies great.  As a result, I decided that it is my duty to tell directors and producers everywhere what they’re doing wrong and, occasionally, what they’re doing right.

The DOs and DON’Ts of making a Fighter movie

1.  Do have an awesome theme song.

Every boy (and probably most girls) born between 1980 and 1990 should be able to recall the amazingness that was the Mortal Kombat theme song.  I’m pretty sure I listened to it on a daily basis when I was in 5th or 6th grade–if there’s anything that gets you pumped up for a day full of sentence diagrams, it’s this song.

2.  Don’t get your ethnicities wrong.

Not ChineseChinese




Which one of these looks more Chinese to you?





One thing that every “artist” has to come to terms with is that they always have an audience.  This does not change if you’re directing a crappy movie based on a video game.  In fact, it becomes more difficult.  Nerds are the hardest group of people to please ever. They will nitpick every single little detail, so you could at least get the more glaringly obvious ones right.  I know you need to have a big name actor or actress to star in your movie, but if the main character is supposed to be a mainland Chinese actress, and you decide to get a half-Chinese American actress, you’re going to catch a lot of flack.  Oh, and guess what… M. Bison is a Russian terrorist, not an Irish slumlord.

3.  Do have a relatively unknown pop superstar in the movie.

There's never enough KylieWho?

Yes, yes, I’m quite aware that Kylie Minogue is far from unknown, but once again you have to take into consideration your audience.  In 1994, did most male youths know who Kylie Minogue was?  Maybe in Australia.  As for Taboo, does anybody know who he is?  (My girlfriend does… that’s the only reason I knew he was in the movie).  Regardless, I think it adds a little more campy humor, which in these movies is often a better idea than trying to make it realistic.

4.  Don’t create unnecessary characters.

Who was that Interpol guy in the new Street Fighter movie?  Did you know that there was already an Interpol agent in the movie?  Maybe the main character. Yes, if the director/producer/whatever had done any research at all (even merely opening up the wikipedia page in their internet browser), they would know that Chun Li is already working for Interpol! (and is not some fancy shmancy pianist).  Oh, and what about the hyper-sexualized badass chica cop?  You really can’t find one other hyper-sexualized female fighter in the whole series?  Come on, that’s a genre defining stereotype!  You don’t need to make one up.

5.  Do include some of the characters’ signature moves.

In every fighting game ever created, the main differences between characters are the special moves they can do.  Often times it’s the only reason you play as a certain character.  Sure, there are some fighters that are a bit more sophisticated, but the characters will still be somewhat defined by a few signature moves.  These should always be included in a fighter movie.  Despite how terrible (read: Awesome) the Mortal Kombat movie was, it was awash with everybody using their special moves (see above for Scorpion’s spear and Johnny Cage’s shadow kick).  Liu Kang even gets a bit of a fireball at the very end while fighting Shang Tsung.  Oh, and don’t forget the flash kicks and hadoukens you get in this amazing performance during the final scenes of the Street Fighter movie).

6.  Don’t adjust the story to try and make a “gritty reboot.”  Look: nobody’s taking these movies seriously.  You’re not creating a work of art.  Pander to the geeks and give them what they want: an action movie that features ethnically-accurate portrayals of their favorite characters using the special moves that make them unique.  Don’t try to create some ridiculous story to make it seem more realistic.  Nobody wants this to be realistic.  The characters already have their own stories that are plenty ridiculous to begin with.  If you don’t follow the backgrounds and goals of the characters, you’re just upsetting the only people want to watch your movie: the video game nerds!  Chun Li doesn’t need to be a classically trained pianist, M. Bison doesn’t need to be a slumlord, Jin Kazama doesn’t need to be a “contraband technology” smuggler, and Heihachi Mishima should never be a sympathetic character.

7.  Do use characters we care about, not the ones that nobody plays.  This is mostly directed at the Tekken movie (but what was up with throwing Gen into the most recent Street Fighter movie?  Weird choice…).  Nobody cares about Christie, Raven, Miguel, or Sergei Dragunov.  Okay, some people might care about Christie, but that’s just because they want more hyper-sexualized women in the movie (trust me, there’s already enough).  Why they decided on these characters instead of Paul, King, Hwoarang, or Xiaoyu, I’ll never understand.

8.  Don’t make a movie without doing your research.  Yes, yes, we all know that people in Street Fighter shoot fireballs.  Without ever having played the game, you might even know that these are called hadoukens.  Chun Li doesn’t use them.  Yet you spend about 30 minutes in the movie trying to explain how she learned to shoot hadoukens (which she then uses to finish off the weeny guy they’re trying to pass off as M. Bison):

The only signature move of hers that they did use was her spinning bird kick–the reason why so many adolescent boys played as her in the game–and they still managed to make it look retarded.


Anyway, I’m sure I could think of some more, but these are the guidelines that immediately come to mind.  I’m going to leave you with what is supposedly a video proposal (not necessarily a trailer, per se, but just an idea of what might possibly happen) of a new Mortal Kombat movie.  We’ll see if they fall into the traps that the last couple fighter movies have, or if they’ll redeem the genre and make it entertaining once again.

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