This one has been on my radar for some time now. I must confess, I didn't play the games much in high school, mostly because the Neo-Geo machine at our arcade was near the back, and Mortal Kombat 2 was much more popular; and then Street Fighter II was much more popular among my friends as far as a home fighting game went. Keep that in mind as I go into this that it's one I didn't play much. Also, our buddy Mitch at The Video Vacuum did this one last week (and warned me to stay away!)
The King of Fighters has Maggie Q as a woman involved in an inter-dimensional fighting tournament that takes a deadly turn when Ray Park steals some powerful ancient artifacts and commandeers the tournament for his own evil ends. She now has to contend with the CIA, who is investigating the proceedings, and bridge the gap between two rival Japanese families in order to get them to work together so they can go into the other dimension and take Park out.
I didn't hate this. The beginning had a sweet fight between Maggie Q and some dude, that was a great combination of cinematic martial arts and video game fantasy, and I was hoping the whole movie would be that. I would get my wish near the end, with a last 30 minutes that were really great, but getting there was a bit of a slog. More plot exposition than fun adventure or sweet martial arts weighed things down; and when we had fights, they were either very small, or disappointments. One in particular that frustrated me had Ray Park in street hockey gear taking on two hot chicks in extremely hot outfits. It ended up being a bunch of jumpcuts and vertigo inducing camera shots, with a fight that didn't live up to the awesomeness we thought we were about to get. The movie redeems itself with a solid ending, but I'm not sure what you do with that chunk in the middle that could've been better-- I guess I'll stick with my initial take: I didn't hate this.
Maggie Q was excellent. She brings that perfect balance of sexiness and kickass-ness that we haven't seen much of since Cynthia Rothrock. In reading about the series on Wikipedia, her character doesn't even come up, and it looks like the two fighters from rival families, played by Sean Faris and Will Yun Lee, were the key players. I think that left the film makers with a dilemma, because the movie really should've been centered around Q, and I think that's what they wanted to do, but they needed to give the other two equally pivotal roles to even out the video game story line. I'm looking forward to checking out more stuff from Q-- especially hoping The Warrior and the Wolf, which is directed by one of my favorites, Tian Zhuangzhuang, will finally be released on DVD here in the States.
This brings up the issue we often see with video game movies: how to make something as dynamic as a video game translate into a much more static-- at least as far as storytelling goes-- medium like film? The biggest problem I see, is that they go too far to the other end of the spectrum, and make a dramatic picture instead of an action picture, meaning, they focus too much on plot exposition and too little on the action. This was something my buddy and I kept saying about The Super Mario Bros. Movie, if the game was like this, we'd have never played, and by that we meant, almost no action with heroes like Mario and Luigi that spend more time getting pushed around and running away. When I think of the best video game movie in my mind, I think of Mortal Kombat, and what was that really other than a remake of Enter the Dragon.
I did like Ray Park as the bad guy. He's a great martial artist, and while I can safely say his skills were better used here than in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, he really doesn't get a scene worthy of his skills until the very end, where he kills it. As I said above, the most obvious missed opportunity was the one where he was in the street hockey gear. Overall though, it was a good casting decision, and it was good to see him again. By the way, since we're talking about The Phantom Menace, I thought I'd mention that for me, that movie should've just been the very beginning, then the fight at the end, and then the other hour-plus that would've been left should've been about Christopher Lee as Count Dooku.
I wanted to finish with a bit on Francoise Yip, who played one of the higher ups in the tournament hierarchy. You may remember her from Rumble in the Bronx, or the Gary Daniels flick I did a while back, Diamond Cuts Diamond, aka Witness to a Kill. She's overshadowed some by Maggie Q, which is to be expected, but she's still really good. I spent the whole film trying to figure out where I remembered her from, and finally had to give up and see on imdb.
This is currently on Watch Instantly. "I didn't hate it" isn't the best recommendation, so what I'll say is that, for a 90 minute movie, it's about 50/50 great and dull. You could do a lot worse than that, but you could also do a lot better. If you like Maggie Q and you're looking for a fun time, this is worth a look, especially on Watch Instantly.