Wednesday, December 11, 2019
DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)
On a secluded island in the South China seas, the Dead or Alive fighting tournament is being held. Hosted by the mysterious Victor Donovan, it sees fighters from across the world coming to prove themselves as the best in the world. There's Kasumi, a ninja princess searching for her presumed dead brother, Tina, a former professional wrestler eager to escape the shadow of the industry's fake perception, Christie, a thrill-seeking thief, and more. They soon realise there's more to this contest than meets the eye, and will have to work together to stay alive and stop whatever mad scheme Donovan is planning...
I avoided DOA: Dead or Alive for years because I thought it was disposable garbage, but when I finally watched it on tv on a whim one night I found I really enjoyed it! Genuinely and non-ironically!
While her clan has bizarre rules and she may not act or dress like a princess at all, Kasumi is a likeable enough character, with a strong enough character arc. Tina is probably the most relateable, with her journey of proving her self worth to both the world and her father, neither seem to take her desires seriously. Christie meanwhile is the most shallow lead, but in a good way. A sly crook with a heart of gold, her own story informs her character well. Helena has an upbeat personality, while having difficulty trying to live up to her dead father's expectations (or rather, how she sees them).
The appearances of each lead is unique (well, when they're not all in bikinis, anyway), and even the minor supporting characters have distinctive looks. While they're mostly present in fighting montages, they get better than brief walk-on cameos, and given that the movie focuses on 4 main characters and a few more supporting ones, it's no wonder that other less important to the story characters get a smaller amount of screentime. Everyone serves a purpose. Even more minor ones like Zak have their grudge against Tina, Kasumi's suspicions about Leon, or Max's thieving subplot. And there's of course how Weatherby and Helena contribute heavily to the climax in a way that makes their inclusion not feel superfluous or unnecessary. Overall, everyone gets the right amount of time devoted to them, with no-one feeling left out.
While the story is mostly well written, even if a little obvious at times, there are some amusingly silly moments that don't really make a whole lot of sense, but had to be there intentionally, from the policeman who uses his gun to hand a suspect's bra over, or Weatherby emailing the CIA about Donovan's activities. I don't know what's crazier, the fact that he did that, or that they actually responded!
As you could imagine from its source material, DOA is alllll about the sexiness. We get half naked women, lots of bikinis, and a myriad of exotic activities like beach volleyball and massages. The movie doesn't really cram it down our throats though, and after the first half or so is over, it's mostly gone. This is good, as it means we don't get too much of a good thing and get tired of the movie, or just find it creepy after a while. A good balance like this is always appreciated! Also, there's a little bit of action for the ladies. Nowhere near as much as for the guys, and one's enjoyment in that regard depends on how sexy the female viewer finds Zak, but it's certainly there.
This movie is also very empowering, in big and little ways. It doesn't feel hollow or cheap about it either. Dead or Alive radiates girl power!
The early montage that pares down the opponents is really well put together, showing off many different fighting styles from diverse opponents. I wish it had more footage in it (which would not only show off more of these =, but also keep the = at bay for longer) I'm not sure how good any of these actors really are at martial arts, but they certainly look like pros. If they really are proficient, props to them, and if they're not, props to both them and the choreography/direction for [turning out] such = [scenes]! Where it [falters] though are the sometimes bizarre jumps, like this is an Indian action movie! Those are funny to watch though], so
The characters all wield their own distinctive fighting styles, which I liked. It also makes unassuming, only to show off just how qualified they are to be in DOA, like the party boy Zack, who could kick your ass ten ways from sundown if you make fun of his silly mohawk. One I found interesting was Mac's sort of 'drunken fu' fighting style, and how well it serves him in one scene, but how poorly he does in a fair fight later on. I also liked the battle between Tina and her father .They fight on these flat boats in the middle of a lake/lagoon, and given that Bass is a hulking giant, you'd expect this to be a very one-sided fight, but it really isn't!
The acting is pretty good. Jaimie Pressley (Tina) and Holly Valance (Christie) turn in very enjoyable performances, while Eric Roberts is a fun villain, and Sarah Carter (Helena) is an adorably enthusiastic ass-kicker. Kevin Nash (Bass), Brian J. White (Zack) and others do well too. Natassia Malthe is stoically =, even if I'm not sure I buy her as a ninja based on her accent. Meanwhile Kane Kosugi (Ryu Hayabusa...yes, that one) comes across as meeker than you'd expect, but that makes him stand out more than if he too was just some stoic ninja. The weaker performances come from Devon Aoki (Kasumi) and Steve Howey (Weatherby). Both have their moments, and are likeable presences despite their sometimes shaky or stiff delivery.
The effects in DOA are another weak link, albeit minor. It's got some really obvious computer effects, that almost look like video game quality. Whether this was intentional I don't know, but it feels a bit weird and cheap regardless. Still, it's something you can look past. The same goes for the hilariously breakable environment, which Donovan must've made from goshdang papier-mache! The location work, meanwhile, is pretty breathtaking, and the set design is equally great! I wanted to stay on this tropical island HQ, and that's the most positive thing you can say about a movie's visuals.
The editing here is quite impressive. It's all very frenetic, and while some shots are too fast, and while others perhaps create continuity errors depending on how in real time you view cuts in a scene, a lot of it worked well for me. It was a good balance of fast and furious without sacrificing cohesion, with the speed and panache of the editing enhancing the fights rather than hindering.
DOA: Dead or Alive is a very silly movie, and very entertaining. It's a real favourite of mine and I recommend it to you if you're looking for a good time, even if a thoroughly ridiculous one