Review: 'Tekken Blood Vengeance' Juggles Absurdity and Action

You will believe a panda can fly.

Marvel at this: 17 years after its franchise debut, the long-running 3D fighting game franchise Tekken has not one but two film adaptations getting released this month. Now one of these movies is the generally derided live-action movie by frequent television director Dwight Little which feels like it's been sitting on a shelf for a year before unceremoniously getting dumped on DVD and Blu-Ray in the middle of July, but still--two movies in one year, right? The second movie, the CG production being considered today, is weirdly a response to the other film in that its makers have gone on record as saying that the two movies are unconnected, and more damningly, "[They're] not trying to rewrite those wrongs."

So instead of the modestly-budgeted (cheap) take on the material which jumbles together the continuity of Tekken (such as it is), masterminded by a journeyman director, Blood Vengeance has been crafted as the genuine article--taking placing between the fifth and sixth games, paring down the cast considerably, and interestingly, not even having a lot of room for the titular fighting tournament until the very last scene. I can't say how much better Blood Vengeance is compared to the live action movie, but on its own merits (which is really how we should be considering these things, right) it thrives by assembling a number of the big, silly elements for which the franchise is known into what could broadly be defined as a story in a string of action scenes that occasionally verge on the impressive.

I've spent a lot of words not talking about the story because there's not a lot of it and what little there is doesn't entirely make sense: high school student Ling Xiayou is forced by the shady G Corporation to infiltrate an international high school and get close to a young man named Shin, whose tribal arm tattoo may hold the secret to immortality. Ling and Shin are simply pieces in a larger, mostly incomprehensible game being played by father and son Kazuya Mishima and Jin Kazama. They seem to have endless resources, no compunction about genetic experimentation on teenagers, and a deep-seated hatred for one another that will be almost opaque to those who haven't played the games.

And here's the asset (or deficit, depending on where you're standing) with Tekken: Blood Vengeance: it's thoroughly a film made with fans in mind, drawing together story threads between the most recent and the last game, leaving most of the motivation and history of the characters up to the viewer to parse through. For the uninitiated, what remains are some bone-crunching action scenes and a vein of absurd comedy (wait until you see teacher Lee Chaolan's house, which is the definition of "swag") over the movie's relatively brisk running time. Even as an admittedly huge fan of the narrative excesses of the series, I sometimes felt on the outside of Blood Vengeance, but never so much that I wanted to stop watching. Of the three movies bearing the Tekken name (including a simply awful traditional animated version from 1997), I'm going to call it now and say it's probably the best.

Faint praise aside--I actually enjoyed it, honest--the 3D presentation was really the only area of genuine complaint. At least at the screening I attended, the image was under-lit (which could simply have been how the movie was brought to screen) but occasionally it was hard to track the action going on requiring a bit of reorientation. As part of Fathom Events (the company that brings you limited-engagement events like concerts to the movie screen), it was accompanied by what an extended preview of the Tekken Tag HD release and conversation with the developers. This should have been far more interesting than it was, undone by being conducted in, what I assume, was a closet at E3, by a painfully awkward and seemingly bored Adrienne Curry. In the future, please, less of this.

Tekken: Blood Vengeance was show as part of series of limited 3D screenings. The movie will be released on a hybrid Blu-ray in November as part of the Tekken Tag HD Collection.

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