"Tekken: Blood Vengeance" (UK Edition): And You Thought Your Family Reunions Were Awkward
An honest admission- I have never played Tekken. The series began in the glory days of the original Playstation, at a time when I lacked financial independence and was told there was no need to upgrade from my sturdy but now quite outdated Mega Drive. Since then I have advanced to owning both a Playstation 2 and 3 but still the Tekken series of games has yet to be experienced by me, falling in instead with its sibling Soul series. This leaves my knowledge of the canon at whatever I’ve picked up from friends or online.
Tekken: Blood Vengance is a CGI movie set between the fifth and sixth games in the series. The plot involves a clash between two vastly powerful corporations, the Mishima Zaibatsu and G Corporation. The respective histories of these two organizations will undoubtedly be familiar to long time fans but are spelled out quickly in a highway clash between their respective top enforcers, estranged sisters Nina and Anna Williams. This brief sequence plays out like a deleted scene from The Matrix, with the two sisters laughing off the effects of a head on collision between a motorbike and exploding tanker truck before engaging in a stalemate bout. This is a fun James Bond style cold opening but it left me worried as to what to expect. Was it going to be just 90 minutes of loosely connected street brawls?
Thankfully, the film rather quickly picks up with the introduction of Ling Xiaoyu, a Chinese immigrant studying in Japan. An enthusiastic martial artist who has developed the same superhuman strength that all fighting games characters seem to develop (well, all but the gag characters, of course), a combination of destruction of school fitness equipment and overall bad grades serves as the perfect excuse for the G Corporation to swoop in and relocate her in an attempt at a more subtle approach at their target. Transferred to a high class international school in Kyoto with Anna as her guardian, Xiaoyu is given a simple assignment- monitor and attempt to come close to Shin Kamiya. This mission also sees her encounter Alisa Bosconovitch, an eccentric but shy girl with a desperate crush on Shin. It soon becomes apparent that the two may be enemies and that both their superiors have dark plans for Shin, fuelled by a family blood feud.
Although Xiaoyu and Alisa are both established Tekken characters the film wisely chooses to make them the focus rather then the more major players. This allows the film to generally avoid retreading the plot of the games and also makes it much easier for the uninitiated such as myself to feel welcome. The bulk of the plot follows the pair as they attempt to figure out just why the two companies are so eager to abduct Shin, spurred in part by them both finding him easy on the eyes.
The balance of characters extends to avoiding the classic ‘let’s make a movie/TV show of a fighting game’ mistake of tossing everyone in. There are a few short cameos of more comical characters but the script clearly opts to only involve those that would have a place in a consistent story. This isn’t like the infamous Street Fighter movie that tried so hard to feature every character that many bore little but a cosmetic similarity.
Whilst Xiaoyu is a decent protagonist to anchor against some of the more far fetched elements of the story (well, as much as a girl who rides a panda to school and possesses bouts of superhuman strength can be, anyway), I personally found Alisa more enjoyable and admittedly adorable. Given the prolific nature of the games I don’t think it’s spoiling much to reveal that she’s in fact an android and the treatment of this fact is part of the appeal. Although there are a few moments of the often questionable Japanese tradition of ‘we built a super-robotic weapon to look and emote like a teenage girl’ the character has more of an endearing oddball charm and she avoids the ‘I wanna be a real human!’ character arc so frequently tread by androids in fiction. Indeed her acceptance of being an imitation and still wanting to walk alongside humanity is a major plot point and one that pays off in a dramatic yet comedic way.
However, the mecha design of the character is sometimes questionable. A big fight scene involves thrusters coming out of her back, massive chainsaws coming out of her arms and even the ability to seemingly regrow a lost head. A token scene suggests some kind of self healing power but there is really no explanation for quite how these occurrences work which only gets murkier later.
Shin is less fulfilling as a character being, by his own admission, basically a MacGuffin to move the plot along. He is used to briefly explore some of the backstory of the series but in general he really does serve no greater role then getting everyone together for the final massive brawl that ends the movie. This comes off even worse as the girls carry an emotional response to him that simply doesn’t match up to the limited screen time they have with him beforehand.
Minor script foibles can generally be forgiven for what a visual treat the movie is. If you’ve played a computer game in the last 15 years, you’ll be familiar with the concept of cutscenes between levels. Whilst this is the starting point for what we see here it really is several leagues beyond that. Although there’s something still slightly off about them the characters are surprisingly realistic in more ways then one. Admittedly this is partly due to using motion capture actors as a basis but you only have to look at some of the freaky mannequin horror shows coming out of Hollywood to understand that by itself cannot create realistic character animation. Another factor is that the animators seem to have realised something that escaped the creators of projects like Gundam: MS IGLOO- not all cultures have the same mannerisms. With IGLOO, the characters who were primarily European would often pull off Japanese mannerisms, such as women puffing their cheeks and sulking when annoyed. This might be a common enough mannerism in Japan but it really sabotaged the series attempts at selling the characters as being non-Japanese. With Blood Vengeance, the animators clearly strived to make sure characters implied various heritage in both facial structure and mannerisms. It’s not perfect (Alisa in particular sometimes slides into the stereotype ‘cutsey shy Japanese girl’ movements) and background characters don’t get nearly as much attention but overall this is surprisingly impressive. To reference Alisa yet again, the movie offers a distinct difference between her regular movements, more fierce/mechanically precise combat stances and creepy mannequin-like movements she falls into when injured.
Away from characters other factors help sell the world too. The way rain lands on tarmac, how light bounces off a framed portrait, etc. This is all really impressive stuff that shows the animators really know their craft. Japan’s CGI output was pretty awkward this time a decade ago but the experimentation has been worth it to create gems like these.
One problem with the ending is what TV Tropes aptly describes as Ending Fatigue. As all the threads come together, a no holds barred superhuman brawl between father, son and grandson erupts. This is a fairly intense and enjoyable sight to behold, with each combatant trying to block the other two whilst also trying to take advantage of any opening they can find or create. The balance of power shifts more then once and attacks are hijacked as the three generations go at it. The strength and level of observation within the animation is what really makes this enjoyable; if you’ve ever watched a good old Hong Kong action flick you’ll recognise the subtle signs of fatigue and strain that are expected of a real actor in a fighting situation.
With gramps out of the picture, the fight shifts to a Dragonball Z-style face off between father and son as they tap into their ‘Devil Gene’ heritage to take the fight to another level. I keep praising the CG work but again this was a sequence that proved how good it is, rendering stuff like demonic dragon wings in a way that feels completely natural and believable. When you can create something impossible and make your audience accept it, you can only be doing something right.
After this second stage of the fight things seem to be winding down…until a second supernatural incident occurs. Again, the visuals of this final segment are incredible and go to show just how frighteningly inhuman one of the main antagonists is but by this point you almost want to tell the end of the world to keep it down, people have got work in the morning. Not helping is that by this point our two protagonists have been reduced to spectators. Xiaoyu in particular loses any real spirit or independence in favour of spending the last half hour of the movie wailing about why must mankind fight one another and is there no alternative for the future? Whilst this agony does fit in with themes of the story, it’s also the exact same waffle coming out of pretty much every work of fiction from Japan for some time now. It’s powerful the first few times you hear it but with constant repetition becomes preachy and annoying, especially here where it’s placement seems to come at the cost of a character. In fact, in a movie directly based on a game involving characters who find joy in fighting, it’s actually pretty contradictory.
This final round is foreshadowed subtly throughout the movie and indeed even gently mocked by the script in the scene proceeding it but it’s still a bit too much on a first viewing.
Another problem of the fight is that it was rather unclear who, if anyone, the audience should be rooting for. My limited Tekken knowledge suggested youngest son Jin should fill that role but he is consistently painted to be only a stone’s throw from his father and grandfather, even implicated as such by Shin. Events later suggest him to be more of a tortured soul then an outright villain but this is the one piece of story which seems to hinge on the viewer being familiar with the Tekken story.
The movie is presented with the option of Japanese or English. Whilst both casts do a good job I have to say that the English track loses out for one good reason. Unlike standard Japanese 2D animation, the CG animation here is very specifically recreating the mouth shapes to go with the Japanese dialogue. Whilst this helps sell the characters more when viewed in the language, the English dubbing is left coming off like one of those infamous dubbings of Jackie Chan movies where the new track barely if ever comes close to matching the lips. A few scenes try but in general the result makes the action and dialogue feel like two unconnected entities.
Additionally, French and Italian audio tracks are also provided. The general way to these is via the ‘Choose your language’ menu which starts the disc. It’s actually mildly depressing to not even get a few trailers on the other languages, whilst the French option presents a ton of adverts for online streaming and DVD releases of titles.
There are also no extras present on the disc.
Tekken: Blood Vengeance was a surprise to me. I expected a cheaply animated action fanservice romp with a confusing plot and instead got something that was well crafted, thoughtful and tried to accommodate the uninitiated whilst rewarding the long-term. Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that if left me hoping Namco would produce something similar with their Soul series, a story concept that’s begging for a movie treatment.
It’s not perfect and the lack of any extras is a shame but for a decent action movie with some incredible animation I’d certainly recommend it.
Tekken: Blood Vengeance (UK Edition) can be purchased through Amazon.co.uk