As I begin the review of this (third) feature film based off the Tekken franchise, I feel I must premise that I am a fan of the franchise since the days when the PS2 was fresh out, and have played all the games but Tekken 6 (the latest, at the moment of writing). With this necessary basis out of the way, let’s continue.
The story takes place between Tekken 5 and Tekken 6. Both Mishima Zaibatsu, now led by Kazama Jin with Nina Williams as right hand, and G Corporation, now led by Mishima Kazuya with Anna Williams as right hand, are interested in a man called Kamiya Shin. In order to spy on him, the Mishima Zaibatsu activates the android Alisa Bosconovitch, while Anna Williams dispatches the Chinese student Ling Xiaoyu to the school Kamiya attends.
Since it doesn’t try to retell that which fans already know but works as an “interquel” between two games, it’s a relatively harmless 90-minutes feature that mostly functions as an excuse to see the characters we love in action. Normally I’d criticise this kind of approach, but…hey, it’s a movie based on a fighter games franchise, it’s not like any of us would be watching it wanting any more than that! And in this regard, it works: the plot is simple and moderately predictable, but interesting enough to keep you guessing until the end, and most importantly fit to the setting without touching too much the main plotline; the fight scenes are simply spectacular, exciting and wonderfully choreographed; the various subplots (the ongoing fight among the Mishima, the for some reason still interesting feud of the Williams sisters, the forming friendship between Xiaoyu and Alisa…) are nicely, if again predictably, handled, even managing to actually move here and there. What I didn’t like is the main plot centred around Shin, because even in its unoriginality it had potential but kind of fell flat: very little detail was given to his backstory and his powers, his motives as well as the small revelation that constitutes the film’s small plot twist feel both very rushed, and with the way it ends I can’t help but think they weren’t even trying to make it feel like anything else than an excuse to have the three Mishima generations fight each other. I also didn’t like the very last fight: without giving anything away, after that three-way fight in a beautiful Japanese castle that couldn’t be described but with the expression “freaking awesome”, that last twist and “final boss” was out of nowhere, out of place, and over the top even by Tekken standards. Standards where boxing kangaroos, pandas working as bodyguards to Chinese schoolgirls, and coming back from the dead more often than Vegeta and Goku themselves are normal occurences, mind you.
Still: was it really necessary? Being so harmless and adding nothing to the continuity, was it really necessary to make a surely extremely expansive CGI movie to tie-in the two games?
Not many characters from the games make an appearance here, which is understandable given that there’s shitloads of them. Though at least they consistently retain their personality as it’s been established in the games, the movie could have been a nice chance to explore a bit more of their characters to give them some more depth, but it’s a chance they mostly missed, except for Xiaoyu and Alisa. Ling Xiaoyu can easily be considered the heroine: her personality is both kept and expanded nicely, the mix of a regular schoolgirl and an asskicking martial artist is actually quite believably handled, and I liked how finally some more room was given to her missing her friend Jin. Alisa, at her first chronological appearance, is also very interesting, but even if her conflict and development is nicely handled, and if her personality and appearance is the right mixture of adorable and uncanny (her habit of adding “desu” where not grammatically necessary, often after a pause...), it’s nothing we haven’t seen a million times already. The Mishima are just themselves, they don’t even get enough room to do anything else than beating the crap out of each other, which is a shame because seeing more of the transition between the “good” Jin and the Tekken 6 Jin could have been very interesting, and it would also have put the movie more organically into the continuity. Lee Chaolan and Ganryū, on the other hand, have been turned into teachers without any explanation and indeed any reason, if not to just crowbar in some more characters. But what really bugs me is the original one, Kamiya Shin: in addition to what I said before on his story being kind of far-fetched, his very personality is also inconsistent and bland, and with the way his story is revealed and then ends he feels completely useless, which is bad for a character that’s supposed to be the driving force of the whole story.
This is where I really have almost nothing to complain about. Tekken: Blood Vengeance is entirely in CGI, and easily stands amongst the best I have ever seen. The explosions, the incredible amount of realistic details in the clothing and faces, the landscapes, are all really high quality. The movements are also very fluid, and the fights are intense and fantastically choreographed. The only thing I didn’t like much was the design of the devil forms of Kazuya and Jin, because it looked more like a mix of Ogre, the Xenomorphs from Aliens and an Indian deity, rather than the “Devil” from the games.
About the soundtrack, it does its job in punctuating the scenes both with orchestral scores and with more electronic music, particularly during the finale; it’s nothing to be hailed a masterpiece, but does what a good soundtrack has to do.
The voice acting cast is, where possible, the same as in the games: Kazama Jin is voiced by Chiba Isshin, Kazuya by Shinohara Masanori, Heihachi by Ishizuka Unshō (who, strictly speaking, is not the “legendary” voice of Heihachi, as Gōri Daisuke unfortunately died in 2010, but is the new actor for the character also in the games; Ishizuka is also known as the voice of Jet Black in Cowboy Bebop and Zabuza in Naruto) and Lee by Okiaku Ryōtarō, who don’t do more than what they do in the games. Ling Xiaoyu is voiced by the popular Sakamoto Maaya, responsible for the most emotional moments in the film, while Alisa by Matsuoka Yuki (Tsuruya in The melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya), and those names alone guarantee great acting. Kamiya Shin is voiced by the excellent Miyano Mamoru (best known for his role as Light in Death Note), but no matter how hard he tries, his character is simply too uninteresting for even him to make him strong. Even though I didn’t like much how over-the-top villain-ish the character is made here, Watanabe Akeno does a wonderful job in voicing Anna Williams. The voice of Nina, on the other hand, the Tanaka Atsuko known as Captain Varrot in Valkyria Chronicles and as Kusanagi in “Ghost in the shell, didn’t convince me much… she’s good, but I find her voice a bit unfit to the character.
Of course it's not the kind of unforgettable cinematic experience that stays in your heart, but as simply a movie off a fighter games franchise, it does its job, in providing a safe, involving hour and a half of entertainment divided between epic fight scenes and lighter school/spy flick in the first portion. Despite the intentions of the producers, I’m pretty sure it would be incomprehensible for non-Tekken fans, so I’d advise against watching it for them. For Tekken fans, however, it is decently entertaining. I wouldn’t call it a must-see, as continuity-wise it’s pretty useless, but the slight exploration of Xiaoyu and Alisa’s character and bond and most importantly the great action scenes backed up by awesome animation can provide a nice amount of harmless fun for fans of the games, if watched with the right mindset of not expecting much.
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