DOA: Dead or Alive (Review)
DOA: Dead or Alive
Directed by Corey Yuen
DOA: Dead or Alive is not a movie. It is not a video game. It is a music video. A ninety minute music video with no discernable song (except maybe “I like the way you move” as it is used during one montage.) But you don’t need a song, you just need lots of women bouncing around in micro-clothes, and dozens of action sequences with posing shots. Actually, there is a movie a lot like this one, but instead of just being mindless action, Hero went a step farther and goes all commie in the end. DOA goes all “Let’s be friends!” and then goes back to sword-wielding chicks in spandex. That’s not to say DOA is any good. However, I was expecting it to be so horrible, that when it turned out to be passable I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, I’ll never watch it again, but there are many films I won’t be watching again, for I don’t have the time. Speaking of Hero, several of the scenes here are directly lifted from that film, as well as movies such as Crouching Tiger, Kill Bill, and Charlie’s Angels. Just part of the flash in the pan fun of DOA. But the imitations are not complete nor memorable on their own, giving another reason why there is little value in rewatching this film.
DOA: Dead or Alive is based on a series of video games, fighting video games mostly. These games have plots, as much of plots as fighting games can have, and the film chooses to ignore much of it. As I have never played the game nor care about the original story, it is not a big deal to me, but I remember a few people making a big stink when this came out. As some people complain about everything, they were easily ignored. They probably would have attacked the Q*Bert cartoon had it aired while they were alive. One of the main drawing points of the video games is the many teenage girls that bounce around and jiggle while beating the crap out of gigantic opponents. DOA games also spawned the ridiculous DOA Extreme Volleyball games, where you watch the female characters run around on an island, playing mini-games and buying ever-more revealing bikinis for the girls. Obviously a game for very lonely men. Fan service triumphed and there was plenty of volleyball in the DOA movie, but as they are real girls I am not complaining.
The movie plot itself is ludicrous. The DOA tournament is held, which randomly invites the world’s greatest fighters by some sort of flying invitation/blade that always seems to invite people just after a cool action sequence. They are then set against each other for a $10 million prize, but organizer Donovan may have another agenda. Realistic? Of course not, but much of this movie is not, so no bother. Luckily, some Wikipedia nerd has chosen to tell us that one of the major factual errors in the film is that a ninja clan would not be staffed by hundreds of armed soldiers. He seems not to have taken issue with the nanobot/magic sunglasses technology, which should tell you something about Wikipedia. The biggest flaw he found in a movie that opens with a girl fly-walking over hundreds of troops, diving off a sword, flying over a wall, ripping off her clothes to reveal a backpack, which opens to reveal a hang glider, and gets an invitation to the DOA tournament thrown at her by someone who was watching all this. But, yeah, too many armed guards for a ninja clan. Thanks Asperger McVirgin! People with too much time on their hands aside, the film is rife with several other problems, most noticeably the fact no one seems to get any injury at all, despite constantly being punched and thrown through walls. Hardly a bruise is to be found. It’s all fun and games until someone gets a paper cut. This would spoil all the fun, so just ignore the lack of wounds and go with it. Director Corey Yuen is a Hong Kong import, best known in the US for The Transporter, but best known to me for So Close.
We should be getting on with the film, but first we need to get on with the cast! Choose your fighter! (Is that even in the game?)
In addition, none of these characters have digital breasts that bounce, which enraged fanboys across the world. Enraged!
The movie starts out with Princess Kasumi moping about in her ancient Chinese/Japanese Royal dwelling, and soon decides that her dead brother Hayate isn’t dead and she’s going to go look for him. As Princess Kasumi is Princess of a ninja clan, leaving will make her go shinobi and become hunted by the clan. This is told to her by Ryu Hayabusa, who besides being the ninja star of the Ninja Gaiden series of video games is Hayate’s best friend and harbors a crush on the Princess. He begs her not to go, but she refuses him, and refuses the threats by purple-haired Ayane who tells her that she will hunt her down if she leaves. There are also around 300 guards waiting outside, because the director saw Hero. These guards all have purple banners, because purple seems to be the color of this ninja clan. Or some sort of lavender. Remember how Hero was color-coded? Anyway, the visual candy begins as Princess Kasumi runs across the tops of the soldiers and leaps over the wall, which then zooms out to show us that the clan is living atop a high mountain. As Princess Kasumi plunges to what would be her death, she whips off her robe to reveal a backpack that pops out a hang glider. Very similar to the Hong Kong movie Duel and the opening of Charlie’s Angels. A spinning blade flies in, she catches it, and it tells her she has been invited to DOA. DVD menu graphics appear to also tell us that she has been invited.
The next opening is very patriotic. I am proud to be an American, as American flag bikini wearing Jaime Pressly as Tina Armstrong is emerging from the clear water to her yacht, then doing exercises as her father calls, trying to get her to rejoin the wrestling circuit. She is tired of being fake, but soon a group of Chinese pirates led by Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat approach to try to steal the boat. They fail, as Tina single-handedly beats the ever-loving snot out of them, and soon they are all swimming in the drink. That causes her to get an invitation, as one slams into the deck of the boat. Hey, DOA, who’s going to pay for the damage to the boat you just caused? DVD menu graphics run us by her character again, before we move on to the next.
Intro number three is Christie showering in a hotel in Hong Kong. She steps out, and finds that the Hong Kong police are waiting to arrest her. As she is just in her towel, she wants to get dressed, and puts on her underwear while the police get all sweaty. Christie asks for her bra, which the main officer gives to her dangling from the end of his gun. Note that he takes out his gun specifically to dangle the bra from the end of it. Christie kicks the gun (and bra) out of his hand and is soon kicking and punching the cops, while her towel is off and the bra and gun are still slowly floating in the air. Don’t bother pausing to look to see if you can see anything interesting, her boobs have been digitally altered to be nipple-less. I know this definitely because I did NOT pause the DVD repeatedly to check frame by frame. Nope. I definitely didn’t. Anyhow, soon Christie manages to catch her bra around her arms, as well as the gun, and soon points it at the remaining policeman asking if he will hook up her bra. You know that this sequence was what got the film made, especially since it is featured prominently in the trailer. Christie knocks him out and heads to the lobby in her undies, and old man gasps in the elevator. By the end of the elevator ride his is zipped inside his suitcase and Christie is sneaking out with his trench coat and hat. As she runs through the lobby a well-groomed young man seems to take notice of her. He is Max, who helped set her up and is her on-again/off-again partner/lover. She jumps on a motorcycle and rides through the streets, as the movie has entered Kill Bill mode (from the previous Jackie Chan towel stunts.) An invitation slams into her bike, and she smiles. The DVD menu graphics appear, and tell us she is an assassin and a thief. Her assassin job is never mentioned in the film.
None of these characters seem to be surprised they are invited, even if by flying electric knife means. Therefore, DOA must be very well known in whatever universe this takes place in. That also explains all the DOA branding, as everything has the DOA logo emblazoned on it. The plane, the parachutes, the invitations, all over the arena, the volleyball, everything. I bet all the contestants have DOA tattooed somewhere on their body. And as most of their bodies will be on display, that gives me an excuse to look extra close. DOA seems to be the Microsoft of martial arts tournaments.
No more fancy intros, despite the fact there are several new characters that don’t get introductory graphics. Ayane is sent after Kasumi by her clan, and soon every other character is on the official DOA airplane, with the logo sprayed on the side. Almost every character from the video game is onboard, but most of them don’t even get a speaking role. One that should have been left on the cutting room floor is Zack, who has the worst hairstyle in the Eastern Hemisphere (as they are in Asia somewhere.) Zack won’t shut up, and says sexually suggestive things to Tina Armstrong, who is sulking that her father Bass Armstrong (Kevin Nash!) has also been invited. Princess Kasumi is upset that Ryu Hayabusa is on the plane, but he says that he has been invited as well. Christie runs into Max, who has also been invited somehow despite the fact he can’t fight at all. The flyers are greeted with a video of Helena, who roller blades around and tells them welcome. A later video also informs them that they need to bail out of the plane to get to the island, and if they don’t enter the compound by sundown they are eliminated. Everyone grabs the parachutes under their seats and bails out.
Wouldn’t you know it, but the three mains (Tina, Kasumi, and Christie) all land off course right next to each other, as the base of a big tower where a Buddha statue is at the top (their target.) After some verbal snipes at each other, the girls start to climb. Their progress is impressive as they start going up, but as the sun is almost setting they realize they aren’t going to make it on time. Their only hope is to work together, and do some of the acrobatics seen in the Charlie’s Angels film. Soon they are flipping each other up, and pulling up the rest. I don’t see them going any faster, but I guess they are. As they get to the top, a railing breaks and Kasumi falls, but is caught by the other girls. She briefly sees Ayane, who soon vanishes. The three head inside just in time to see the full compound, which has many different background locations that are probably based on fighting locations from the video game. The compound is CGI enhanced, and would have cost billions of dollars to build if it was real. But that isn’t as unrealistic as a ninja clan having some guys with swords.
The contestants gather inside a room, where an announcer announces (duh) the person running the tournament, Dr. Victor Donovan. He welcomes the fighters, give a brief plot point that Helena’s late father organized the tournament and wanted her to compete when she turned 21, which is this year. Then he sends all the fighters to go get a physical. Sure, physicals make great cinema! Actually, in this case it is just an excuse to get everyone in their underwear again, especially the women. Zack continues to be annoying, while Bass Armstrong turns out to be a klutz, something the film promptly forgets right afterward. Everyone is injected with nanobots in their blood, all without their knowledge. These nanobots feed information to computers that will be reading all the physical statistics of the fighters. Computer controller Weatherby is too busy staring at Helena in her underwear to notice his boss Victor come in, but soon tells him all the nanobots are set up and working fine.
DOA title bumpers? I guess this is a cartoon or something…Later, at the Halls of Justice…
DAY ONE. A caption is kind enough to tell us this information. The fighters all warm up, which is a good excuse to show them all doing moves in skimpy clothes and sweating a lot (or just rollerblading in a bikini top and butt-bearing shorts.) Narration by Victor tells us that all contestants got wristbands that will tell them who their opponent is. These matches will happen at any time, and go until someone is KOed (no weapons are allowed.) Fights are broadcast on widescreen TVs set up all over the island, and the many cameras give us a good video game style set up as the contestants start to beat the crap out of each other. We get lots of action clips as the various main characters take out the extras who are dolled up to look like the DOA video game characters that weren’t picked to have a role in the film. After each person wins, a cheery voice announces “KO!” and says who wins. It is the polar opposite from the Mortal Kombat spooky-voiced guy. But no one is the “Toasty!” Sad.
I probably don’t even have to mention that Christie, Kasumi, and Helena won. Kasumi also looks off into the distance by herself, while flashing back to the past, where she was kidnapped by some random evil guys. Soon, the random evil dudes are getting killed, and she sees her brother Hayate. Hayate throws up a box of acupuncture needles, flies up into the air, and starts popping the needles into the thugs’ backs, paralyzing them. Hayate then megapunches the thugs when they can’t fight back, thus winning and saving his sister. Hayate then gets a DOA invite. Flashback is over, and Victor goes to talk to Kasumi about her brother. He says that a guy named Leon fought him, and Hayate fell off the balcony the girls climbed up. His body was never found. Leon looks like the Hulk took steroids and was a Nazi superman, so you know that he and Kasumi will be fighting in a little bit.
More fanservice, as Kasumi is bathing in a bathtub with rose petals as Ryu Hayabusa walks into her quarters and sits near her bath area. She questions why he came as she gets out of the tub, then says that Victor is lying about her brother. Ryu Hayabusa tells her that Ayane is on the island, a fact she already knows. In Christie’s quarters, Max is there as well and they discuss that he is there to rob a vault on the island of $100 million. Max also says he faked an injury so he was bumped to the next round. This leads to Max/Christie sex (off camera.) Meanwhile, Tina is in a hot tub, but soon Zack joins her and begins sexually harassing her. Thanks, movie!
Victor sets up Kasumi with Leon just to see what happens. But first, Kasumi is attacked by Ayane, who bursts from her mirror and tries to kill her by sword. The fight ends prematurely when Leon bursts down the door of Kasumi’s room and Ayane scoots off. Kasumi’s attacks don’t seem to do much to Leon at first, the table she throws is shrugged off and her punches aren’t that effective. Eventually she starts scoring some shots, but Leon is tossing her around. He is like seven feet tall and Kasumi 5’4″, so she is like a tiny toy being tossed around. They smash through the wall into Christie’s room, where Christie and Max dodge out of the way and chill in a corner watching the match. Kasumi soon realizes that Leon isn’t as good of a fighter as he looks, and couldn’t have killed her brother. In the hot tub, Zack is to the point where he is almost molesting Tina, who sees the fight going up stories above them, and gets Zack to shut his eyes and takes off his bathing suit. She jumps out of the tub just as Kasumi kicks Leon out the window, and he falls into the tub, Zack jumping out in horror.
Tina goes to bed, with Christie joining her as Christie’s room is trashed. Bass Armstrong smashes in to fight his daughter, as they got paired up. However, he sees Christie, and thinks his daughter has got herself a “special friend,” so he waits until tomorrow morning.
Helena is supposed to be the key to the vault with the money, as in she has the code tattooed on her body. Why is there always a tattoo code? Why can’t people just remember five numbers? Max is putting the moves on her to get a peek at her code. This ticks off Weatherby (who has never even talked to Helena) and wants Max kicked off the island. Instead, Victor sends a thug named Bayman after him as his fighting opponent. However, Max manages to kick his shoe off and knock down a statue upon Bayman, KOing him in record time.
DAY TWO. Thanks, graphics! I was unable to realize the dawning of the sun meant a new day. Day two starts out with Kasumi and Tina on a raft, Kasumi giving Tina acupuncture as her back hurts from not getting a good night sleep. Bass Armstrong smashes onto their raft, but sees the girls together and thinks Tina has a new “special friend.” Tina gets sick of this and fights her father now, the first to fall in the water loses. Kasumi has to jump off and land on a big water wheel that seems to serve no purpose except to have women jump on it to watch fights. The fight goes well for Tina, who emerges a winner after chastising her father for not taking it serious enough.
VOLLEYBALL TIME!!! The girls are all in bikinis, and will soon be volleyballing around like crazy. Max takes a photo of a tattoo on Helena (which will turn out to not be the right one) and soon the volleyball battle begins. Kasumi and Tina will be battling Helena and Christie. Ryu Hayabusa comes up to Kasumi, but is embarrassed to see her in such a state of undress. He tells her to keep Victor busy so he can sneak into the lab. As Victor is down to watch the match, that means she must prolong it as long as possible, which seems to happen anyway, as both sides are equally matched. Luckily, there are two other girls in bikinis whose entire job on the island is to score volleyball games, as they hold up the score signs and bounce up and down. But remember, that is more realistic than soldiers for a ninja clan. Ryu goes toward the compound, and as he goes up the stairs he faces ever-increasing numbers of nameless guards. These are all interspersed of shots of the girls playing volleyball in their bikinis, and this juxtaposition is basically the DOA series in a nutshell, as well as showing Ryu’s Ninja Gaiden roots.
The volleyball is deflated by a ninja star as they reach the last volley, and Kasumi runs off as she knows Ayane is nearby. In the lab, Ryu gets sealed in a room and is not seen again for a while. Kasumi and Ayane fight in a bamboo grove that just happens to be on the island, and fly around doing the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon scene. Kasumi is a pretty good fighter for being unarmed to Ayane’s katana, and soon traps Ayane’s arm in the end of a bamboo stalk, but Ayane runs off again when some of the other girls go looking for Kasumi. Ayane needs to not worry about other people watching her kill people, as no one will even know who the heck she is. Well, Ryu, but he knows she is trying to kill Kasumi anyway. Why isn’t she trying to kill Ryu? He left the clan as well.
Weatherby joins the party back at the volleyball court, where everyone has moved back too, and awkwardly hits on Helena. His creepiness and greasy hair seem to be just what Helena has been missing from her life, and she’s keen to keep chatting with him. Tina is chosen to fight Zack, but in order to not ruin the party Tina agrees to fight him the next morning.
DAY THREE. Thus it is the next morning. The two go to fight in the arena, which is carved out of solid stone. Tina is dressed in tight blue jeans with a jean jacket, which should be restricting her movement, but whatever. Her and Zack have their match, which goes on a while, has plenty of Matrix-like moves, slow motion flying kicks, and even has Tina get slammed through some stone railings and falling down below. That doesn’t even leave a mark, and she gets back in the arena and kicks Zack out of it. He gives up, and says he is now rooting for her to win. They shake hands, no longer enemies.
Helena and Christie are also chosen to fight. They battle in a rain-soaked area of sand, alternating between the two fighting and Christie trying to draw a tattoo from memory that she saw on the back of Helena’s neck. This is probably taken from another movie, but I am not sure which one. I guess I score an F in Pop Culture History for today. I shall watch some E! Channel to make up for it. Actually, no one should watch E! Channel, ever. Helena loses the fight, and Weatherby is sad. Victor mentions the nanobots again so the MTV-viewer audience doesn’t forget about them, and gives Weatherby the rest of the day off. The three main girls (Tina, Kasumi, and Christie) discuss how they are the only ones left, with Ryu, who has disappeared. Tina says they should look for him, and all three go to Victor’s office. There, Christie finds a secret door, and the three go into it. They stumble across the computer control center, and then further on find Ryu unconscious on the floor. As the rush to see if he is okay, the room seals off and gas is piped in. They are unconscious.
With the day off, Weatherby is free to stalk down Helena and try to cheer her up. He does so by relating a story about how he overheard her father arguing with Victor, and then was killed the next day. As this must have happened over a year ago, Weatherby did nothing and kept working for an evil boss, it is an odd choice to try to impress the daughter of the murdered man with. They don’t even have a throwaway line about how Weatherby is too scared to leave or something. Thus he comes off as compliant to murder. But the revelation makes Helena like him more. She is like Padme from Star Wars in that stories of tragedy and murder turn her on. Her father was upset with something Victor was doing, and tried to stop him, so Helena says she must try to stop him as well. All of this was overheard by Victor, who must have microphones every two feet on the island as the two were sitting in the middle of a long staircase. Victor sends a bunch of goons to go kill the two of them, and soon 20 guards are there with swords, ten men and ten women. Helena can handle this, and she suddenly turns into Beatrix Kiddo and starts busting out more Kill Bill than this movie can handle, slicing the baddies with swords. Except this is PG-13, so no blood ever escapes anyone’s body, which isn’t a change from the many brutal fights that don’t even leave the people slightly bruised. At least the film doesn’t turn black and white. Eventually all of them are put down, except one which Weatherby punches out. The two then rush to the control area, which they get to by a secret passage (Max also spies them going into the passage. Why he is still on the island is not explained, nor why he isn’t one of the final four as he skipped one fight and won the second. Just don’t ask, see!)
Tina, Kasumi, Christie, and Ryu all awaken inside some spacepods in a gym arena, where Victor strolls out and explains what the nanobots do. They record all their moves, and then when he activates them, they will transmit the moves to his special glasses, allowing him to see the movies before they happen and defend, making him the ultimate fighter. He switches on the data transferring devices, and soon all four actors are wiggling around in their pods as their moves are being sent. This sets off the alarm in the secret passage (WHY???) and alerts Weatherby that the data is being sent to Victor.
Victor is now all complete on data, and soon opens a door and sends in Hayate, Kasumi’s missing brother. He has been held for a year and kept in top fighting condition, so then Victor can fight him while wearing the magic sunglasses and beat the snot out of him. If Hayate refuses, Victor will kill the four still in their pods, so Hayate must fight. Victor uses the glasses to see his moves ahead of time, and when they actually fight, Victor can dodge them with ease and is soon mopping the floor with Hayate. Hayate is eventually kicked out of the lab onto the top of the platform structure the girls climbed earlier, then Victor kicks him off of that. Hayate falls, but soon is caught by Ayane and the lovers reunite. Victor announces he was doing a live demonstration of the product, which he will be sending to a bunch of buyers right now. He starts uploading, and Weatherby now has to stop that as well. He manages to do so before the program completes, and he also contacts the CIA by going to the website at cia-gov.org (which is actually a website for the DOA movie.) I guess computers also can display a “CIA Alerted” graphic if they need to in DOA land. Victor storms to the control room to attack.
Max sneaks into the vault, and whips out the code that was tattooed on Helena. He gets inside and sees stacks and stacks of money. Weatherby is at the control station trying to break the locks on the pods, but it takes time to “hack the encryptions” or whatever mumbo-jumbo he is doing. Helena goes to try to slow Victor down. He didn’t download her moves, so she can fight him without being killed instantly. He is better than her, and soon knocks her aside and slams Weatherby into the computer as well. Victor sets the self-destruct for the island (three minutes), and tells his goon Bayman to get the money from the safe. Bayman encounters Max, who is taken out in one swipe. As Victor is leaving, Weatherby types in the one key he needs to hit to open the pods, and they do as Victor walks by them. Ryu fights Bayman as the rest go after Victor, including Helena. The group fights on the platforms outside, the choreography involves broken rails, ladders, and chains being whipped across the screen. Victor is beating all of them because no one can take off his sunglasses. The choreography of this final battle is actually pretty impressive, it was at least entertaining to see the group running around like that.
Bayman is KOed by Weatherby, who hits him in the back of the head with a pipe, and he grabs Ryu and Max to head for the exit, the self-destruct being irreversible. Victor finally loses his magic sunglasses when they fall off of him (if he had used goggles, he would have never lost!) As he is now vulnerable, Hayate punches him in the arch of his foot, causing some sort of damage that goes all CGI into the body, but we don’t know what really happened. Kasumi then gives Victor a neck acupuncture that prevents him from moving. Weatherby warns all of them to jump off the edge as the building will blow in ten seconds, then gets himself, Max, and Ryu into an escape tunnel with a raft. Everyone jumps off the ledges as the building explodes, and we see slow-motion explosion hitting Victor and him being disintegrated.
Hey, those Mortal Kombat pirates from earlier are back, with Liu Kang’s arm in a sling. They see people floating in the water, but Tina is the one they go up to, and soon all of them are beat up again and Tina and the rest have their boat. They locate Max, Weatherby, and Ryu, and soon everyone is reunited, and all the couples are making out (Tina tells them to get a room, as she is the only one alone.) The boat drives off, and we get a minute long montage of the best action sequences so far cut so fast you’d get whiplash. We then jump to the scene ONE WEEK LATER where the girls are discussing if some guy is cute out of a bunch of guys. It was in the trailer, and we cut back and see that the five main girls are about to swordfight the 300 guards the ninja clan had from the beginning of the film (remember, they shouldn’t have them thus something in this movie is unbelievable) and they pose with their swords so promotional shots can be taken and used on all the posters. The movie ends before what would probably have been the best fight of them all, but at least it is over. All music videos must end, and this one is no exception. Except the video for The Song That Doesn’t End, as it goes on and on, my friend. Some people started singing it not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue singing it forever just because…
Sure, it could have been worse. But that doesn’t excuse what we just saw. The director can make good action films, I have the feeling he got too forced by the studio to make the film a collection of several other action films that it lost all identity of its own. Nothing from this film will go on to be ripped off by another lame action film. I don’t care that we don’t get the nudity the movie teased us with, I don’t care that the film didn’t follow the stupid plot of the video game, I don’t care that no one got hurt no matter how much pain they received. None of that is important. But even removing all that, the movie isn’t as fun as it should be. That is the main problem. It looks like it would be an entertaining movie that you don’t have to think about. Instead, it turns into the action film equivalent of an average SciFi Channel movie. It is something you watch once, and never again, sometimes forgetting you even saw it. No good film should rely on people with amnesia as its secondary audience, and thus the film failures to entertain. When asked if the film is “Dead or Alive?” one would sadly have to choose “Dead.”
But ninja clans don’t have 300 armed guards!
Rated 4/10 (Brother from another video game, Factual Error Warriors x2, The Plot!)
Here are lots of bonus pictures as this movie is visually interesting, even if everything else fails to impress.