ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘DOA: Dead Or Alive’ (2006), Part Two
Chris Sims: Hello everyone, and welcome back to our close examination of DOA: Dead Or Alive, a movie about a fighting tournament and also sexy volleyball. So far, it has been a modern classic.
Matt Wilson: I would hesitate to say that. Classics tend to have things like memorable acting and compelling plots. This has been something more along the lines of a really fun collection of crazy clips.Chris: You’re such a hipster. When we last left off, sexy volleyball had devolved into a sword fight in a bamboo forest, so now it’s time for the movie to pick up one of its three or four dangling subplots and see if there’s anything to it. Specifically, Max and Christie’s plan to rob DOA Island of a cool hundred million, using Helena’s tattoos as a key.
Matt: Max thinks he’s cracked the code of Helena’s back tattoo, but Christie reveals it’s just a tattoo Helena got on a trip to Paris last year. Nothing special. Meanwhile, Weatherby, who has come out of his surveillance cave, is having anime fantasies about Helena. No joke. There are cartoon rose petals and everything.
Chris: Not to mention that the song you’re thinking of when we say “cartoon love fantasy” is definitely playing. It’s pretty great, but it does raise this weird question about Weatherby: Aside from his tendency to creepily leer at Helena from behind a tree, he’s not really a bad-looking dude.
Matt: He’s “movie nerdy.” He does movie nerdy things, like kissing Helena’s hand before introducing himself and using his family history as a pickup line. It’s cliche as hell, but Steve Howey plays it with the requisite sweatiness.
Chris: He’s very clearly trying to George McFly it, but he’s still a handsome fellow. Which, I suppose, is why Helena is pretty immediately open to his flirtations. She’s such a nice girl!
Matt: Meanwhile, Zack is continuing to hit on Tina, who has just been alerted that Zack himself is her next opponent. She starts up the fight right there, but Zack says they shouldn’t ruin the party for everyone and postpone the fight until the next morning. Question: It seems weird that the fighters don’t have to immediately start fighting when they get their wristwatch-assignments, isn’t it? Isn’t that the point of the wristwatches?
Chris: I wondered about that, too, but the same thing happened with Bass and Tina. I guess any fight from that point until one of them gets knocked out is considered legal for the purposes of the tournament, but who knows. I do like that she kicks Zack into a turntable and we get the almost mandatory record scratch sound effect, then Zack tries to make Tina feel guilty for wanting to have a fight on this fighting island during their fighting tournament.
Matt: Postponing the fight enables the two to get all dressed up — Tina in an all-denim ensemble and Zack in straight-up Harlem Heat ring attire — and go to an arena called Forbidden Square to fight. Not only do the fighters get to choose when they fight, they get arena selection, too! I think Tina has a GameShark.
Chris: This fight’s a lot of fun, and just like the last big tussle, there’s a moment where Tina does a forward-flipping crescent kick to the sound of a gun being cocked, with the big “BOOM” of a gunshot when her foot hits Zack’s head. How did this movie not win all of the Academy Awards?!
Matt: The sound effects are pretty fun. Further evidence Tina is cheating: Zack gets her with a ring-out, and she pops right back up and kicks HIM out of the ring to win the fight.
Chris: Man, this ain’t Soul Calibur! Ring outs don’t mean nothin’ in the world of Dead Or Alive: Dead Or Alive!
Matt: It didn’t send them to a different area of the stage, either, though!
Chris: She also wins without actually knocking Zack out. He just sort of gets winded and calls it a day. Dude: There’s ten million dollars on the line here. Get up and throw some tiger uppercuts.
Matt: Zack clearly doesn’t care too much for money, if money can’t buy him (Tina’s) love. Cut back to Christie and Max in their room, where Christie reveals that Helena has another, Secreter tattoo, but she won’t tell Max what it is just yet. She has to sit down and remember the porniest fight that ever happened.
Chris: Oh man. This fight is amazing. I almost wish we could just do thirty screencaps of this fight because it would be equivalent to a plot summary, but it is hilariously exploitative. First off, they are fighting in sexy rain, while sexy music plays, and while Helena is wearing a wet t-shirt over her bikini. Why are they fighting in bikinis? Why would they NOT be fighting in bikinis!
Matt: I guess because it’s raining? But it’s also, like, the first time we have seen anything but beautiful weather on this island. It must rain there one day of the year.
Chris: I don’t even think it’s raining. I think they’re fighting in a sexy fountain, so that they can get what the official marketing copy for DOA 5 calls “wet skin, damp hair, and moist, semi-translucent clothing as the match progresses.”
Matt: I hate to rag on Holly Valance’s stage name (her real last name is VukadinoviÄ), but this is exactly the type of scene I’d expect to see someone named Holly Valance performing in. Even crazier? Her married name is HOLLY CANDY.
Chris: There’s literally a shot at the beginning of the fight, right before they start sensually biting into their wrist-tape (which they have in this one fight for some reason?) where they shoot from behind Helena – like, RIGHT behind Helena – and frame Christie between her thighs. It’s… there are literal tears in my eyes from laughing so hard at this fight.
Matt: Then there’s the slo-mo reveal of Helena’s tattoo. Then all the shots of Helena doing one hold, then Christie reciprocating with the same move. I’d say this was some serious erotic symbolism, but it isn’t really symbolic.
Chris: I’m glad we agree that it’s seriously erotic, then. Things get even sillier when Christie grabs a ballpoint pen and perfectly recreates the tattoo (and its coded message) that she saw for half a second while in a sexy fistfight. Assassin skills!
Matt: Finally the big finish, and I can’t describe this any other way, features Christie slamming Helena down into a big, yonic puddle. (Look it up.)
Chris: Later, our three main ladies are chilling together when Kasumi mentions that she hasn’t seen Hayabusa for a while, so they all decide to go Scooby Doo around for a while, stumbling on a secret passage in the process. Meanwhile, Weatherby goes up to a staircase to comfort Helena, who’s bummed about her incredibly sapphic loss.
Matt: Speaking of Helena, her super-secret tattoo? It’s a puzzle you’d find on a Cap’n Crunch box. You hold it up to a mirror and it’s a number. That’s it.
Chris: I wonder if Helena’s Dad was counting on would-be thieves being thwarted by her long hair. If only he knew she’d be wearing a ponytail!
Matt: Certainly you’d never expect someone with long hair to put that hair up to fight someone. Eric Roberts, who has started wearing fewer and fewer clothes as this has gone on, looks on as the team of Tina, Christie and Kasumi investigate Hyabusa’s disappearance. Is there a reason they don’t call him Ryu? Is it seriously because his name in the game is Hyabusa (I guess because of the Street Fighter character)?
Chris: I think they refer to him as “Hayabusa” in later Ninja Gaiden games, too, but it’s always been his full name. As the girls tend to Hyabusa, Eric Roberts locks them in his bizarre underground supervillain vault, which is our first clue that things are about to get off the charts bonkers. But first, more flirting with Helena and Weatherby!
Matt: Yeah, I know that’s his full name. It’s just weird to me that they’re always calling him by surname. Anyway, Weatherby reveals that Donovan pretty clearly killed Helena’s dad after an argument about the tournament. Around that time, Donovan announces over the loudspeaker that he wants Helena and Weatherby dead, too. I’m not really sure why he waited around this long.
Chris: This is INSANE, by the way. Not just that Eric Roberts’ immediate reaction is to get on the PA and go “hey, go kill Helena,” but that it’s prompted by Weatherby just basically saying “hey, you know Eric Roberts killed your dad, right?”
Matt: Something Weatherby has known THE WHOLE TIME. Even so, Helena gets a chance to redeem her fighting rep by taking down about 100 ninja guards, while Weatherby knocks out one and then Clark Kents it, really playing up how much it hurt his hand. Except he’s just Clark Kent.
Chris: This fight scene is almost as hilarious as the last one. First, it starts with Helena showing off her bedazzled wrist thing (?!)….
Chris: …and then it moves into a straight up riff on the climax of Kill Bill, right down to the camera angles. I have to imagine that Corey Yuen hit the part in the script where a thin blonde girl picks up a katana and beats up a couple dozen ninjas and decided to have fun with it.
Matt: It’s a pastiche on that fight scene right down to the pink flower petals. Except I don’t remember that part of Kill Bill Vol. 1 having a shot of The Bride impossibly catching a CGI katana.
Chris: Obviously a failing on Tarantino’s part.
Matt: Our four remaining fighters — Tina, Christie, Kasumi and Hyabusa — wake up in neon tubes in a secret underground Future Lab so Eric Roberts can show them his special light-up sunglasses. THIS IS WHAT REALLY HAPPENS.
Chris: Oh my God, I love this movie. So yeah, Eric Roberts has been using his nanobots in everyone’s bloodstream to record their fighting skills into a pair of sunglasses that he can wear and become the best karate man, and also he has been keeping Hayate alive in a tube FOR A YEAR so that he can test it out on him once he’s done making his magic sunglasses. THIS IS AMAZING.
Matt: Yet, with all this planning, he forgot to revoke Weatherby’s password access to his Secret Fighter Tubes. Come on, dude!
Chris: Also Weatherby knew this was the plan the entire time, which he casually drops as he and Helena are running through caves.
Matt: Here’s my favorite thing about the Hayate reveal: What we discover has happened to him in his year as a prisoner is that he got a haircut.
Chris: Eric Roberts’ plot here is amazing. Like… This dude is a billionaire. He owns an island. He has $100,000,000 on hand, in cash. Why does he want to be a super-awesome karate man so badly? Why doesn’t he just take lessons? Helena’s pretty good, she could probably teach him!
Matt: Also: His fighting skill is contingent on a pair of sunglasses. Sunglasses tend to fall off pretty easily, especially in a fight! They don’t even have a headband attached or anything!
Chris: Clearly he’s been influenced by the great fighter Johnny Cage.
Matt: Why he doesn’t throw an autographed headshot to Hayate is a mystery for the ages. So Hayate and Eric Roberts fight for a while, Roberts knocking him around way into the air and stuff, until finally that thing I mentioned earlier where a fighter knocks another fighter into a different part of the arena does really happen. Unlike in the games, though, Ayane pops up and catches Hayate.
Chris: Not to backtrack, but you skipped over the part where we were watching a 3D computer overlay showing pressure points and tactics and then it pulled back and that was happening inside Eric Roberts’ Magic Sunglasses.
Matt: That’s true. I’m not exactly sure how that works. You could tape the Tao of Jeet Kune Do to my face while I tried to fight and I still would be terrible at it.
Chris: You don’t have DOATEC, obviously. So while Ayane and Hayate have their reunion, Eric Roberts uses a f**king flip phone to pull up a bunch of buyers for his magic karate sunglasses, and we are officially beyond Cobra Commander territory.
Matt: He initiates a “transmission” of the “program,” which means that it’s apparently software and doesn’t have anything to do with those particular sunglasses at all. But then Weatherby stops it as movie hackers always do: TYPING REALLY FAST.
Chris: And then the download bar on the transmission actually reverses and goes back down to zero! Which… Look, I’m comfortable in saying that Eric Roberts is a bad guy based on what we’ve seen him do, but do we know that the people buying this stuff aren’t just rich folks who want to be better at karate? Then again, it’s clearly visible that none of them are in America, so…
Matt: A message comes up that says “CIA alerted!” That’s built into the software!
Chris: After Weatherby goes to THE CIA WEBSITE!
Matt: Donovan built a contact CIA protocol into his black-market-karate-skills-selling program, just in case.
Chris: Donovan summons Bayman, who growls noncommittally. Meanwhile, we completely skipped over Max, who raided the vault by solving an actual, honest-to-God Professor Layton Sliding Block Puzzle, and is now getting punched out.
Matt: Similar to the “CIA Alerted” message, the vault has a “Correct Code” message when you put in the right combination. It congratulates you every time you open it. Positive reinforcement, I guess.
Chris: Helena shows up to stop Eric Roberts, and ends up kicking him in the face and saying “What a shame. You didn’t download my moves.” So… the glasses only make you good at fighting the specific people whose moves they’ve copied? How is he going to explain that to his international buyers when they try to fight someone who isn’t, you know, locked up in a tube in his basement? “Uh… there’s a patch coming.”
Matt: But then he knocks her out with a kick and confronts Weatherby, asking, “You believe the CIA will stop me? I don’t think so.” It’s a valid point, considering the DOA Island itself probably isn’t in the US either. Interpol’s website might have been the smarter visit, Weatherby.
Chris: And then he activates the island’s self-destruct program. Oh, excuse me, its DOA SELF DESTRUCT PROGRAM.
Matt: Somehow Weatherby, with keyboard keys stuck in his forehead and all, manages to open the last pod. And somehow it took unlocking all the pods to get any of them to open. So Team Protagonist exits and then kind of…falls to where Eric Roberts is.
Chris: All the ladies fight Eric Roberts, all the guys fight Bayman, who is swinging around two duffel bags full of money. This is dumb, but Bayman is dumb, so it works. There’s some crazy stuff with ladders and bizarre kung fu movie wirework – the wirework is actually pretty standard, but it’s bizarre by virtue of involving Eric F**king Roberts – and eventually, finally someone knocks his glasses off. It cuts to slow motion. He says “oh no.” This is a real movie.
Matt: You should have had a headband, Eric! Hold on. We almost didn’t mention these CGI chains.
Chris: I hope by “CGI” you mean “Completely Goddamn Insane.”
Matt: Along those lines, Ayane catching a falling Tina with a bamboo ladder and Tina somehow not sliding off is also CGI.
Chris: About the chains, there was a long moment where I thought they were actually going to Double-Dutch Eric Roberts to death. That’s kind of the only way to improve the movie at this point, because it already has all the non-awesome characters running to a big door that says “EMERGENCY EXIT” and opening it to reveal a water slide.
Matt: The chains moved like snakes, Chris. As Weatherby and Hyabusa (who is not non-awesome) slide to safety, Eric Roberts is defeated via a two-pronged attack: Hayate punches him in the nads and then Kasumi acupunctures him into full-body paralysis.
Chris: Then all the ladies jump away from the explosion and land in the ocean, where they are found by the pirates from Tina’s intro. The good guys beat them up and steal their boat.
Matt: I was about to say everyone fell off the island for like 10 stories into the ocean, and then they were hit by a shock wave, they’re all dead, the end, but yeah, Liu Kang the pirate comes and finds them, somehow alive.
Chris: Then everyone makes out, and we get a montage of sexy scenes that we already saw, including a close-up of Helena’s panties as she does the splits. And then an epilogue!
Matt: The female leads talk about a group of attacking ninjas as if they are the movie audience, and again, it’s one of those Funny Games things where they might as well point to you directly and say, “Perv.”
Chris: This is the best movie ever.
Matt: And it’s over in 76 minutes, filler and all!
Matt: Unlike Mortal Kombat, which kind of tried too hard to be A Real Movie, DOA doesn’t even attempt to take itself seriously, which means it can go way over the top all the time, which it does. It ends up being a lot of fun as a result.
Chris: I love how silly this movie is, and how self-aware it is of its own silliness. It’s built like a comedy, to the point where even the fight scenes are goofy and have weird gunshot sound effects thrown in. It takes the premise of the game – fighting tournaments! Sexy ladies! Beach volleyball! – and just sort of runs with it.
Matt: It doesn’t try to be an exact replication of the games, but it matches up with their spirit — or maybe more accurately, their reputation — about as well as any movie could.
Chris: Even though it’s probably for the wrong reason, I do like that they shifted the focus to the women in the cast, rather than building the story around, I dunno, Hayabusa going to look for Hayate or something. It’s very clearly rooted in the desire for an exploitation film, but it’s nice to see a big martial arts movie with women in lead roles. They all have concerns of their own and arcs that they follow – Christie in particular is a pretty well-rounded (har har) character, at least by the standards of what we’ve been watching lately.
Matt: The three female leads certainly get the clearest motivations most screen time. The biggest fights, too. And as you might expect with Corey Yuen, the fighting in this is pretty good, even without professional martial artists in the lead roles. Only Kane Kosugi (Hyabusa) and Collin Chou (Hayate) are martial arts actors.
Chris: It’s also really nice how bright and colorful it is. So many of the movies we end up watching have just the worst lighting, and so many video games these days (I am an old man, by the way) are done up in various shades of grey and brown. This one is downright lurid. As you might expect.
Matt: That’s true. Even the Sexy Rain Fight was well-lit and had bright colors.
Matt: In a lot of ways, DOA felt more like a delivery system than a movie; just a way to get from one fight or over-the-top setpiece to the next. The rest was either filler (the recaps at the end, the climb up the tower, the chit-chat scenes) or wholly unnecessary subplots (stealing the $100 million).
Chris: For arguably the main focus of an ensemble cast, Devon Aoki doesn’t really seem into acting. She’s just kind of sleepy throughout the whole thing.
Matt: None of the acting is particularly good. Though Eric Roberts slumming is still Eric Roberts. And you point out Devon Aoki’s Kasumi. Of the three main characters, she was the only one who arguably got what she wanted, which was her brother back. Presumably any evidence of Tina’s awesome, real fighting has been destroyed, and Christie didn’t get any money. But they’re pretty happy at the end. The characters are motivated until they aren’t.
Chris: They seem perfectly content to hang out and fight an army of ninjas, which is weird, because Ayane was literally supposed to murder Kasumi for leaving the ninja clan. I guess she chilled out after Hayate came back?
Matt: Guess so. I guess my big complaint is that, you could watch basically any of the really funny or enjoyable scenes of this movie out of context and get just as much enjoyment out of them. You don’t really need a movie.
Chris: Also, let’s be real here: This movie is 100% exploitation. I’d argue that it’s in a fun way, and I certainly have a higher tolerance for that than a lot of people, but there’s really no getting around it. I think that shot between Helena’s legs says it all.
Matt: Like I said about the humor before, it’s got this kind of naivete and innocence about it, mixed in with some winking at the audience, but it’s hard to sidestep. The one factor that elevates it a little is that, as you said, the women drive the action instead of being driven into it. And the only out-and-out nudity I can recall was actually some very brief male nudity of Zack.
Chris: On a much more minor level, for a movie based on a game where everyone has a very distinct fighting style, the actual fights are pretty standard. Going back to the Helena and Christie fight, there’s no real difference in what they’re doing, and it’s pretty much the same stuff Tina and Kasumi do, too.
Matt: When you have actors who aren’t fighters, that’s understandable, though. That said, Eric Roberts fighting was just goofy as hell. It was so awkward it was hilarious.
Matt: DOA: Dead or Alive is an uproarious and fun collection of clips.
Chris: I genuinely, unironically love this movie. I don’t know how it’d hold up to a second viewing, but every time I thought it couldn’t get sillier or funnier, it topped itself. It’s a hoot, man.
Matt: As I said before, I’m just not sure it needs to be a movie. As it is right now, it’s only 75 minutes. Cut out the filler and unnecessary subplots, down to like a one-hour TV special, and you’ve really got a fun, light action-comedy.
Chris: I’m legitimately shocked that it flopped, and that there haven’t been two or three more.
Matt: I guess you now know your life’s work. Get a Kickstarter goin’.
Chris: It’s about a thousand times better than Veronica Mars, so I imagine we’ll make a thousand times more money. It’s a sure thing! So after this, I imagine it’s all downhill from here. What’s on the docket for next week, Matt?
Matt: Remember how we watched that one Street Fighter movie that was bad, but had a lot to like?
Matt: This is like that, but without the “but.”
Chris: Oh no. Don’t tell me we’re diving back into the Kristen Kreuk ouvre after all these years
Matt: At least it ain’t The CW’s Beauty and the Beast.