Although Tekken: The Motion Picture has its share of problems, it definitely captures the quirkiness of what made the original game such a refreshingly unique title.
The original Tekken game was released in the heyday of fighting titles and it quickly became a smashing success due to its accessible gameplay, inviting graphics and bizarre menagerie of characters. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before film adaptations started being released and fortunately for fans of the series and even when it has its share of problems, Tekken: The Motion Picture captures the quirkiness of what made the original game such a refreshingly unique title.
At the beginning of the film, we can see Heihachi Mishima trying to teach his young son a valuable lesson, the ritual involves throwing his offspring off a cliff as an ancient legend states that those who can climb back have the heart of warriors. When Heihachi sees that his son didn’t make it to the top of the canyon, he assumes that this initiation ritual has been a failure and that his son died. Actually, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Several years later, Heihachi founds the Mishima Conglomerate, one of the most significant corporations in the world. The company is very important for the defense industry, but the Japanese government suspects that they may be developing illegal biological weapons. As a martial arts tournament is about to take place at the Mishima headquarters, the international police sends one of their secret agents to compete and find incriminating data. The tournament is called Tekken.
Interestingly, that female agent is a childhood friend of Kazuya (Heihachi’s son) and she was present when Heihachi threw the innocent child into the canyon. Jun is sent to investigate the premises and see what kind of illegal experiments the Mishima Conglomerate is developing. But what most protagonists ignore is that not only has Kazuya survived the deadly fall, but he’s also seeking revenge against his sadistic father. At the same time, Heihachi has adopted and trained another son and they are both eagerly waiting for Kazuya to appear at the tournament to claim his revenge.
Deep character development is something that movie adaptations of games usually lack. Fortunately, Tekken clearly states the motivations of all major characters, making the plot much more meaningful and memorable. Not only is the audience encouraged to care about what happens, but the director managed to tell a compelling story in less than an hour.
Additionally, many fights are featured in the movie and these breakneck action sequences are really well accomplished. Usually, these sequences make the action feel rote, but that’s not the case in this film as they don’t take place one right after the other, with little to no dialogues and in a rapid succession. They are well paced and when a fight takes place, you do care about the outcome. Between fights the plot progresses, characters interact with one another and we learn more about their incentive for participating in the tournament.
As the deadly tournament takes its natural course, Lei tries to find the entrance to the underground research facilities where secret biological weapons are supposedly being kept, Jack wants to find doctor Boskonovitch to cure a little girl he has protected, Kazuya seeks revenge against his sadistic father, Jun wants to help Kazuya get rid of all the hatred in his heart and so on. Each character has a believable reason to be at the tournament and the audience is constantly reminded of them.
All the main characters you would expect are featured, including Kazuya, Heihachi, Jun, Lei Wulong, Lee, Nina Williams, Bruce, Jack and Roger, among others. In fact, most characters from the games make an appearance, even the most bizarre ones, including robots, drunken professors, dinosaurs, kangaroos and so on. The animated film also succeeds at explaining the main driving force behind each character and taking into account that Hollywood has struggled with this particular aspect for years, this is an achievement in itself.
Unfortunately, Tekken: The Motion Picture does have some serious flaws. First of all and as in most Japanese animated films that make their way to America, Tekken’s English dubbing leaves a lot to be desired. In addition, the original soundtrack has been replaced with some intensely forgettable hard rock songs that seem pretty contrived and out of place. Furthermore, expect lots of clichés such as the mysterious man who seeks revenge, the girl who wants to “cleanse” the young man’s heart, the evil owner of an international company who wants to rule the world, the jealous step-brother who nobody likes and so on.
Maybe it’s unfair to look at the aforementioned characteristics and see them as hackneyed clichés since most of them were taken directly from the games. Then again, they don’t translate very well to the film. Finally, some secondary characters (such as Nina Williams or Paul) are barely even mentioned, something that’ll probably infuriate fervent fanatics of the source material.
In the end, Tekken: The Motion Picture is a surprisingly good adaptation of the games. Most characters are featured in some way or another, their motivations are clearly portrayed and the tournament is actually a secondary element in the film. It’s true that the movie has some undeniable problems that detract from the experience, but considering how well the story is told, I believe this adaptation has been remarkably handled.