So once again we have survived.

DOA: Dead or Alive

DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE is the name of a tournament where the best fighters from around the world are invited to come stay on a remote island where they are pitted against each other in un-refereed fights with few rules. It’s like Mortal Kombat except not interdimensional, no monsters, during daylight, and not to the death. So they probly could’ve picked a better name. Maybe just “A.”

They’re wedded to this DOA title, though. They got the logo on parachutes, computers, signs, even a volleyball. That’s the kind of island we’re dealing with here, it has custom made non-tournament related sporting gear. These are professionals.

The fights are co-ed, but mostly women, with the guys mostly being kick-fodder. Most of the fighters have an ulterior motive to be in the tournament. There’s Christie (Holly Valance, TAKEN), a thief, and her male partner Max (Matthew Marsden, RAMBO), who are really there to steal treasure. (Max is a sissy who somehow tricks his way into the tournament and then Jar-Jars his way through the fights, suggesting a certain level of incompetence in the recruiting for this particular elite tournament.) Then there’s Kasumi (Devin Aoki, 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS), a ninja/princess searching for the truth about her presumed-dead-from-last-DOA-tournament brother Hayate (Collin Chou from the MATRIX sequels). Hayabusa (Kane Kosugi – yes, one of Sho Kosugi’s sons), is a ninja servant there more to keep an eye on her than to compete. Tina (Jaime Pressly) is a famous wrestler who wants to prove she can really fight, and her dad (Kevin Nash, MAGIC MIKE) I guess is there to protect her. Important stuff like that.

There are some other throwaway characters like Zach (Brian J. White), portraying that beloved archetype The Black Guy Who Charmingly Hits On the Women Even Though They Hate It (see also Damon Wayans in GI JOE).

Another way it’s like MORTAL KOMBAT: it’s adapted from a video gamical work. This is not one of the Uwe Bolle video game pictures, it’s one of the P.W.S. Andersons. It even has his male muse Robin Shou in a cameo as a pirate who makes the mistake of boarding Tina’s vessel without permission. But Anderson is only producer, the director is Corey Yuen (FONG SAI YUK, THE TRANSPORTER, NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER). It’s still cheesy, with all kinds of obnoxious on-screen graphics, split screens, whooshes, and terrible music that’s trying to tell you both how awesome everything is and how funny it is. I would’ve preferred MORTAL KOMBAT’s serious drums and guitars, that would’ve been funnier.

But Yuen delivers the goods in ridiculous action of the wire-fu, fuck gravity, gimmicks over realism variety. Lots of bad green-screening so people can do things in mid-air, a scene where three women toss and pull each other like aerialists to climb a structure as a team, a guy who grabs flying needles out of the air to do acupuncture on his enemies. I love this type of shit. It’s actually alot like McG’s CHARLIE’S ANGELS pictures, but with a little more emphasis on the PG-13 titillation.

I knew there was something about volleyball in this movie. I looked it up and I guess this series of games was known for its big-breasted female fighters, so they did a spin-off called Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. The movie responds by having the ladies play volleyball in one scene. This is definitely a clothed-T-&-A movie, but I don’t think it’s exploitative. The actresses aren’t my type but they become sexy by how knowing and game they are about the teasing aspect. The movie has a sense of humor about throwing in gratuitous butt shots and stuff. For example when they’re climbing up each other and somebody grabs onto the back of Tina’s jeans, accidentally giving her a plumber’s butt crack.

Maybe the scene that sums the movie up best is the intro of Christie. She’s apprehended by police while in a hotel room wearing only a towel. She catches them off guard by making a big show of pulling her panties on in front of them, then when a cop tries to pass her her bra on the tip of his gun she kicks both out of his hand, puts her arms through the bra straps in mid air, catches the gun and uses it to make the cop hook her bra for her. Teasing + fighting – physics = entertainment.

Another factor we have going on here: Eric BEST OF THE BEST PARTS 1-2 Roberts as Dr. Victor Donovan, the mysterious high roller running the tournament. He has long hair and acts cool but is comfortable in Seagal-style embroidered silk Asian numbers. At first there’s also a bubbly blond on rollerblades (Sarah Carter, WISHMASTER 3: BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL) welcoming everybody to the island in the style of an Access Hollywood type TV magazine show, but then she enters the tournament and they try to maker her a relatable character.

I wasn’t surprised that Dr. Donovan turned out to be evil, but I was surprised his plan was to use nanobots injected into the fighters’ bellies to record their fighting styles and project them into hi-tech sunglasses that make him the world’s greatest warrior. His downfall I think he should’ve foreseen: the glasses getting knocked off him in a fight. Should’ve let go of his vanity and put on one of those dorky straps:

Like the CHARLIE’S ANGELSes it’s knowingly silly and superficial, and enjoyably sweet natured. The women each have their own storyline going on and they’re supposed to compete, but they end up having each other’s backs.

I guess the ninja princess deal is the most involved of the different stories, because there’s the princess, the guardian, the brother and also a purple haired lady (Natassia Malthe) who is not part of the tournament and was her close confidante but has followed there to kill her for leaving the clan. There’s this whole thing where if she leaves the palace she’ll become a “shinobi” and they’ll have to kill her due to some honor thing. But doesn’t shinobi mean ninja? Are they confusing it with ronin or something? I don’t buy it.

But I don’t expect white people making movies based on video games to know any more about ninjas than I do. The screenwriters are American: J.F. Lawton (UNDER SIEGE) and David & Seth Gross (Bill Nye the Science Guy). I like how the international nature of the video game industry leads to these weird cross-cultural movies. I’m guessing this was a Japanese game, ’cause there’s ninjas and temples and a giant Buddha head on the island, but Yuen is Chinese so the fights are in the tradition of Hong Kong kung fu movies, but then it’s an American production so it’s Eric Roberts dressed sort of Asian, and Pressley’s supposed to be a redneck…

It’s a cartoonish view of the world, but kind of a nice one. The world is one big melting pot. We’re all the same, even if we gotta kung fu each other.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
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59 Responses to “DOA: Dead or Alive”

  1. It’s one of those rare movies that knows exactly what it is and goes all out to provide exactly what people expect it to deliver. It’s great fun and entertaining as hell, with great and ridiculous action sequences. Really well done indeed. And it has a pretty good cast who deliver both on the action and the tongue-firmly-in-cheek teasing.

    If only more movies made from video games had that sense of fun and self-awareness.

  2. I really have to watch this one again at one point. Last time was in 2007 or whenever it came out. I remember being annoyed that the fight scenes were all done in slow motion.

  3. ah yes, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, my pre-internet teenage years would have been a lot more boring without that game

    fun fact: there was a video game magazine that for an April Fools prank claimed that there was a way to unlock a hidden feature in the game that allowed the ladies to play volley ball topless, many tears were shed over the discovery that that was just a prank, I can assure you!

  4. I never played the beach volleyball game, but I remember a segment in a video game TV show that made a whole, damn hilarious segment out of the silly boob jiggling engine of that game.

  5. I agree, good natured fun that knows what it is. They should’ve released it theatrically instead of dumping it.

  6. Well, it WAS released theatrically in Germany, pretty much a year before its US release. Nobody went to see it.

  7. I spent months doing bong hits and blow while collecting all the fucking swimsuits in the original DOAX. It was quite sad.

    You’re right about the sidelining of the men in the movie since the games are evenly balanced. And the showboaty Zack who was inspired by Dennis Rodman in his DOUBLE TEAM period was a wasted opportunity. And where was the Aerosmith theme? DOA always needs Steven Tyler screeching about love while people are kicked in the nuts.

    There are a lot of fun bits in this movie but c’mon, while the characters in the games don’t have particularly big boobs, it’s more about the boob physics, the combined cast of this film couldn’t fill a C-cup. That’s just bad filmatism.

  8. I love this film. It’s a guilty pleasure for me. The fights are pretty well done as well.

  9. Corey Yuen is a great choreographer. He definitely elevated the quality of this flick.

    Vern, you should check out his work on No Retreat, No Surrender 2. It has one of the greatest final fights of all time.

  10. NO RETREAT,NO SURRENDER 2 is just great fun. In fact you can´t really go wrong with any of the installments of that “saga”.

  11. I worked on another movie with one of the actors, and he had great memories of filming in rural China. And that was about all he ever really said about it…..

    Also: Vern, sorry for going off topic, but I am eagerly looking forward to your takedown of Post-Action Shaky-Cam Red Dawn Remake.

  12. caruso_stalker217

    November 21st, 2012 at 6:33 am

    It’s about time you reviewed this masterpiece, Vern.

    No, I’m not being sarcastic.

  13. This is the only non-Rothrock/Carano movie I’ve seen where the female lead actually has a convincing combat posture. Strangely, Jaime Pressley looks strong, and confident in her defensive stance. Normally they’re fucking elbows everywhere, knees at all the wrong angles, and hands flapping about like rubber chickens.

    Plus it’s fucking awesome.

  14. ‘DOA 2: Birds’ is a masterpiece, one of the very best Miike films out there. It only lacks the insane opening of the first.

    Oh, wait…

  15. HA! I knew you’d enjoy this one.
    Avoid THE KING OF FIGHTERS, it’s terrible. TEKKEN is pretty bad, too.

  16. Yeah, saw Tekken the other week. I don’t know how they screwed that one up.

    I mean Cyril Raffaelli (District 13) did the fight choreography for it but it really, really doesn’t show.

  17. clubside – remember how hard the skimpiest swimsuit, the Venus, was to unlock?

  18. Of course Griff, I gifted those bitches out the ass before turning to the ‘net to discover the insane board game behind the scenes that Itagaki invented, not that that help was foolproof. But at least the volleyball in the original DOAX was fun with a custom soundtrack blaring. DOAX2 wasn’t fun at all so I didn’t repeat this gen. Of course everything about this gen is less fun than last.

  19. Tekken makes a great drinking game here in South Africa. One of our local wannabe celebs, Candice Hillebrand, plays the big boobed blonde fighter in it. Shots whenever she’s on screen.

    It’s so weird seeing this chick who used to host the local kids channel running around in a skintight purple suit and sounding ridiculous with her fake yank accent.

  20. Vern, Kane Kosugi is going up against Scott Adkins in Ninja 2, so please watch Kosugi in Muscle Heat.

  21. Every single review, Vern, you always go with “probly.” Something against “probably”? Is it a regional thing, or a tomato/tomahto, nuclear/nukeyahlur thing?

  22. Another vote for NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER 2. I like how it keeps the main character but changes genre completely from a KARATE KID style inspirational sports movie to a MISSING IN ACTION style hut-exploder. More films should do this.

  23. Nice one. A few months back I had a little season of fighting game films and this was by far the best and probably the only one I’d happily watch again if it came on tv.

    No surprise with Yuen at the helm but I also think it’s partly to do with the source material. The likes of Tekken and Mortal Kombat have to try and fit in some of the risible, “serious” mythos which forms the backdrop to those games but DOA is altogether lighter and frothier fare.

    One of the other things these films all have in common is the need to include little references to the game for the hardcore fans and I thought they managed that in a pretty fun way here. Things like the fight commentary and the little mini Bond intro for each of the leads made me smile. I’m sure there were also a few entertaining uses of obvious digital effects, like when the nerd guy gets besotted with one of the girls and the air fills with rose petals.

    I suppose that’s anther way in which the Charlie’s Angelses are a perfect comparison. And I’ve got a lot of time for those too.

  24. I discounted anime from my season though, so I still haven’t seen Battle Arena Toshinden.

  25. I wonder if a STREETS OF RAGE movie could work? It could work as a sort of martial arts driven buddy movie WARRIORS type deal, where three cops in a corrupt city decide to hit all the major fronts of the kingpin’s in one night.

  26. Streets of Rage was fucking awesome, although not as good as Final Fight IMO.

    Remember when arcade games were light-years ahead of home consoles? What happened? The death of the videogame arcade is a fucking tragedy.

  27. With the fans on this one. Zero expectations, except hoping for a good fight scene or 2, and this movie turned out to be well made and kinda awesome.

    More like this, por favor.

  28. caruso_stalker217

    November 21st, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    I’ve wanted a STREETS OF RAGE movie for sixteen years.

    I don’t know why. Films based on video games are almost always garbage.

  29. I’d prefer a FINAL FIGHT movie. That game is about a wrestler-turned-mayor whose response to a kidnapping demand is to don his tights and piledrive the criminal element right out of his city. Like COMMANDO with Macho Man Randy Savage (RIP).

  30. Oh yeah, a FINAL FIGHT movie would be awesome, as long as somebody would be able to find the right tone for it. Silly but sincere. Fun but not winking at the audience. It would be difficult. After all it has such a silly plot.

  31. I don’t know why the people who made TEKKEN and THE KING OF FIGHTERS couldn’t simply try to make a KICKBOXER clone and felt like they had to have 10 different main characters and a super convoluted plot that made no sense. The dumbest fans of the games will complain anyway because “Yoshimitsu’s sword is not the right color, they raped my childhood!” or “That’s not how Joe Higashi learned martial arts, what a lack of respect for the original arcade game!” so don’t bother trying to please those assholes and just make a movie about Paul Phoenix or Terry Bogard getting involved in some underground tournament to get revenge for a loved one already.

  32. I now have a sudden urge to watch that Double Dragon movie.

    Hopefully it will go away.

  33. Knox – If you have the chance,play DOUBLE DRAGON NEON instead. It will more than likely rock your socks off.

  34. I didn’t hate TEKKEN. It’s not great. But i’ve seen worse Game adaptions.

    Also Kelly Overton and Mircea Monroe are really hot.

  35. caruso_stalker217

    November 22nd, 2012 at 6:23 am

    Hey, Knox. If you can’t get that particular monkey off your back…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5GEVpBxMe0

  36. I think the animated Street Fighter movie might in fact be my favorite of all the fighting game adaptations. The battle between Chun Li and Vega is pretty sick. And, if I remember correctly, the plot is a little more involved than guy A fights guy B who goes on to fight guy C, which is usually what these movies boil down to. Here’s the Chu Li/Vega fight (it’s kind of 90s): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dY9PBb5ntQ

  37. Really? No love for Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li?

  38. Well it’s not as bad as a lot of people claim it is (since it always winds up pretty high on those stupid ’10 worst videogame adaptation EVER!’ lists), but it is still pretty bad.

  39. The first words I ever heard my girlfriend speak were: “Fuck Batman! Fong Sai Yuk’s mom owns that little bitch!”

    If this whole relationship thing works out we’re going to have that phrase put on a commemorative plaque.

  40. It’s not a good movie, but it´s not bad for the eyes.

  41. Target Renegade. I want that movie.

  42. The Original... Paul

    November 22nd, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Knox – don’t fight the urge, give in. It’s worth it.

    “Double Dragon” is undeniably the most awesome bad video game adaptation ever (to those of you who disagree, I raise you: Alyssa Milano, force-feeding spinach a guy with a mohawk in a giant fatsuit) but DOA may be the most successful in doing what it sets out to do. My only criticism of it is that it kinda loses it with the “geek insert” character (hate that guy!) and the insertion of third-act big bad guy. Could’ve done without both of those. Still a very fun film though.

  43. Are my eyes deceiving me or are we actually in universal agreement that this movie is pretty good? I’d actually argue that this may be the best video game movie ever for all the reasons you guys listed above, plus I’d add that the battle in the rain on the beach is a showstopper. It’s incredibly beautiful, and the way it intercuts between the present and the future (her writing down the tattoo pattern from memory, while showing how she found it) is brilliant.

  44. The Original... Paul

    November 22nd, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Should have said this above also, but fun review Vern. You have a nice way of finding something different to discuss about a movie that we’ve all been talking about for some time anyway.

  45. I’ve never seen this movie and I’m pretty surprised to learn that it’s evidently pretty good, so I guess I’ll check it out one day

  46. Final Fight: The Movie.

    Starring

    Scott Adkins as Guy

    Bradley Cooper as Cody Travers

    Ray Stevenson as Mike Haggar

    Directed by Isaac Florentine

  47. Don GODZILLA FINAL WARS Frye as Haggar

  48. neal2zod makes a good point. This is kind of an amazing movie, not only because it’s genuinely good & entertaining but because it transcends the stupidity of its capsule description and its video gamical origins to win over pretty much anyone who watches it, with or without expectations.

    Vern has articulated the formula: Teasing + fighting – physics = entertainment
    and I hope more filmatists follow this lead, especially if they have Holly Valance in the cast, willing to be naked & awesome (even in a PG-13 setting). I mean, jeezus.

    I don’t remember which video games had the jiggly volleyball and the characters with the bouncing boobies — that shit never made an impression on me, due to it being cartoons (I’m more of a “live, actual female” kind of guy; different strokes, etc..) — but I remember thinking SOUL CALIBER, SOUL EDGE, TEKKEN, TEKKEN 3, VIRTUA FIGHTER 4, etc. were fun, fun games that allowed me to talk shit to my roommates and allowed me to let a button-mashing date into my living room and have a fighting chance with the ole PS2 controller, and that these games would probably make awful movies. Glad I was sorta proven wrong by DOA the movie. Corey Yuen is that boy. And this cast… Mmmmm, hotness.

  49. So Vern, you going to review the new RED DAWN? Fred Topel liked it, so that must count for something.

    Also, review that new movie about pie.

  50. I only can wish the Tekken movie had been half as good as DOA. Tekken has been wasted in every movie adaptation. And they always get Nina wrong!

  51. neal2zod – I agree that the beach fight is excellent though a lot of the credit for that should really go to Lee Myung-se. Since the beach fight is an homage to the climactic one in NOWHERE TO HIDE. Or more accurately an homage to a commercial (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0MgwO4jBMY, I think also directed by Lee) that’s an homage to the NOWHERE TO HIDE fight. I’ve always wondered if the final fight in THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS was influenced by the one in NOWHERE TO HIDE as well. Which is fine by me. I wish more people would rip off Lee Myung-se.

    I can’t agree that this is the best video game movie ever though, since Miike’s LIKE A DRAGON exists. I’d give it second place myself. Though ACE ATTORNEY might drop it to third when I finally get to see that.

  52. lol, I like how the bra is CGI

  53. I’m thankful (today’s theme) to RRA for valuing my opinion but now I’m embarrassed. I don’t want to color Vern’s evaluation with my endorsement.

  54. When I realized the guy who shot the action scenes for QUANTUM OF SOLACE and the Greengrass movies is making his directing debut on RED DAWN, combined with all the reviews I’ve seen saying that the action is indecipherable, it became more likely that I’ll wait for video on that one. LIFE OF PI though I’m definitely planning to see in 3D.

  55. Vern – it maybe doesn’t hepl the new RED DAWN’s case that its North Korean adversaries actually make the original from its time more believable and topical in retrospect. (Which is quite an hilarious achievement if you ask me.)

    I just find it funny that the leader of these American guerilla kids in the remake is an Aussie and that accent breaks through on that cheesy quote used in the marketing. (“…this is ouhr houme!!!”) I actually like Mr. Chris Hemsworth, but I’m sure he’ll be glad this will be quickly forgotten from his resume. (At least based off the reviews so far.) This is the sort of turkey that’ll soon be packaged with 3-4 other movies in those bargain bin collection DVD sets you see at Wal Mart all the time.

  56. Vern, wait. As I said above, I am eagerly looking forward to your epic assault on Remake Dawn. Why? Because this movie represents both everything that is wrong with not only action cinema, but modern corporate cinema in general. Listen to the Q&A Podcast interview with the producers, the screenwriters, and Dan Bradley for an astonishing point-by-point description of utter cluelessness and complete submission to crass corporate ideas of how to make movies.

    Vern, it is your DUTY to publish a furious expose of this post-action remake insult to our movie memories. You gotta be like C. Thomas Howell and Lea Thompson! Did they wait for the Soviets to retreat to video? NO! They set up their IEDs, blew away those Russian troop transports, and cried WOLVERINES! Now you gotta hoist your literary AK-47 to the sky and yell FUCK YOU, JACK! And free America will rally behind the cause, and join in defeating the post-action occupation!

  57. Hope my endorsement of LIFE OF PI does encourage a review of that one!

  58. Undeniably believe that which you said. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the web
    the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed
    while people consider worries that they just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  59. I celebrated my Independence Day right by re-watching this one for nth time. It is still a perfect movie (graded on a sliding curve but still…). There are better female-led movies, there are better martial arts movies, there are better Corey Yuen movies, but very few hit that sweet spot for me that this one does. I’m not even talking about the ‘Fan service’ either, I can give or take that. I’m not even a fan of the games. I just find this silly ass movie really fun and infinitely re-watchable. Many legitimately good movies cannot claim that for me. 100% with Mouth, more movies this one please!

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