Archive for June, 2015

Miami Connection

Miami Connection

Why Miami Connection works, and Kung Fury doesn’t

It’s been about a week since I was introduced to two distinct pieces of media. The first is the recently created short film Kung Fury, and the second is the recently brought from obscurity Miami Connection.

These two films have a lot of similarities. Both take place in 1980’s Florida, both of them feature martial arts as a main force of conflict resolution, and both have synthesizer heavy soundtracks. But where they differ is their approach to storytelling and intention. Miami Connection is a genuine relic of the 1980’s, and is an earnest if rather ineptly made and acted film. Kung Fury, on the other hand, is intended as a parody (or something), but the whole project’s tone is self aware, inviting the audience to point and laugh at the supposed 1980’s cliches.

And it’s caused me to come to an important epiphany: you can’t manufacture “So bad it’s good.” This term is often applied to films that are so bad they become enjoyable, but it’s important to note that not all bad movies are really “So bad it’s good”. Some bad movies are just bad. The B-movie industry as it exists today essentially makes most of its profit on the conceit that it’s dreck and everyone knows it, but frankly, I don’t find these movies enjoyable. No bad film that’s memorable sets out to be bad. With The Room, Tommy Wiseau took a crack at telling a deeply personal story, even though he was a terrible actor and couldn’t keep a consistent tone throughout the film. Plan Nine from Outer Space is charmingly bad in a way that only an auteur with a talent for the awful like Ed Wood could have made. There are plenty of similar sci-fi movies from the 50’s and 60’s with zero appeal (look up Zontar for a good example), that were made to fill out Drive-In schedules and make a quick buck.

Miami Connection joins that semi-proud tradition of well-intentioned but ultimately bad attempts at filmmaking. Masterminded by director Richard Park and McDojo magnate Y.K. Kim, the film offers up a few tropes that defined the time period and genre (cocaine smuggling, ninjas), but at its heart there’s more to it than that. There are some small character moments that sort of make you wish they’d actually developed them, and the film ends with the message ONLY THROUGH THE ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE CAN WE ACHIEVE WORLD PEACE, after all of the film’s problems have been solved through a judicious application of Tae Kwon Do and katana slices. The idea of a rock band composed of martial artists battling drug-dealing bikers is silly, but it’s endearing, and you could almost imagine Y.K. Kim wanted to use the film to get kids interested in learning Tae Kwon Do…if it wasn’t for the gore and saggy biker boobs. It’s a real effort- they wanted to make a hit movie, failed, and it was forgotten until it resurfaced as a cult classic.

Kung Fury, on the other hand…it has some artifices that try to mark it as the 1980’s, but these just drag the film’s inauthenticity screaming into the light. Parody of 80’s tropes can be done well- Double Dragon Neon and The Wedding Singer, for example (both of which are much more focused than Kung Fury). But Kung Fury is artificial to the core, right down to the fake VHS grain and tracking borrowed from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. This isn’t helped by the fact that the film’s creators don’t seem to have seen any actual 80’s films. I don’t really associate dinosaurs, nazis or vikings with the 1980’s but they’re a big part of the movie. Nor do I associate glaring CGI or blatant green screen with 1980’s movies. These things seemed to just be included to wink at the audience to say “haha, look at how bad our movie is”! Unfortunately it never really does anything clever or funny- the joke is that the creators intentionally made a bad movie and made their Kickstarter backers pay for it. Parody works best when characters behave normally in a world gone mad. You need that normal, non-humorous character to ground the piece. This is why Leslie Nielsen is so funny in Airplane- insane things are happening all around him, and yet he’s behaving as if he’s completely serious. All of Kung Fury’s characters are in on the joke, and none are funny or clever as a result.

I posit that “So bad it’s good” is not something you can manufacture. It’s a state that comes out as an accident. It’s lightning in a bottle and you can’t fake Bela Lugosi’s oddly hearfelt “I have no home” speech from Bride of the Monster or summon the lack of acting talent seen in Troll 2. Glorious badness is rare, and in its own way, beautiful, and it cannot be faked.

Advertisements

I’ve recently found my way back into playing the Tekken series, and it seems there’s a new game on the horizon. Tekken 7 has debuted in arcades and will be on its way to the PS4 (and possibly the Xbox One, but I’m not about to actually do research) and much fuss has been raised over some of the character designs. Josie Rizal for being a rather unfortunately designed representative of the Phillipines- which is pretty lame, because there are some great real-life martial artists of Filipino descent out there, like Dan Inosanto. Gigas is a big dumb robot (and we’ve already got those). Katarina is basically Christie 2.0. Lucky Chloe has been attacked for being a really, really dumb anime-esque design that appeals to creepy 40 year olds that are into teenage Japanophiles.

But the thing is, it’s not like stupid character designs are a new thing in Tekken. They’ve been there right since the very start. Tekken has never been a series that took itself too seriously (let’s not forget that game modes have included bowling), so it’s to be expected that some oddballs will pop up now and then. Now, I’m not going to rip on the characters that are obviously there as jokes like Gon, Mokujin, or Tiger. The characters I’m going to point and laugh at are the ones that just stick out for all the wrong reasons. Tekken select

The Animals (Kuma, Panda, Roger, Alex)

These have been around since Kuma first appeared as a boss in the first Tekken, but the animal roster has expanded to include Panda, Roger (a boxing kangaroo) and Alex (a model swap of Roger that happens to be a velociraptor). In order, they go from acceptable, to dumb as hell, to stupid, and then all the way back to completely awesome with Alex. I mean, he is a velociraptor that boxes. It’s stupid, yeah, but it’s stupid in the way that would have made you choose Alex when you were a kid.

Jack series

Basically, Terminators. Would robots programmed to kill have any place in a fighting tournament with real people? Even someone who claims to be as tough as Paul Phoenix would break his hand punching at Jack’s metal limbs. It’s not a problem with the character’s design itself, I guess- Jack has always filled the typical slot of the big, slow guy that hits hard- but the robot vs. human problem is one that starts to bug you after one too many “CONTINUE?” screens.

Wang Jinrei

Wang isn’t so much a bad design as an uninspired design. I guess every fighting game series needs an old Kung Fu master that no one really wants to play- Street Fighter has Gen, DOA has Gen Fu, and so on. My theory is that the AARP has a secret deal with game developers to add in elderly kung fu dudes to get senior citizens, which are the primary market for fighting games, to discover the benefits of Tai Chi.  His name doesn’t help- anytime I fight him I want to quote Shadow Warrior and shout “Who wants some Wang?”

Not Wang Jinrei, but he may as well be.

Not Wang Jinrei, but he may as well be.

Devil

Let’s get this out of the way: Kazuya is pretty cool. Jin is only moderately less cool. The Devil version of them, however, are stupid. Overpowered, annoying, silly looking…a boss that can wipe the floor with you should look a lot cooler than a purple dude with horns. To add insult to injury, the Devil version of Jin Kazama turns the ordinarily-pretty-cool-if-not-as-cool-as-his-father Jin into a silly looking emo cosplayer.

Miharu Hirano

The start of the somewhat disturbing trend the Tekken series has taken up of adding cutesy High School girls that are cloned from another character’s moveset. The problem here is that she’s copied from the already-existing cutesy High School girl in the game, Ling Xiaoyu. At least Asuka Kazama replaced the long-absent Jun.

Jinpachi Mishima

Let’s not kid ourselves- their are too many Mishimas, and all of them except Kazuya look ridiculous. And even his hair is pushing it. They all use pretty much the same karate style, and are overpowered like Geese Howard (woo! That rhymes.). Jinpachi takes the cake on ridiculous Mishimas, with a styled beard that would be the envy of Prussia. He basically comes into play so they wouldn’t have to use Heihachi again. To top this all off, he has a fireball in a game series that otherwise eschews projectile weapons. That’s fair.

I just don't think your beard should extend above your eyebrows.

I just don’t think your beard should extend above your eyebrows.

Lili

Tekken has a long, proud history of clones of pop culture figures. Usually, however, these are martial arts superstars. Every fighting game needs a Bruce Lee clone, but Tekken went above and beyond that. Tekken had two Bruce Lee clones, a Jackie Chan, and a Wesley Snipes, and a good case could be made that Paul Phoenix is the combination of Chuck Norris and Brian Setzer. Lili, however, is either a clone of annoying reality star Paris Hilton (at about the 13th of her 15 minutes of fame when Tekken 5 released in 2005) or Street Fighter Alpha character Karin. In any case, Lili is an annoying character with an unbelievable backstory…a rich, self taught street fighting prodigy. A fighting style with slaps instead of punches or knife hand strikes. Yeah. Tekken’s story has always been an afterthought, but seriously. This is the next stupid evolution in the pointless teen girl addition to the roster, too.

Lars

The absolute nadir of the overextended Mishima family, Lars’ design is basically what would happen if Goku from Dragon Ball raided a 70’s glam rocker’s wardrobe. Seriously…a cape? That hair? To make things worse, Namco made him the default protagonist of Tekken 6. They were really pushing this clown. What’s worse is that he’s paired with…

Alisa

This manages to be a trilateral terror of bad design. Alisa is a pink-haired, super polite pink-haired robot teenager dressed in scraps. Her design shouts “weird otaku crap, run away as fast as your legs can carry you!” And on top of that, she has chainsaws that come out of her arms and an exploding head. I made my feelings about robots in martial arts tournaments very clear with Jack; and the fact is, this is actually pretty logically supported by the game itself by the fact that she is ridiculously overpowered. Maybe, just maybe, admitting a robot with chainsaw hands to a fighting tournament with flesh and blood combatants isn’t a great idea.

The whole art department should be fired.

The whole art department should be fired.

Bob

Bob isn’t really a bad character. In fact, most will agree he’s one of the strongest fighters in Tekken 6. However, he is an obese man, and in Japanese pop culture Americans are often blonde (see Guile, Paul Phoenix, Bandit Keith)…so I’m not really sure if he’s intended to be a caricature or not. On the one hand, his weight and looks display negative stereotypes of Americans, but on the other hand, Bob is an absolute beast to play as and character wise seems to be fairly heroic. So…it’s kind of a draw.

Leo

Seeking fresh new ways to alienate the average western consumer, Namco took some inspiration from Square-Enix and created an androgynous character named Leo. Leo is short for “Eleonor” in this context. Because apparently someone spelled the name Eleanor in that excessively convenient fashion. And since Eleonor turned out to be a girl, this also figures into the Tekken team’s current obsession with swelling the ranks of the cast with teenage girls. Enough already!

Azazel

More Square-Enix styled crap, Azazel is a big, ugly crystalline dragon/chicken monstrosity with cheap attacks that can hit you from anywhere on screen. It’s the nadir of the supernatural monsters in the series (the only cool one was Ogre, period), and it ranks up there with the nastiest cheap and overpowered bosses you’ve ever faced in a video game. This guy makes Tekken 6’s arcade mode nigh unfinishable.

In conclusion, I want to point out that Tekken has always had its share of questionable, lazy, and sometimes downright creepy character design. They used to be fewer and further between, but as the roster has grown, so has the number of bizarre characters. The good thing is, the series has never taken itself too seriously. There’s room for the dumb characters with outlandish fighting styles alongside the more grounded and realistic fighters. So cut the Tekken team some slack, at least on the visual design. The occasional ridiculous character is practically a series hallmark.