A look back at Corey Yuen’s beat ’em up video game ultimate actioner.

Most movie adaptations of Beat ‘Em Up video games have not been highlights of martial arts cinema, even though this is what we would expect this subgenre to deliver in abundance. Films like Double Dragon and Streetfighter are entertaining endeavors but were total fails as fight flicks. In 2006, it was up to no one less than grandmaster Corey Yuen to show the world how it’s done! Yuen gave a huge boost to US martial arts cinema with the first two No Retreat No Surrender films, and his last directorial effort so far in 2006 became another highlight of his career.

With DOA: Dead Or Alive he created a film based on a fight game where the action sequences finally do the game justice, so let’s have a look! The world’s best fighters are invited to a tropical island to fight for big money in the DOA tournament. But organizer Donovan (Eric Roberts) has a sinister plan that puts everyone on the island in danger.

“You’re beneath me.” “I sure would like to be.”

The Dead or Alive video game franchise became known for its oversexualized female fighters. The film thankfully dials this aspect back quite a bit (and earned a PG-13 rating), even though most female protagonists are lightly clad, and the camera occasionally captures the fighters in sexy angles. Criticism of objectification is justified here, but the movie never devolves into a voyeuristic experience. The counter perspective is that a group of strong, confident women are kicking (mostly) men’s asses, and embrace their femininity while doing it.

The main story features your typical 2000s biotech nonsense with nanobots and genetic experimentation. It lines up nicely with the several other subplots (romantic and/or revenge) that are also incredibly cheesy. Fortunately, the plot points are processed at breakneck speed and give plenty of space to the action sequences. The film puts a sugar coating on everything with a glossy, almost plastic look of the fantasy island, silly humor, and a flamboyant color palette, even the ninjas are purple!

I’ll put your double-dealing arse in the “D”-Column of Dead or Alive

The cast features no A-list actors, but everyone delivers a charming performance, and the occasional over- and -underacting works really well here. There’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor, with PG-13 approved sexual innuendo galore. Eric Roberts, as ever the charmer, gives a laid-back villain portrayal, and this vibe holds for all characters who are always having a good time, even during the fights.

Yuen’s creative vision is most visible in the action department, and he presents us furious sequences of high-caliber martial arts action. The duels truly radiate the energy of a fighting game, with slick visuals in a style similar to his The Transporter film.  Action movies at the time demanded that fights were edited to look as flashy as possible, but Yuen managed to fulfill this requirement by staging the action sequences fast but not hectic, and smooth instead of choppy.

Cheerful Martial Arts Action in a Tropical Plastic Paradise

Fight after fight keeps coming, with a creative choreography, fantastic wirework and furious attacks. Everything retains a playful vibe, and there are even some fantastic whuppings by towels and pillows! The film also has the perfect length for a non-stop actioner, this undiluted spectacle clocks in at a crunchy 76 minutes.

DOA: Dead or Alive never pretends to be more than a giddy action comedy with an uplifting vibe that hopefully will put a big smile on your face. And thanks to its fantastic martial arts sequences it also became one of the best video game adaptations of all time!