Lost in Translation? – DOA: Dead or Alive


Welcome to Lost in Translation? – the Ready Up series where we look at the rocky two-way road of media adapted from video games and games based on films and TV shows, in a bid to decide whether the juice was worth the squeeze, or if what made the source material great in the first place got lost in translation.

This time on LIT? we’re casting our gaze back to the 2006 live action game-to-film adaptation DOA: Dead or Alive, what with the latest installment in the game series, Dead or Alive 5, being released in a matter of days.

Produced by Paul W. S. Anderson and Jeremy Bolt, responsible for the critical flops but box-office heavyweight series of Resident Evil movies, and helmed by Cory Yuen, director of a raft of Hong Kong action flicks as well as the fun 2002 movie The Transporter, DOA tells the tale of the Dead or Alive fighting tournament, focusing specifically on three femme fatales who enter the competition. Starring Devon Aoki (Sin City), Jaime Pressly (My Name Is Earl) and actress-turned-pop star-turned-actress Holly Valance (erm… Neighbours), DOA: Dead or Alive looked something like this:

Being a fighting game franchise, Tecmo’s Dead or Alive series each feature a martial arts tournament, the entrants of which are capable of unleashing devastating attacks. Each combatant has their own motivation for fighting and their own individual goal achieved by being crowned the tournament champion. At the time of the film’s release, the latest game in the series was Dead or Alive 4:

What it got right

Let’s start by being clear – the filmic DOA isn’t great, although it is a lot of fun, and the degree of how accurate the film is as an adaptation depends wholly on how seriously you take the game it’s based on. To me, the Dead or Alive games are about solid arcade combat and tits, the jiggling of which has been a unique selling point for the series since it launched back in the arcade scene of 1996. Die-hard fans will argue that the combat is a highly refined system based on devastating combos and counters, while those with less knowledge of the game will likely know that entering your age as 99 in the game’s settings tend to make the girls’ boobs bouncier than an inflatable castle at a children’s birthday party.

DOA: Dead or Alive’s three leading ladies

But I digress. The film scores points from me straight away by being centered around a fighting tournament, something that the Street Fighter movie couldn’t quite manage. The film squeezes in a number of fights, many of which are shown more like a highlights reel in order to get through as many as quickly as possible, though these shortened bouts tend to feature the main cast members against more minor characters. When the main cast face off against each other the fights are given more time to play out, and most of the bouts are competently choreographed, though are never in the same league as movies starring genuine martial arts geniuses such as Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak, The Warrior King) and Donnie Yen (Ip Man).

Spoiler: Christie wins at least one of her fights

In terms of cast, the majority of Dead or Alive 4’s characters make their way into the film intact and fairly recognisable, although most are reduced to supporting roles and blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em cameos to make way for the leads and their respective ‘plots’, which sees Devon Aoki’s Kasumi seeking out her long-lost brother, thought to have died at the previous DOA tournament; Jaime Pressly’s Tina desperate to shake off her pro-wrestler image and prove herself a true fighter; and Holly Valance’s Christie, whose only goal is to win the tournament’s $10 million prize fund and try to steal an even bigger sum from the vault hidden somewhere on the island hosting the tournament.

One of the rare moments when you see the other combatants

Finally, in a nod to Dead or Alive’s beach volleyball spin-off series Dead or Alive Xtreme (warning: link is NSFW), the film features an extended beach volleyball match between the leading ladies, featuring perhaps a few too many lingering slow-mo shots of their bums and bosoms.

What it got wrong

For once, it’s actually quite hard to find flaws with this movie. Not because DOA is especially well-made (it isn’t), nor because it’s particularly memorable (it’s not). But what can’t be argued with is its insistence and success at appealing directly to its target audience, specifically teenage boys. Everything is delivered as straight-forwardly as possible, including some comically horrendous on-the-nose dialogue, and the film is as gratuitous as the games it’s based on. To that end, the only thing I could say this adaptation got wrong is marginalising so many of the game’s cast, since it will mean a lot of players won’t get to see their favourites fighting for glory.

Even Ayane, purple hair and all, gets in on the action

The Verdict

For all its flaws, DOA is dependable, trashy fun. To my mind it totally nails the tone and intentional titillation the games are known for and, as a result, is probably one of the most faithful game-to-film adaptations out there. No it isn’t a great film, but as entertainment, spectacle and eye candy goes, you can do a lot worse than spend 90 minutes in the OTT grasp of DOA: Dead or Alive. A solid adaptation.


One response to “Lost in Translation? – DOA: Dead or Alive”

  1. Iain Lowson avatar
    Iain Lowson

    No film with Eric Roberts in it can ever be bad. It’s a rule. In fact, it’s a Rule. Possibly the best thing this one has going for it is that everyone involved is in on the joke. It doesn’t take itself seriously, no one believes it’s going to launch their careers, and there’s an infectious fun that comes from the cast enjoying themselves. So, yes, trashy fun all round.

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