There's A Storm Coming, Can You Feel It?: Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture (1994)

Storms! Gary! A ton of women who are often overexposed, these seem to be the major themes of Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture.  Aside from that it is about as cookie cutter as the anime movies come, particularly ones that are clearly cut with the intention of being screened on television.  I added Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture to the month of kung fu film viewing, because I felt that to exclude the clear influence of the genre on the anime film would have been illogical and Chop Kick Panda's inclusion was more so a dare than anything else.  I, however, should have known better than to even consider that this would be remotely worth my time, because as my appearance on Drive By Nerding to discuss Video Game Adapations showed, it is rarely a successful thing for a video game to make the crossover to narrative film, almost entirely a result of cashing in on the possibility of financial gain by name recognition alone.  The trouble with Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture, however, is that it seems to be trying its best to take itself seriously, including some early establishing character arcs that while initially promising fail to go any place worth note, particularly the forced love stories and even worse the suggestion of some familial bond that can transcend the very divide of good and evil.  That is not to say that the film is particularly terrible, but, instead; to suggest that what could have been a more taut and well-considered narrative on space and identity, particularly given the expansive possibilities of anime as an art and film medium, manages to be nothing more than extensions of the video game realm, meant only for gaze and the thrill of violence and destruction and very little if any acknowledgement of what is really occurring in moments of such violence.  I will admit that my most recent exposures in regards to animation have been heavily lifted from the absurd or heavily non-linear, especially with a recent revisitation of Satoshi Kon's Paprika, but even acknowledging that I cannot help but feel as though Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture missed an opportunity to really consider what it means to identify oneself in regards to a larger national structure, in favor of resting a bit too heavily on hackneyed tropes of gender and power.

Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture begins with a thief exploring ruins in Egypt in a quest to discover a piece of armor, which is purportedly part of a larger set of armor called the Armor of Mars.  The man Cheng Sinzan hopes to use this armor for purposes of powerful corruption, only to be stopped by a group of bandits led by the mysterious Laocorn, a man who already possesses pieces of the armor, thus granting him a considerable degree of power over the other individuals he encounters.  Needless to say, this act leads to a riff in the sense of good in the world, which leads noted fighter and all-around stand-up guy Terry to acknowledge a storm coming.  The film then cuts to a muay thai kickboxing match involving the wiley Joe, a friend of Terry's and the first compatriot we meet in the group.  Along with Joe come Terry's brother Andy whose sexual identity is left surprisingly ambiguous, much to the frustrations of Mai a voluptuous ninja who is constantly seeking out a means to bed the aloof Andy.  During a night of recreational arcade gaming, Terry comes into contact with a young woman named Sulia after she is attacked by a group of brutish masked men.  Knowing it is the right thing to help those in need, Terry agrees to help Sulia find out more information about her mysterious attackers, in hopes that he can also win over her affections.  Recruiting the help of his friends, the group then seeks out a cave that has more information about the armor worn by the brutes, only to discover sprawling hieroglyphics relating to the origin of the Armor of Mars.  It is at this point that Sulia reveals her identity to be related to the lineage of the Armor of Mars and, more importantly, her ties to her brother Laocorn, who is on his own quest to attain the pieces of the armor.  Realizing the dangers imminent in Laocorn's attaining of all of the pieces of the armor, the group splits up and begin to scour the various ancient ruins where the last pieces are suspected to be.  During this quest the various groups achieve new levels of self-discovery, particularly Terry who learns to let go of his previous loss and open up to Sulia for the possibility of a new relationship.  Yet there endeavors prove nearly futile when they arrive at the last location and discover Laocorn assembling the armor, however, the result of that act are grander than even Laocorn could have imagined.

There are some moments of possibility in this film where one might argue that the film navigates boundaries and since I am not ready to dismiss this film, I find it best to approach the film with such a framework in mind.  The clear boundaries emerge in a film like this through the travel narrative, in so much as the the various pieces of the armor are scattered about all the spaces of antiquity in which traversing means a very physical movement over a space.  As such, it is important to consider the privilege and power of the group as they seamlessly bob in and out of lands that are thousands of miles apart, dropping their obligations, if any, to do so.  Considering that it is lifting from Fatal Fury the game, which does focus on people moving about space, such a choice is not highly problematic, but the whim on which they move about cannot be overlooked.  Similarly, it is the layers of the modern upon the space that are also worth considering, especially since the group is moving through the ancient world.  In many case the high rises, or ruins of attempted modern civilization cover the archaic world in which Terry and others must move within.  To a degree, one could certainly argue that Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture, in its choice to place the narrative within spaces of antiquity that have confronted modernity, that boundaries not only take on a length aspect of crossing, but one of depth as well, reinforced by the multiple inclusions of caves and catacombs.  These are considerably tangible versions of space, however, and one must also consider the ways in which space can be a bodily function, especially in anime where characters looks and physicality are far more indicative of Western influence than Eastern, yet in the narrative it is made painstakingly clear that all of the individuals are of some form of Asian descent, right down to Terry who looks about as American as Hulk Hogan in his heyday.  To consider the animation choice beyond its video game adaptation, one could certainly suggest that the creators hoped to transcend body boundaries by creating Asian identities in non-Asian bodies, but this is likely not the case, instead; reaffirming the privileged place of western ideals of everything from ancient history to beauty.

Key Scene:  The arcade scene is probably the highlight of the film, if only for the one moment in the fight sequence, where things go almost entirely into cel-shade animation.

Watch Akira instead.  This is really not worth your time unless you want to be a completist on bad video game adaptations.

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