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Plot: martial artists from all over the world compete in tournament on remote island

There are two kinds of American martial arts movies. Those that came before The Matrix (1999) and those that came after. The former are brutish slogs where the fights more resemble brawls with sluggish choreography and no sense of rhythm and pacing. Often times the fights in these movies tend to be heavily cut and edited because the actors in question have no formal background in martial arts. Even when the performers had a background in the arts (such as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, or Olivier Gruner) western martial arts movies tend to be rather slow relying far more on blunt power than on technical expertise. The latter more Asian inclined variants are far more elegant, acrobatic, and fast-moving with professional combatants engaging in elaborate hand-to-hand and weapon-based action routines. DOA: Dead Or Alive thankfully leans more towards the Asian variant and is about as ridiculous as it is entertaining.

DOA: Dead Or Alive (hereafter DOA) has something of a bad rep. Undeservedly as far as we’re concerned. As a western, English-language martial arts movie there are far worse offenders. DOA takes the Mortal Kombat (1995) template and adds a healthy dose of Hong Kong action choreography and wire-fu to spice things up. DOA is what Street Fighter (1994) should have been. DOA was produced by Paul W.S. Anderson on an estimated budget of $21 million with Corey Yuen directing and Devon Aoki, Jaime Pressly, Holly Valance, Natassia Malthe, and Sarah Carter starring. Perhaps Anderson was hoping to capture lightning a second time the way he did with his Mortal Kombat (1995) some eleven years earlier. Unfortunately DOA made only around $7.5 million - just over a third of its budget - at the box office; and all intended sequels in the new franchise were summarily scrapped. It wouldn’t be until Tekken (2010) before another fighting game came to the big screen. Alas, Rare/Midway’s cartoonishly over-the-top Killer Instinct from 1994 remains without a much-overdue Hollywood treatment for reasons unknown.

Based on the Japanese video game series created by Tomonobu Itagaki for Tecmo DOA is a more or less faithful recreation of the plot from 1999’s Dead Or Alive 2. It features all the beloved characters in their signature costumes and as a bonus of sorts there’s an extended segment dedicated to its legendary 2003 spinoff Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball for good measure. There couldn’t be anything more typically Japanese than Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball where the player plays and interacts with giggling babes with oversized oppai in miniscule candy-colored bikinis. It’s fanservice taken to the ultimate extreme. It’s a thing that could only come from Japan where the near-transactional adoration and adulation of prepubescent - and adolescent girls as Idols (gravure and otherwise) has spawned a booming and very lucrative (multi-billion yen annually) otaku industry. DOA has the babes, the pastel-colored bikinis, and the volleyball. The oppai on the other hand are rather modest. In fact DOA barely scratches the surface on that end. Otherwise it is a fun martial arts romp with some lovably zany production design.

Four martial artists from different walks of life are invited to partake in a clandestine 4-day tournament somewhere in Asia. Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki) is a kunoichi that leaves her colony to look for her brother Hayate (Collin Chou Siu-Lung). Following her are Ryu Hayabusa (Kane Kosugi) and her half-sister Ayane (Natassia Malthe), the former as her security detail and the latter on a mission to kill the Princess for disgracing her clan. Tina Armstrong (Jaime Pressly) - whose wardrobe seems to exclusively consist of a Union Jack bikini and a very short pair of blue jeans – sees it as a springboard to prove her legitimacy as a fighter and that she’s not the phony she’s often accused of being. Tagging along is her father Bass Armstrong (Kevin Nash). Christie Allen (Holly Valance) is a British master thief and assassin who not only has her eye on the $10 million price money but also on an alleged treasure hidden somewhere on the island. Along with her partner Maximillian Marsh (Matthew Marsden) the two accept the invitation. Lastly, Helena Douglas (Sarah Carter) is the daughter of the original DOA tournament organiser and the object of affection of DOA tech head Weatherby (Steve Howey). Douglas is distrustful of Dr. Victor Donovan (Eric Roberts) who now runs DOA.

The two American name-stars of DOA are Devon Aoki and Jaime Pressly. Aoki started as a model in music videos from Duran Duran, Primal Scream, Ludacris and Genuwine. Naturally that led Devon to an acting career with semi-memorable turns in 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), D.E.B.S. (2004) and Sin City (2005). Jaime Pressly also started as a model but soon carved out a career in low-brow comedies, thrillers, and the occassional horror with Poison Ivy: The New Seduction (1997), Can't Hardly Wait (1998), Not Another Teen Movie (2001), and Demon Island (2002). Less known but not any less popular was Australian actress Holly Valance who began her career in the soap opera Neighbours (from whence Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, and Natalie Imbruglia came) but didn’t flirt with the mainstream until the new millennium. In 2002 she released the hit single ‘Kiss Kiss’, an English reworking of the 1997 original Tarkan hit single ‘Şımarık’, from her debut album “Footprints”. As far as millennial dance-pop went Valance was a rival for the likes of Rachel Stevens and Gabriella Cilmi.

Compared to her peers Canadian television actress Sarah Carter was a relative nobody with only a supporting part in Final Destination 2 (2003) to her name. Natassia Malthe (one of the many victims of predatory producer Harvey Weinstein) was in Disturbing Behavior (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002), Elektra (2005) and via BloodRayne II: Deliverance (2007), Alone in the Dark II (2008) and BloodRayne: The Third Reich (2011) now seems to dwell permanently in direct-to-video, low budget hell. Collin Chou Siu-Lung is primarily known in the Western hemisphere for his roles as Seraph in The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003) as well as the Jade Warlord in The Forbidden Kingdom (2008). Around these parts he's remembered for the Mainland China action romps Angel Warriors (2013) and Ameera (2014) from the Film Bureau. Eric Roberts, of course, is the old school professional who has been acting since 1964. DOA was shortly before his career revival with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) and Sylvester Stallone’s all-star 80s action throwback The Expendables (2010).

There was more than enough fanservice in terms of costumes in the Dead Or Alive series and even moreso in its Xtreme Beach Volleyball parallel franchise. DOA takes its sweet time relishing in all the beautiful women that frequently populate the screen. It’s the kind of fanservice that's never exploitative. The two most obvious instances are the introduction of the four leads and the friendly volleyball match in the second act. Where else are you going to see Holly Valance in nothing but a towel laying waste to some faceless goons before putting her lingerie back on? The original scene had Valance topless when she came out of the shower and fully nude during the actual fight. To secure a PG-13 rating the scene was censored in post-production. Then there’s Jaime Pressly in a tiny bikini meting out punishment to a group of pirates while adrift at sea, the pirate leader who is none other than Robin Shou from Mortal Kombat (1995). The beach volleyball segment contains enough ass – and chest shots to satiate anybody’s cravings while the actual bouncing is fairly minimal. As much as Xtreme Beach Volleyball revolutionized jiggle physics those hoping to see Chinese belles as Zhu Ke Er, Yang Ke, Mavis Pan Shuang-Shuang, Liu Zhimin, Daniella Wang Li Danni, Miki Zhang Yi-Gui, and Pan Chun Chun, or one of their 2006 equivalents, among the volleyball playing extras will be sorely disappointed. None such thing will be forthcoming.

The action direction and choreography from Guo Jian-Yong puts DOA leagues above Street Fighter (1994) and Mortal Kombat (1995). The various duels are hard-hitting, energetic and fast-paced with shorter or longer routines and wire-fu that capitalize maximally on the girls’ elegance and athleticism. Of course it would be folly to expect from Aoki, Pressly, Valance and Carter to match themselves with Angela Mao, Michelle Yeoh, Moon Lee, or Cynthia Khan. Director Corey Yuen was a veteran from the Peking Opera School and one of the members of The Seven Little Fortunes that also included Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Jackie Chan, and Yuen Biao. Yuen was in the Tsui Hark fantasy wuxia Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) and made a name for himself in North America through his films with Jet Li. He might not be as well-known in the western hemisphere as Yuen Woo-ping and Ching Siu-tung. Yuen Woo-ping will forever be associated with the Wachowski’s cyberpunk action classic The Matrix (1999) and Ching Siu-tung for his work on A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004), as well as the Hindi superhero masalas Krrish (2006), and Krrish 3 (2013).

DOA is a guilty pleasure of the purest sort. It’s not the kind of movie you watch for the story in the first place. Holly Valance looks great in lingerie and in a bikini. Devon Aoaki can’t really act and Jaime Pressly is about the worst American stereotype imagineable. Sarah Carter looks really adorable and Eric Roberts visibly enjoys himself chewing scenery while surrounded by beautiful women. The orange-pink-purple production design is a feast to behold and that DOA occassionally mimics its videogame counterpart makes it all the more fun. That’s perhaps DOA’s greatest forté, it never takes itself too seriously. DOA knows that it’s rank pulp and what little plot there was is mere pretext to showcase the four leads in their signature costumes. As far as we’re concerned DOA is the StarCrash (1978) of Hollywood martial arts movies. DOA is all about fun and as a martial arts exercise it’s better than it has any reason to be. DOA’s bad rep is not unfounded but that doesn’t make it any less of an entertaining action romp for a lazy afternoon.

Plot: wealthy socialite meets a shy young man who looks exactly like her boyfriend

Before Koi… Mil Gaya (2003) revolutionized the way films were made in Bollywood, there was the box office smash Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (or Say That You Love Me). Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai was the big screen debut of Hritik Roshan, the Hindi superstar-in-waiting whose dashing good looks, sculptured physique and mad dancing skills would shoot him into the hearts and loins of women of all ages. Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai amassed a record 102 awards at every award ceremony in the country, grossed 3.6 billion worldwide and made stars out of Hritik Roshan and Ameesha Patel. Not bad for a rom-com with a rather perfunctory plot and a selection of decidedly average songs that were catchy but had not much in the way of hooks. More importantly though is that Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai set the stage for the sweet family masala Koi… Mil Gaya (2003) and the future Krrish franchise. Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai was so lucrative that an attempt on the life of director Rakesh Roshan was made just a week after the movie’s release. He was shot several times just outside his office on Tilak Road, Santacruz in Mumbai by two hitmen from extortionist and Indian Mafia don Ali Budesh before whom he refused to bow.

By the time actor, producer and writer Rakesh Roshan came to direct Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai he had plenty of experience as an actor and had helmed a whopping 8 features (going as far back as 1987) all starting with the letter K. Roshan is often (and not without reason) accused of pilfering western properties for storylines and characters from Koi… Mil Gaya (2003) onwards, Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai on the other hand does the exact opposite. The plot recombines plotpoints from Khudgarz (1987), Khoon Bhari Maang (1988) and Koyla (1997) into a fun, if not exactly riveting, little romp that gets by more on its inherent sweetness than its actualy storytelling. Roshan originally envisioned to helm the production on the Fiji Islands but when the necessary permits couldn’t be secured New Zealand was chosen instead. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor were initially offered the role of Sonia. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan politely declined the part for reasons unknown. Kareena - the granddaughter of Raj Kapoor, daughter of Randhir Kapoor & Babita and sister of Bollywood superstar Karisma Kapoor – was forced to pull out just days into shooting after her mother got into a heated argument with director Roshan. Eventually Roshan decided on Ameesha Patel. For western audiences Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai will probably look like an Elvis Presley musical comedy and a Frankie Avalon-John Ashley beach party movie from the sixties combined with a truncated The Blue Lagoon (1980) vignette for good measure. Hritik Roshan and Ameesha Patel are a joy to behold, but there is nary any chemistry to speak of between the two. Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai is a romantic desi masala for the entire family that even western audiences might find appealing. It’s not quite on the level of Roshan’s later productions, but it works well enough for what it is.

Rohit Chopra (Hritik Roshan) is a good-natured young man from humble beginnings. He slaves away at his car salesman job during the day and fills his nights with playing guitar and singing his heart out. One day sells a vehicle to wealthy entrepreneur Saxena (Anupam Kher) who is involved in some shady business. At a traffic light Rohit makes his acquaintance with Sonia (Ameesha Patel, as Amisha Patel), the daughter of Saxena, and the two are instantly smitten with each other. The two meet each other again on a cruise ship bound for Singapore where Rohit impresses everyone with his singing. Through no choice of their own Sonia and Rohit are separated from the cruise and end up on a deserted island. The two decide to make the best of the situation until they are taken back to civilization. Once back in the world Sonia and her friends assist Rohit in cutting a cassette demo and help him kickstart his career in every way they can. When his career takes off and he’s able to make a living from his singing he and Sonia are to be married. On the eve of a performance set to launch his career, Rohit is witness to Shakti Malik (Dalip Tahil) and Atu Malik (Rajesh Tandon) murdering a law enforcement official investigating Saxena’s illicit businesses. Saxena’s goons find Rohit and drown him for his trouble. Saxena covers the murder up as an unfortunate accident. When the news reaches Sonia she's naturally shaken by the news. To keep his daughter from feeling maudlin and depressed Saxena sends her to live with her cousins in New Zealand. In New Zealand Sonia meets the bespectacled, well-dressed Raj (Hritik Roshan) who looks exactly the deceased Rohit. As you’d expect Sonia and Raj fall in love and together they decide to find the culprit responsible for murdering Rohit…

That Hritik Roshan was destined for superstardom was clear from his debut performance (in a double role, no less) here. Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai is a valentine to his every move, his every glance and an extended preamble to showcase his dancing skills. In quite a few ways Roshan (the elder as much as the younger) lays the groundwork for the 2003 box office smash that would establish them both. In Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai Roshan the younger for the first time portrayed a sculptured, good-natured working class guy as well as his bespectacled, more reserved and introverted counterpart. Ameesha Patel combines the regal posture of Mia Sara in her prime with the doe-eyed innocence of a young Shiri Appleby but is in the habit of hamming it up every once in a while. Granted, her grand declaration of love ‘Janeman Janeman’ (‘Sweetheart’) is adorable in every way even though her dancing tends to be a bit stiff. Patel does look quite fetching in her blue veils in the love song ‘Na Tum Jano Na Hum’ (‘No, You Know, Us’) and ‘Pyar Ki Kashti Mein’ (‘On the Ship of Love’) introduces the well-known melody that Koi… Mil Gaya (2003) would use for Jadoo and that Krrish would later inherit. The soulful Lucky Ali r&b club banger ‘Ek Pal Ka Jeena’ (‘There’s Only A Moment To Life’) could have easily charted in the US and Europe had it been given an English make-over. In retrospect most of it, the romantic entanglements especially so, feel like a dress rehearsal for the later and overall superior feel-good masala Koi… Mil Gaya (2003).

Hritik Roshan playing a double role and characters named Rohit, Raj, Sonia, and Saxena all would make their return in future Rakesh Rohan productions. A lot of it feels like a test-run for something more ambitious and grander in scope. At the heart of most Bollywood productions is a romance and in case of Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai that was its entire raison d'être. Compared to the on-screen romance between Hritik Roshan and Preity Zinta in Koi… Mil Gaya (2003) and Priyanka Chopra in Krrish (2006) the courtship and eventual union with Ameesha Patel is fairly uneventful outside of the uncharted island segment. Ameesha Patel is adorable as many Hindi women in these productions tend to be but she isn’t a great actress by any metric of choice. Her presence is illuminating certainly, but it’s not as if she’s setting the screen alight quite in the same way Preity Zinta and Priyanka Chopra would years later. It’s not even for a lack of trying on Patel’s part either. The love scenes are good for what they are but there’s never quite any sparks or electricity between both leads. The action sequences are serviceable enough but tend to stick out for all the wrong reasons. Sonia’s friend Neeta (played by Tanaaz Currim Irani) obviously was the basis for Honey (played by Manini M. Mishra) in Krrish (2006). In fact most of everything retroactively served as a model for things that turned up later in Koi… Mil Gaya (2003) and the ongoing Krrish franchise. It’s hardly the worst complaint to level against the movie.

Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai was in the unfortunate position of being retroactively eclipsed by the two box office smash hits that followed it. Not that that in any way diminishes the overall effectiveness of this little rom-com. This is the sort of injection that many Western rom-coms would benefit tremendously from. Ameesha Patel is cute as a dish and Hritik Roshan is a lead man with talent to spare. Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai is a standard romantic comedy enlivened by its selection of some halfway decent (and a few surprisingly really good) songs. Compared to later Roshan productions Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai is much smaller in scale and scope. It is a fun little movie sure to elate the spirit with its kind-hearted nature and stubborn belief that love indeed does conquer all. In Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai Roshan the elder’s quirkier tendencies are reined in and it's fairly conventional as such. Talks of a sequel have been making the rounds for years, but nothing substantial has come from it thus far. Anybody interested to see where one of India’s best-paid actors was launched needs to look no further.