Director Dwight H. Little discusses making Tekken, deciding which characters to use from the video game, shooting in Louisiana, and more.
Tekken was an instant success when it was first released as a video game back in 1994, which has spawned numerous sequels, spin-offs and rip-offs since then. It was only natural that Tekken was eventually translated to the movie world, although it unfortunately never received a theatrical release in the United States. However, fans can pick up Tekken on Blu-ray and DVD starting today, July 19, and I recently had the chance to speak with one of the men responsible for bringing this video game to life, director Dwight H. Little. Take a look at what he had to say about the video game adaptation, shooting in Louisiana, the tricky nature of assembling this cast, and much more in the interview below.
I was wondering if you could start off by talking about your own background with the game. Was this something you ever played at all?
Dwight H. Little: Well, from Marked for Death and Rapid Fire, I come from a martial arts action movie background. I think, when I was called in on this, they sort of exposed me more to the world of Tekken. I knew it some, because I have two boys who are gamers, but I really saw it as an opportunity like a novel or a play, or some kind of source material, to make a really great martial arts action movie. I feel like I kind of brought my filmmaker point of view to the game, rather than a gamer who wanted to be a filmmaker. When I looked at the world, and really studied the Tekken games, I involved my writing partner, Alan B. McElroy, who had done Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Rapid Fire with me. We said, if we take the Devil Jin and the boxing kangaroo, King, and remove the supernatural for a moment, what do we have left? We thought we have a really strong Gladiator/Rocky kind of story. That was kind of how we were inspired by the material, the family connections, the ever-changing fight selector worlds. You can go from a Cambodian temple to a graveyard to a tropical background. I thought that was a way to do a tournament movie to make it fresh.
My experience is mainly with the older games and not with the newer games. It was kind of surprising because there were so many of these characters I didn't recognize, but I would look them up and they'd be in the newer games. I thought it was amazing how there was really this intricate world that was built in, which you don't really notice in the original games.
Dwight H. Little: Yeah, it was a very complicated world and we didn't feel like, in a 100-minute movie, we could take on the supernatural aspects of Tekken, because that's really more for an anime movie. When you get into real characters and real actors and real martial arts, then I think boxing kangaroos are the right tone. That's why we took these characters like Steve Fox and Marshall Law, Bryan Fury, and tried to make them real competitors in this global competition, where it's corporations that have actually achieved dominance, not nation-states. I think we're a little bit heading in that direction now. I think Sony and Microsoft and BP really have a lot more global influence than a lot of other countries do.
One of my favorite scenes is towards the beginning, and it's set up like a drug deal, but Jin is buying chocolate and an orange. It was really intriguing and it said a lot about this whole universe in that little brief scene.
Dwight H. Little: Well, when you know that one, fresh orange is worth more than anything else, that tells you a lot.
You have some real, actual fighters in the cast, such as Lateef Crowder. Did these guys end up working behind the scenes with the fight choreography at all?
Dwight H. Little: Yeah, Lateef did, and we also had Roger Huerta and Cung Le. We had guys who were martial artists, guys who were MMA guys, then we had just actor-martial artists like Gary Daniels, who's really the best at what he does. Because we had all these real fighters in these supporting roles, we knew that Jin Kazama could only be played by a real martial artist. We weren't going to just cast an actor and then double him. That was not going to fly. Believe me, it was not easy to find a young, good-looking, Eurasian guy, who could act and was an amazing athlete. That's who Jon Foo is. the guy is an amazing athlete. That's him doing those martial arts. When we found Jon, we knew we had a movie. He can go into the ring with all these real fighters, and it's not going to look silly. It's going to be a real match.
I believe you shot most of this in Shreveport, Louisiana. The sets were actually quite stunning, especially on the stage when they kept switching the fight selector. Can you talk about the production design aspects and the kinds of challenges that brought?
Dwight H. Little: Well, what happened was we needed an arena. We actually looked in Europe and we looked around North America. It was very hard to find an arena that we could go in and just take over for that length of time. We found one in Shreveport, Louisiana, because they had built a new public arena down the road, a brand new one, so this older facility was kind of left abandoned. The state of Louisiana was comfortable with us coming in and taking it over, so we were able to build the fight boxes and the corporate overlook. That's what really drew us to that environment. A lot of those backgrounds that you see, some of that is CGI, of course, but a lot of that is very real, in terms of sets and people. It was a combination of real crowds in those seats, and some of it was sweetened with CGI. It was a nice mix of elements and I think we made it kind of big, even though we didn't have a big studio budget. I think we stretched our dollars as best as we could.
Absolutely. Can you talk about getting the rest of this cast together? I've been a fan of Ian Anthony Dale for the last few years now, and it was fun to see him in this.
Dwight H. Little: He's unbelievable. He's a real athlete, he's fit, and he's a great actor. I have to say that for his part, we just read people and did it the old-fashioned way. He was a little young, but he was so good that we decided to use him anyway and we aged him, darkened his eyes and gave him some wrinkles. He's a very young man, but we added some years to him because we were so impressed with what he brought to that role. Then, you know, with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, there was really choice. He was Heihachi Mishima. He's just that guy. With Jin, we found a lot of really interesting actors, but they weren't martial artists, and we found a lot of world-class martial artists who just were not actors. We were stuck and we found Jon Foo in Thailand, actually. We brought him over for a screen test and we hired him off the screen test because he did such an amazing job.
With the game, you have all these characters with their signature moves. You kind of get into that a little bit, but was there a balance you tried to strike between not being so slavish to the video game and trying to create something new?
Dwight H. Little: Well, we wanted to pay homage to it. I think if you look at the Eddy Gordo fight and some of the other specific fights, we do try to give the fighters moves that are reminiscent of the game or are a part of the game. We didn't, as you said, become slaves to it, but, at the same time, we didn't want to ignore it. If you look at Dragunov's moves and Yoshimitsu's moves, we studied it very, very carefully, so people would have the feel of the game. My feeling is that every single fight is its own story, with a beginning, middle, and end. We wanted to have great story elements, and it is a balancing act. I think the Rojo character, played by Roger Huerta, they get the flavor of it.
How tempted were you to have Yoshimitsu burrow into the ground in at least one scene?
Dwight H. Little: (Laughs) There's a funny thing, again, about that line between the super-fantastic, and just the fantastic. We kept saying, 'Well, what movie are we making?' And we kept saying, 'We're making Gladiator.' We're making Gladiator in the Tekken world, but we're not making Mortal Kombat, which is the supernatural fantastical world.
Is there anything that you're currently working on right now that you can talk about?
Dwight H. Little: Yeah. I'm in the middle of prepping a movie. I guess I can't talk about it, except to say it's a cross between The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It's a world that actually does involve a computer reality, but it also involves ancient Chinese traditions. I'm just doing last script revisions on that. As you probably saw on the resume, I have a pretty busy television career, but my passion has always been for movies. I hope to get this one off the ground by the end of the year. Tekken has kind of had some fits in getting out to the public, but it's coming out on Tuesday and I hope people just give it a chance.
It looked for awhile there that it was getting a theatrical release. There was some buzz about it and then I saw it was coming out on DVD.
Dwight H. Little: Well, we had a theatrical distributor, and we had a deal for theatrical, and, just because of the new economic times and the way business is done with DVD, that company went out of business. Then we were left as orphans and Anchor Bay swept in and they've really done a great job. They've also done Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers with me years ago, so that was a nice full-circle.
Are you jumping on anything new in the TV world then for the fall?
Dwight H. Little: I'm just going right now to do Bones, which is one of my favorites.
Well, that's about all I have. Thanks so much for your time. It was great talking to you.
Dwight H. Little: Thank you so much for your interest.
Dwight H. Little's Tekken will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 19.