Released a year after critical and commercial bomb Super Mario Bros, Double Dragon the movie shifts the action into the ‘future’ of 2007 where a tremendous earthquake has devastated Los Angeles into a post-apocalyptic grungy city named New Angeles. Two martial arts experts, Jimmy and Billy Lee, are swept into an evil villain’s plans for domination should he acquire both pieces of an powerful ancient medallion.
Is Double Dragon a rough undiscovered diamond of videogame movies? Antstream Arcade sent Graeme Mason and Double Dragon expert Martyn Carroll to find out…
1 min - The credit of Gramercy Pictures, the then recently-formed production joint-venture between Polygram and Universal seems decent enough. The subsequent Imperial Entertainment, responsible for classics such as The Bikini Carwash Company II and Nemesis 4: Death Angel is not as encouraging. A familiar-sounding voice begins to tell a tale of ancient power as the camera glides over a cheap-looking ‘gold’ medallion.
GM: Thousands of years ago…blah blah. Ancient warriors, powerful medallion. Hang on, the king sacrificed himself to save his people and turned into a piece of jewellery? Erm, ok. Let’s go with it.
MC: I loved Double Dragon in the arcades, but have never seen the appeal of video game movies. I remember this coming in for preview when I worked in a video hire shop and my boss didn’t order a single copy. He did order eight copies of Showgirls however.
GM: Showgirls. Scariest film ever. Fact.
2 mins - Double Dragon opens with the caption ‘Somewhere in China’. A primitive village is being attacked by a squad of soldiers.
MC: Somewhere in China? I love it when movies are so specific. Some decent PG-13 fighting here, although the dubbing is not so good – reminds me of one of those cheap 80s imported kung-fu movies.
GM: Hey, is that Al Leong? Last time I saw him he was munching on chocolate bars and getting shot by Bruce Willis.
It is indeed Al Leong, a veteran actor seemingly always cast as a taciturn oriental henchman, most famously in the perennial is it/isn’t it a Christmas movie, Die Hard. Anyway…
GM: Oooh one of them has a whip. Wait, why are they terrorising these poor monks? I bet it’s something to do with that crappy medallion.
MC: That chap is doing a runner…and led them straight to the medallion, or at least half of it. Nice one mate. Aha, the mysterious black ninja turns out to be a woman, and with perfect wavy Nineties hair too. GM: The cave set is almost impressive and clearly borrowed from a proper movie.
3 mins - The action shifts to an earthquake-plagued New Angeles…
GM: Actually that looks pretty good. Nice moody music and a very Blade Runner-esque view of a desolate Los Angl- holy crap, is that Robert Patrick? What’s with the hair? He looks like he’s channelling Jedward’s evil uncle. What’s in the box? Half a medallion of course, so why does Al Leong look so shocked?
MC: Patrick looks absolutely ridiculous. How the hell did he go from Terminator 2 to this in four years? Also, I love how the director achieves the ‘aftershock’ effect by shaking the camera and getting the actors to do a little shimmy…
5 mins - It’s a swift cut to our heroes, who are competing in a martial arts contest. Thanks to Billy’s impetuousness the brothers end up losing, not that it stops them handing out another beating to their opponents.
GM: Some of the moves look a little too staged. Maybe we’re spoilt these days, but they’re moving really slow too. And all they do is roundhouse kicks!
It’s a derivative lurch back to the 80s as two weirdos in overalls try and sell us jacks to help prop up earthquake-threatened houses in a cheap-ass ‘comedy’ advert, followed by George Hamilton presenting the news.
MC: Someone’s been watching Robocop and its media break segments! And that really is George Hamilton, and a weather guy called Andy Dick. ‘Nuff said.
GM: Yea gods.
9 mins - Escaping the contest, the Lees and their guardian are in the Dragon Wagon, and out after curfew. It’s not long before they’ve attracted a gang sporting immaculate punk haircuts.
MC: Look at the state of that car they’re driving! It looks like someone has pimped up Chevy Chase’s car from the National Lampoon Vacation movie.
GM: And it runs on trash. Wonder where they got that idea from?
MC: That’s Bo Abobo, who appeared in the game as a mini-boss at the end of the first level. Crikey, the actor playing him has a range that veers between gibbering madman one minute, and gibbering madman the next.
GM: I recognise him too! He was in…The Mask! Played a henchman, surprise surprise.
After a chase through the deserted city, the boys are rescued by Marian (Alyssa Milano) and her troupe of rugged rebels.
GM: I love how there are always plenty of empty cardboard boxes for the heroes to drive through in these cheap movies.
MC: Ha! Nice to see Milano doing well for herself outside TV roles. She appears to be part of some conflicted community group. A dash of un-PC ass-staring from the boys there!
25 mins - Arch-villain Koga Shuko (Patrick) has discovered that Billy holds the other half to his coveted medallion. He’s soon banging on the front door to their disused theatre home.
MC: A nice nod to the arcade game as Patrick smashes through a wall – albeit a paper one!
GM: How convenient as well that the Lee’s home contains so many levels and platforms for them to leap about on…
Using the power of the medallion, Patrick transforms into an evil shadow and a mutated Abobo appears.
MC: That shadow demon looks like it was done on an Amiga using a video toaster! And is that Abobo? He looks like a rejected Power Rangers baddie.
GM: But that’s a nice touch – the piano plays a little tune as shadow demon Patrick glides over it.
36 mins - After the Lee brothers give Shuko the slip, the villain furthers his dastardly plan of city-wide takeover by offing the leader of the gangs, played by a certain goggle-eyed genre stalwart.
MC: As genre cameos go, you can’t go wrong with Michael Berryman from The Hills Have Eyes.
GM: Crikey, that was brief, even for a cameo. Mind you, all those ‘vicious’ gang members look like they’ve wandered in from a Pet Shop Boys video.
MC: I’m not sure what’s happening plot-wise. I think they’re making it up as they go along.
42 mins - It’s time for another random fight, this time a mass brawl down by the docks.
MC: It’s all a bit Three Stooges isn’t it? The enemies are just getting slapped, smacked and poked, like it isn’t allowed for people to get seriously hurt.
GM: Still, at least everyone seems to be having good fun…
Having eluded the gangs, the Lees make their escape on a speedboat, pursued by two jet skiers. Who knew deadbeat criminal gangs would own jet skis?
MC: Crikey that’s a bit low rent, and the director seems to have decided to turn this into a slapstick comedy. More Police Academy than Double Dragon.
GM: That’s a very nice matte painting again though, even if it does look a tad unrealistic.
MC: A tad?!
51 mins - Meanwhile, back at the headquarters of Alyssa Milano’s colourful Power Corps, the heroine is force-feeding Abobo spinach in an attempt to find out what he knows about Shuko’s plans.
MC: Ugh. At least it’s not brussel sprouts.
1hr 10 mins - Things are coming to a conclusion. Shuko has located the Power Corps’ base and infiltrated the body of Jimmy Lee. The brothers scuffle within an arcade full of vandalised coin-ops.
MC: Ah, so this is how they’re handling the infamous ending of the arcade machine where Jimmy and Billy battle each other for Marian’s heart.
GM: Oooh look, Billy’s standing in front of a Double Dragon machine. Bet that won’t stay intact for long.
MC: Yep, he’s kicked through the screen. How meta. Notice how the image of the Dragons on the arcade machine’s marquee looks nothing like the brothers? That’s because Taito changed their appearance for the US release, and even renamed them Hammer and Spike!
After a brief battle, Billy knocks the medal from Jimmy, thus releasing him. But wait! Shuko has grabbed both halves of the medallion and sucks in all the electricity from New Angeles in a special effects extravaganza.
GM: Uh oh!
1hr 18 mins - After the cataclysmic foreshadowing earlier in the movie, you’d think the complete medal in Shuko’s hands would incite something spectacular. But no, it’s just two ugly ninja dudes with sticks, who the boys proceed to beat into one, thus returning a dazed Shuko to his original form, before grabbing the medal and getting a nifty change of threads for their trouble. After a reunion with Abobo, Marian and the Lees head out in the Dragon Wagon, passing Al Leong and his henchman pal on the freeway as a familiar tune begins…
MC: Is that All Together Now by The Farm? What a perfectly random ending to a slapdash flick.
GM: Funnily enough, while I know it’s basically awful, I still really enjoyed that. It seemed like all the cast were having great fun and it was – mostly unintentionally – hilarious in places. It may have helped that I drank half a bottle of red wine while watching. 7/10.
MC: Agreed, wasn’t actually that bad. It was certainly more ambitious than it needed to be with the whole ‘after the quake’ premise. There aren’t enough nods to the arcade series, so gamers will be disappointed, but I imagine it being a decent stepping stone for fans of The Three Ninjas on their way to watching Van Damme kick people in the face.