Hollywood director Dwight Little got his start working on hit action movies like Steven Seagal’s Marked for Death and Rapid Fire with Brandon Lee. These days, he’s behind the lens of some of TV’s most popular shows, including “Bones” and “Castle.” The director worked with Namco Bandai to bring the live action Tekken movie to Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. Little talks about the new movie and what’s in store for the franchise in this exclusive interview.
Did you have any background playing video games before Tekken?
No. None at all. I’m a martial arts movie guy. I come to the whole Tekken world as an action filmmaker and when I was exposed to the game, I saw a tremendous opportunity with one of the great sources for a martial arts movie ever. I’m a movie guy much more than I’m a gamer guy, although I have two boys nine and fourteen who play.
And what are your thoughts about what they’re doing with videogames today?
My kids are all into the shooter games. There are two levels for them. There’s the sports games like NCAA Football and Madden and the shooter games like Modern Warfare. Sports and first-person shooters are what gets all the attention.
What are your thoughts on the Tekken fighting game franchise?
What’s cool about Tekken was that it created an entire universe of characters. There was a rich family history and family dynamic and there were very, very interesting political and social interest issues that were brought up in the game. We picked up on those to expand it into the movie.
What’s an example of an issue you focused on in the film?
I think the idea of corporate ownership and the death of the nation’s state as a power center is a really interesting idea. I love the idea of these corporations using fighters to resolve the conflicts and the tensions between these power centers. That’s what I thought was so interesting about it was the dynamic between the Mishima family.
What are the challenges of bringing something from video game to the big screen?
The entire history of the movie business is working with source material and turning it into movies. In the ‘30s and ‘40s it was always the theater and then later it was novels and short stories. Now it’s comic books, graphic novels video games. So the inspiration for movies has always come from outside the medium of film itself.
How did you decide what to focus on with all of the Tekken games out there?
If you look at the six existing Tekken games that have preceded this movie, you have to look at them as an overall kind of arcing feel and take what inspires you, the filmmaker, from that and then turn it into its own movie. Obviously, you can’t replicate the game just the way you can’t literally make Gone with the Wind the way the novel is. You have to make it into something that you’re inspired by. Being a huge fan of action movies and seeing this amazing game universe made us passionate about this project. I think every filmmaker has to look at the source material.
Were there particular games that you guys focused on for this story?
We looked at Tekken 4 a lot. We made a decision that the boxing kangaroo and the supernatural elements in Jin and the devil wings weren’t going to be part of this. We just decided to step away from the hardcore supernatural elements of the original Tekken model and looked for a Gladiator or Rocky movie template. This gave us more of an investment in the characters. I don’t think you can hold an audience for 90 minutes just on sensation. And so in order to find your way into the story and character, you can’t really indulge in eight fights of the supernatural, which does work in the game.
Why do you think Hollywood has had challenges with translating games to film?
Mortal Kombat did well in its day and they touched on the supernatural much more than we did. I think whether it is short stories or novels or plays or books or whatever, when you’re taking one medium and inspiring a movie out of that, there will always be successes and failures. If you look at video games some of them have really translated well, but there are plenty of Dooms and Watchmen and all those out there that just haven’t really made the grade, so it’s never going to be a perfect world. Some filmmakers are going to adapt a video game and turn it into a successful movie, others aren’t. By the way, watching a two-hour movie is such a different mental experience than playing 30 minutes on a game. It’s a very different mental athleticism and so it requires different elements I think.
Did you map out sequels for the film franchise given how many games there are?
We always felt that if we got the family dynamic right and if we got the emotion right that any possible remakes or sequels or additions would be set up. Even at the end of the movie there’s a little tag after the end credits that implies that Heihachi is not dead and that the story can continue. But we tried to make a stand-alone movie that people could enjoy on its own.
How did you work with Namco Bandai through this process?
Namco was really interfaced with by the producers. They’re in Japan and their relationship was with the production company. I did not have a lot to do with them, honestly. I know there’s a new CGI Tekken movie coming out, which is an anime project. For our film, we showed them a lot of sketches, a lot of production design material and artwork, but honestly they were not heavily involved.