In “Fighters,” three ancient artifacts — a sword, a shield and a chain-metal necklace that looks like Red Sonja’s thong — combine to unleash energy that opens a gateway to another dimension where characters compete in underground fighting tournaments to become the King of Fighters. There, logic and physics are on hold, tunnels are awash in colored gel lights, and you’re instantly dressed in the kind of garb worn only in manga. When you lose a skirmish, an electrified ball of tangled snakes hovers above your noggin.
When the movie opens, these artifacts are on exhibit, and stolen by Rugal (Ray Park, Darth Maul of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace”). Immediately, we know he’s a bad guy because one of his eyes is red. He changes the rules and the settings of the game, much to the chagrin of its other players, particularly Mai (Maggie Q, TV’s “Nikita”), an undercover CIA agent investigating the tourney.
Why would the government care about such a thing? Why is Rugal dressed a hockey player during one match, and as a hobo clown in another? Don’t ask. In fact, it’s pointless to question anything, because the movie is just looking for an excuse to set up a nearly uninterrupted hourlong fight sequence.
If you’re into martial arts films filled with flips and swords and conjured-up fireballs, then “The King of Fighters” will be up your proverbial alley. And if you’re not, don’t even bother. To me, it played like “Mortal Kombat” minus the name recognition. It’s guided by the professional hand of director Gordon Chan, who’s made some of my favorite contemporary Hong Kong actioners in Jackie Chan’s racing vehicle, “Thunderbolt,” and the historical “Fist of Legend” with Jet Li. He keeps things spry and colorful, but at the aforementioned dire sacrifice to story.
Q has charisma to burn and is unafraid to get physical (not that way, pervs); she’s always fun to watch, and it’s terrific that we live in a day and age where an Asian woman can have the leading role and kick serious ass. Helping her out is the underrated and underutilized Françoise Yip (“Black Mask”). With those two in place, you can do so much worse, guys; they look great on Blu-ray. —Rod Lott