King of Chinatown
No matter what kind of gamer you are, it is without question that 2011 has been the year the fighting game scene reached new heights of success. But even still, many individuals can’t begin to understand, appreciate or even imagine just what goes on behind the competitive curtain. These issues are more or less addressed in Calvin Theobald’s King of Chinatown.
The documentary follows a year in the life of US fighting game prodigy, Justin Wong. This includes his jump on the Street Fighter IV craze starting in 2009, his fading stint with Empire Arcadia – the first gaming organization to sponsor fighting gamers, his performance at the Gamestop SFIV tournament and Evolution 2009, as well as his desire to avenge his embarrassing loss at Evolution 2004’s Third Strike tournament against Japan’s beast, Daigo Umehara.
While this is the advertised premise of the film, and it’s followed sufficiently enough, it serves as a secondary story in contrast to the main focus of Justin’s controversial, Power Glove toting, former manager/promoter, Isaiah Triforce Johson, founder of Empire Arcadia. Originally, it appeared to be an exploration of a Tyson-Don King type relationship where viewers witness many of Triforce’s shady dealings caught on film, such as actively taking cuts from Justin’s winnings, attempting to steal Justin’s air time during interviews, and his infamous one-liner turned meme: “Only a sucker does a 9 to 5.”
Over the course of the film, it becomes evident that Triforce is the lead role of the piece and it is through this unexpected change in spotlight where my feelings become rather mixed. A part of me can appreciate that the film’s general purpose to inform is carried out. Those who closely follow the competitive scene, and know Justin, will definitely get a kick out of seeing documented proof of karma’s existence as it visits Triforce during the final stretch of Empire’s time. But for those that have never heard of Justin, or are unaware of the fighting community for that matter, may view Justin’s role as a hapless victim, misunderstood no thanks to the film’s limited Q&A. As a result, King of Chinatown walks the fine line between educating and stirring the drama pot, while sparking suspicion of the filmmakers’ choice of title as a crude conveyance of irony – further perpetuating the misconception of gamers as a whole.
Although shooting a documentary in real time is a venture riddled in unpredictable instances of circumstance, there’s no denying that the film missed a lot of opportunities. Aside from falling short of properly introducing Justin Wong to newcomers (he could’ve been asked how he prepares for events or asked more about why he loves to compete), the film featured appearances of community faces such as Gootecks of CrossCounterTV, Capcom Community Manager Seth Killian, and SRK administrator Mr. Wizard. While Gootecks’s role is well defined, the other individuals could’ve been asked more about their views and active roles in the community. Disappointing is the fact that Henry Cen, the once proud owner of the now closed Chinatown Fair Arcade, made a few appearances and eventually had his own scene where he confronted Triforce on the error of his business dealings. The film doesn’t even introduce him, nor is his long time contribution to the scene touched upon.
As an independent film, King of Chinatown passes the bare minimum of presenting itself in credibility – camera work and lighting control were exercised very well, and the film even provides subtitles during scenes of low volume dialogue. However, there were a number of instances where the credibility drops to amateur levels due to typos, such as misspelling the word ‘associate’ as ‘accosiate’. The film also features a soundtrack by indie rock bands, The Gay Blades and Kiss Kiss. While it’s agreed that Guile’s Theme goes with everything, this is not true where whining shrills and emo-esque mannerisms are concerned. For example, watching the scene where Justin competes at the 2009 Gamestop tournament, the music made the event appear as a lopsided circus of annoyance rather than the hyped, action packed milestone that it is remembered as.
King of Chinatown is but an esoteric appreciation piece made for fighting gamers, with the most dedicated getting a maximized experience compared to those of other demographics. The film will certainly educate viewers on the fighting game scene, but its limited scope of the competitive side may continue to discourage outsiders from finding any finer points worth recognizing.