Having watched both Fatal Fury 2 and Fatal Fury 3 at one go, I felt rather relieved that Fatal Fury 3, unlike its predecessor, did not fall into the trap of becoming a Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie clone. In an attempt to make Fatal Fury 2 rest on a series of thematic tensions instead of an actual plot, most conventional plot structures were disposed of, save for a singular key idea around which various scenes were constructed. What emerged however, was not "plotless art" that Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie may pass off as, but something artlessly plotless. Fatal Fury 3, with a coherent storyline, is easier to digest.
Despite promises of action-packed adventure, Fatal Fury 3 falls short of expectations. It had a decent start, with Laocorn and his henchmen blasting off a group of archaeologists who had discovered the third fragment, as well as Sulia being surrounded by Laocorn's unearthly masked minions in the arcade. Yet tension dissipated in the midst of all the action. The historical context of Fatal Fury 3 brought about by the missing fragments of the armour should have aroused some interest, but this is undermined by Sulia's long and dreary explanations, and more importantly, the somewhat trite way with which Joe, Andy and Mai conducted their "investigations". Their discoveries came along too easily; there was hardly any real detective work, which dilutes the excitement of watching a mystery being unravelled that was initially promised. Coupled with the flippancy of Mai and Joe despite having a serious task to tackle, the superficiality of it all is palpable.
Despite having a clear plot, Fatal Fury 3 threatens to fall apart due to a loose structure. Given that the movie rests on the development of a storyline, there is a need for narrative threads to be weaved fairly tightly together so as to sustain dramatic anticipation. There are a few incongruous scenes being thrown in, the best example of which would be Geese Howard's appearance, and his irrelevant rumination of how the wound on his chest is undermining his prowess. Such false arousal of expectations frustrates attempts at building up tension, leaving me fairly jaded as the climax approached. While certain parts of the movie crawled, the climax came almost too suddenly. One minute, Sulia is caught and the next minute, Terry is fighting Laocorn. Fatal Fury 3 fails to deliver as a well-conceived whole.
There are some commendable touches, though. Through the use of flashback, Terry Bogard emerges more fully as a character. Plagued by lost love and confused (initially) by his growing attraction towards the innocent, beautiful Sulia, Terry proves that he is more than just any pin-up martial arts hero. Nevertheless, there is no attempt at allowing Terry Bogard to break new ground. With his "I-must-fight-to-become-stronger" attitude, Terry shares a kindred spirit with Ryu from Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie and Eiji from Battle Arena Toshinden. Terry is also the archetypal hero drifting between pride at his own greatness and integrity, and histrionic sorrow for the deaths of his loved ones. This triggers a refusal within Terry to associate too closely with others, not unlike Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Neither is Sulia a unique character. She is, for most of the movie, the sweet, vulnerable girl who, plagued by pain, can only help others by sacrificing herself. Terry and Sulia are hardly refreshing or original, but they are necessary ingredients to the tear-jerking climax at the end.
The rest of the characters are fairly boring and one dimensional. Andy, the reserved, sophisticated fighter, whose smooth exterior can only be ruffled by Mai, is attractive enough as a character, but fails to arouse much interest because he plays second fiddle to his brother. Joe is the source of slapstick humour, and the portrayal of his friendship with the rest lacks depth. He either makes them the butt of his crude jokes, or fights for them. To me, Mai is the most disappointing of all. Her "bountiful" nature distracts attention from her status as a fighter; in the movie, she is no more than a flower vase although she is supposed to be one of the more powerful fighters in the game. Note that she almost always loses her battles despite her initial bravado, and that her contribution to the final showdown is but meagre.
Laocorn, despite his lust for power, comes across as a bland villain. There is little hatred felt for him, and the final scene in which he redeems himself is too short and swift to rouse any pathos. Two of his henchmen, despite playing minor roles, are better crafted. They are governed by subtler emotions; one feels loyal to Sulia despite working for Laocorn, the other seems to be repressing her own feelings out of her love for Laocorn. Nothing outstanding, but better than Laocorn's watery characterisation.
Given the powers possessed by Laocorn and his henchmen, the fighting is fairly awesome. Unlike Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie, there is very little realistic fighting going on; even the normal moves seem to be specials, except for the fighting done by Kim at the beginning. Those who are familiar with the game will enjoy watching normal moves being executed with magnificence, such as Terry's shock wave and Mai's deadly fire ninja bees attack. However, those who are not may feel quite lost during the fast-paced battles, for the moves are not done realistically. For example, the moment Terry battles the masked zombie minions chasing Sulia in the arcade, the entire background is replaced by splashes of rainbow colours, with Terry floating in mid-air, throwing punches at a dizzying speed.
In terms of graphic animation, Fatal Fury 3 is passable, although it is my personal opinion that the human drawings are not too appealing. Their slanted slit eyes and incredibly sharp certainly makes The Hungry Wolf an appropriate secondary title to the movie! Having said this, I confess that the drawings are by the least consistent, unlike Flame of Recca, whose characters seem different in a number of episodes. If (and only if) you are a technical mania like me, you will notice that the drawings of Terry's frame during his battle in the arcade are less well done than the rest.
The version I saw was dubbed, and not too badly too. Thankfully, all original music has been retained. The BGM was either surprisingly sparse or unmemorable, for I only have hazy recollections about it. The only vocal music used comes right at the end, during the credits, which I feel is a good choice. The catchy melody appropriately captures the feelings of triumph, as well as nostalgic sadness and loss evoked by the visual image of Terry flinging his hat away, used to end the movie.
As a motion picture, Fatal Fury 3 disappoints. Probably only those who enjoy the game will truly appreciate the action, and those who do not will find this mildly entertaining well, I will have to reach a compromise in giving the overall rating!
- JW, 1999.12.18