Judge Jason Panella is out of quarters.
In This Country Only a Sucker Does a 9 to 5.
Justin Wong plays video games. To be more specific, Justin Wong is an ace video game player—one of the best competitive fighting game players in not only the United States, but the world. Isaiah Triforce Johnson runs Empire Arcadia, a gaming collective based out of New York City (notice Triforce isn't in quotes—it's his legal name). Triforce manages the team of players, including Justin, who make up the Empire; if they can rack up enough wins, Triforce reasons, Empire Arcadia can get endorsement deals and bring a level of legitimacy to competitive gaming in America. But really, Triforce is especially interested in making money. Lots and lots of money.
King of Chinatown follows Justin as he works his way up the competitive gaming ladder in 2009. Triforce is keen on getting his star player into specific tournaments to boost Empire Arcadia's industry cred. Justin just wants to play…and maybe beat legendary Japanese player Daigo Umehara, who pulled out a surprising win against Justin in a widely watched world championship event in 2004. King of Chinatown is about video games, certainly; but the documentary is really about these two men and their representative ideologies in the gaming world. Justin is guileless, a fairly quiet young man who—as several people point out in the movie—has an incredible sense of spacial recognition that lets him murder at Street Fighter IV. But Justin ultimately sees competitive gaming as a hobby, even if its a possibly lucrative one. And while competitive gaming has a sizeable following in America, it's nowhere near the national spectator sport that it is in South Korea or Japan. Triforce, though, is hopeful. He thinks if Justin can mop up on the international scene, Empire Arcadia will be a household name. So, King of Chinatown effectively showcases the partnership between the a hobbyist mindset and professional mindset—a partnership that's bound to cause friction.
When the movie focuses on Justin, King of Chinatown fascinates. The young gamer wants to be the best Street Fighter IV player in the world. His quest to win against Daigo isn't vindictive either; both gamers seem incredibly easygoing, and Justin's competitive drive seems born more out of playfulness than righting some cosmic wrong. That said, King of Chinatown spends a fair bit of its scant hour run-time showing Justin slap control buttons while rarely showing what's happening on the screen (which isn't that interesting, really).
Director Calvin Theobald also gives ample screentime to Triforce and his quest for fiscal solvency. The movie quickly sets up Triforce as a parasitic presence in Justin's life. But it seems like Theobald is trying to frame Triforce as a Snidely Whiplash-type schemer; taking a step back from the film's threadbare narrative, though, makes Triforce seem like any other talent manager in the U.S. He's trying to coach players and make enough money to cover Empire Arcadia's bills.
While the personalities at the core of King of Chinatown are interesting, the movie that presents them is kind of a mess. It seemed like Theobald barely cobbled enough footage together to make a self-contained story. This movie is a few minutes over and hour and doesn't feel remotely tight. What was Theobald ultimately shooting for here? It seems like he was reaching for something as riveting as Indie Game: The Movie or The King of Kong. There are even a few scenes that featured a promo poster for that latter film in the background. Unfortunately, that made me want to turn this off and watch that again instead.
The IndiePix Films release of King of Chinatown is average. Theobald's incredibly raw footage is presented well enough in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, considering the source (it looks like he filmed a good chunk of the movie on a cell phone). The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is difficult to follow in spots, and the lack of optional subtitles makes it worse. The extras: some short deleted scenes and an alternate ending (still in rough cut form).
King of Chinatown isn't a bad movie. Justin and Triforce are interesting enough to watch, and when the film focuses on their relationship it pretty captivating. But even though, how honest is the film representing their friendship? If you love fighting games or the international competitive gaming scene, this is worth checking out. Otherwise, skip it for one of the better, more fully realized game-related documentaries.
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