Released in 1987 by Technos, Double Dragon is the spiritual successor to Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (known to the US as Renegade), a game that was inspired by the high school life of creator Yoshihisa Kishimoto. Basically — you fight to survive.
When Renegade was released in the U.S., it was localized so that it appeared to be a video game version of The Warriors, with punk rock inspired bad guys. Double Dragon takes that to the next level, where Billy and Jimmy Lee (or Hammer and Spike, as the original cabinets called them) have to battle through hordes of post-apocalyptic punkers to rescue Billy’s girlfriend Marian. There had never been a game like this before, where two players could beat up a near endless array of bad guys and even steal their weapons from them. It felt like you were in a movie. So making a movie of Double Dragon — and its many sequels — seemed like a great idea.
Koga Shuko (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2) is a crime lord looking for a magic medallion called the Double Dragon, which has been broken into two pieces. He already has one half, but now he needs the other.
Meanwhile, brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee (Scott Wolf of TV’s Party of Five and Mark Dacascos, the American chairman of Iron Chef and Mani from Brotherhood of the Wolf) and their adopted mother Satori (Rambo: First Blood Part II) are racing home to beat curfew after a martial arts tournament. Oh, a curfew? Yeah, it turns out that in the Los Angeles of 2007, an earthquake has made the city an apocalypse, lorded over by gangs. One of those gangs, led by Abobo (one of the game bosses) attacks, but they’re saved by the Power Corps, led by Marian (Alyssa Milano, Commando, every 90’s boy’s bedroom wall). Coincidentally, Satori has the other half of the medallion and Shuko mutates Abobo so he can go back out and get it.
The gang attacks again with Shuko even possessing their mother. The boys escape thanks to her sacrifice and go on the run as Shuko unites the city’s gangs, which have Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes) among their members.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “This has nothing to do with the video game I’ve played and loved so much,” congratulations. Welcome to the world of 1990’s video game adaptions!
Will Billy and Jimmy finally stop being dweebs and learn how to fight? Will there by rollerblade attacks on an evil shopping mall? Wil they fight over Marian? Will there be fart jokes because all video games are really for children and not adults despite all evidence to the contrary? Who are the Power Corps and what do they have to do with Double Dragon?
Amazingly, this movie was written by Paul Dini, who created the most perfect media adaption of Batman ever, Batman: The Animated Series and also wrote for Lost. Wow. I’m kind of shocked. So I asked Dini on Twitter and was delighted by his reply:
There are some weird Frank Miller-esque talking heads on Channel 69 News, played by George Hamilton and Vanna White that try to make this movie into Robocop. Oh yeah — Andy Dick is also the station’s weatherman. They have nothing really to do with anything else in the film.
Because I come from Pittsburgh, allow me to make fun of Cleveland, where this was filmed. The boat chase sequence was filmed on the Cuyahoga River and ends with a gigantic explosion filled with 700 gallons of gasoline and 200 gallons of alcohol. Despite warnings in all manner of the news, the explosion caused a panic, leading to 210 phone calls to emergency services in 10 minutes. Oh Cleveland.
This movie defines the word missable. I have probably played hundreds of hours of the video games they inspired it and have often written my own tales in my head of my character’s motivations. Every single one, even back to when I was 16, are miles beyond this film. I’ve never seen a movie before where a bad guy hugs someone until he passes out, so there is that.
Then again, if you always wanted to watch a kid-friendly version of The Warriors, I guess this could be it.