King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Certificate: PG
Running time: 79 mins
Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, Walter Day, Mark Alpiger
Genre: Documentary
Country: USA

In the early 1980’s Billy Mitchell set the World Record hit score on Donkey Kong, over two decades later slightly OCD teacher Steve Wiebe has stepped up to claim the throne for himself.  Wiebe battles, not only against Donkey Kong or Mitchell but against the Video Game establishment which has long held Mitchell up as their King but when the quarters are down who’ll rise to the challenge?

Seth Gordon’s The King of Kong is more than just a documentary it’s a comedy that’s vastly superior to his fictional offerings like Horrible Bosses and Four Christmases.  The film has it’s own share of talking heads but so much of the films comedy is born out of moments that simply involves Gordon following the protagonists around and allowing them to be themselves.  Mitchell for example with his beard-mullet combo along with old glory tie has clearly fashioned himself on being the Chuck Norris of Nerds when it actually he bares more of an example to Ben Stiller’s over the top comedy personas, make no mistake Billy people are laughing at you.  Whether it’s his zen master inspired philosophies that’s clearly little more than a blow hard enjoying the sound of his own voice or the petty little girl ‘I’m not going over there don’t look, don’t look’ stand off with Wiebe he’s absolutely hysterical for all the wrong reasons.  The credit has to go to Gordon for having the confidence in the subject matter and the subjects to allow the camera to roll and roll, it pays off on more than one occasion.  Wiebe, by contrasy, is softly spoken unassuming and unbelievably likeable.  His run of back luck is enough to endear him to you let alone the unfair, uneven playing field dealt to him by Billy Mitchell and his acolytes.

The rivalry between Mitchell and Wiebe is epic, it’s Rocky Balbao Vs. Apollo Creed with a pocket full of loose change and thumb calasysts.  Mitchell, the seasoned pro who’s rested on a reputation longer than he can remember, Wiebe the hungry, raw and talented newcomer.  The film documents Mitchell’s mind games, dubious taped world records and petty avoidance tactics not to mention the nepotistic worship from his gaming family and all the while without passing judgement on these grown men and their childish behaviour never mind the fact that he refuses (without actually stating it) to play Wiebe in a live head to head.  He leaves it to the audience to draw their own conclusions and whether you’re down with the establishment or fan of the underdog will determine which side you come down on.

What makes King of Kong rewatchable, in the way that some documentaries are not is that it has all the peaks and dips and twists of the most dramatic narrative based film, it’s somewhere between a comedy and a sports film and will probably draw a lot of comparisons to Dodgeball and it probably should.  As a child of the 80’s I remember all the game these men pride themselves on being the best of the best at, not to mention the fledging days of gaming which endears the film to me even more.  King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a documentary about the small things in life that we make important because of the underlying issues, for KOK it’s injustice and segregation which are highly emotive and important issues.  The fact that they’re delivered in the physical manifestation of  a moustached Italian/American plumber from Brooklyn is a testament to those involved.  A thoroughly entertaining film and for the record…fuck you Billy Mitchell!  Go Team Wiebe.


Chip Lary said...

I really enjoyed this movie. I LOVED it when they did the montage of the gamers, accompanied by the song The Best Around from The Karate Kid.

My take on Mitchell is that he was at least a partial conspirator in the presentation of him as the "villain" in the movie. He seemed to have a lot better grasp of showmanship than Wiebe did and that lots of times it's the bad guy who gets more attention than the hero.

John Baxter said...

Lol the gamers montage is excellent! That thought did cross my mind too as it seemed to come together too perfectly, narratively speaking, but I like to believe in the honesty of documentary in the same way people believe in "spiritual mediums". I like to think he's a bit of a tool.

Colin Lorimer said...

I think "a bit of a tool" describes Billy M perfectly...

Great doc!

John Baxter said...

Am sure he'll appreciate your kindness with the use of the word 'bit'.

Ty said...

Good review!

Billy Mitchell is one of the biggest tools ever!

Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I loved this movie, and for me, it had a very Karate Kid feel to it, with Mitchell being William Zabka or Martin Kove and Daniel-san played by Wiebe. Another cool thing, I live about an hour from Funspot in Weir's Beach, New Hampshire, where some of this was filmed. My buddy and I actually played that Donkey Kong, and tried to make our own joke documentary. I'm personally more of a Galaga guy though.

John Baxter said...

He's almost a Simpsons character of a baddie. He's also a bona fide dick.

John Baxter said...

Totally agree. The competition and competitive nature of the guys really does make it feel like a combatitive narrative based piece of fiction. I think I could take Billy on Mario Kart... You hear me Mitchell?! I'm calling you out

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