King of Chinatown(2010)
Directed by Jordan Levinson & Calvin Theobald
Before I being this review, I would like to note that my opinions and views are solely based on the documentary itself. Any events, actions, explanations, or details that have come up since or during the making of this film or its release will not be mentioned.
King of Chinatown is a documentary about two people; Justin Wong and Isaiah TriForce Johnson. Justin Wong is a professional gamer and is known as one of the best Street Fighter IV players in the United States(some debate in the world). TriForce runs Empire Arcadia, a group of professional gamers that primarily focus on fighting games like Street Fighter and Marvel Versus Capcom. This documentary is the story of the rise of Justin Wong's success with the release of Street Fighter IV and TriForce trying to turn gaming into something profitable with Empire Arcadia.
We begin our documentary with a quick overview of Justin and TriForce's relationship. Justin explains how he and TF are best friends. He also details how he got into Street Fighter and continues about his past with the game. Everyone has seen the infamous Third Strike video of Daigo “The Beast” Umehara parrying all of Justin's attacks and winning(this video is so popular, it's not worth posting). He also includes his involvement with The Empire and what he hopes will come out of it; sponsorships, money, etc.
TriForce explains how EMP is not like any other gamer clans. EMP is a business. He recruits talent to play video games competitively and through that, get them set up with sponsors and appearances, and in doing so, take a cut for profit to put into EMP. TF also details that he is great friends with Justin and that their work together is going to be big. You will also recognize that TF is a huge Nintendo fan as he is recognized by wearing the Power Glove(it's so bad) along with a Legend of Zelda Tri-Force pendant. Now, both started at an arcade in New York called Chinatown Fair. Justin emerged as one of the best players.
We continue on to TF detailing how EMP is a business and that the players need to get out and compete to make money. He explains how EMP needs to make $50,000 to break even. Lets stop right here. $50,000. You are pushing on your friends that play video games that 50 grand needs to be made or you are all bankrupt. This does not sound like a good situation to be in, considering that everyone and their mother knows that Justin will be the one bring it in. He also introduces us to “The Arc.” The Arc is the house where EMP members come to train and sharpen their game; a glorified clubhouse basically.
Also included in the introduction, are some segways to some former EMP members and Justin's friends. They berated TF saying that he's shady, greedy and that he's “riding Justin's coattails” to fame. Even a former business partner of TF's states that he would try to get younger kids that were still in school, to not focus on their school work but to play games more. Now, this is hearsay but these guys seem convinced that TF is up to no good.
|Justin's friends and a former EMP business partner|
As we transition into Street Fighter, Justin is attempting to post a 100 game winstreak in a competition. TF explains how this would be a good opportunity for Justin to show his stuff and maybe land a sponsor or a deal to promote gaming products. Justin does post the winstreak and is rewarded with $500. This is an impressive feat for a fighting game because even if you are one of the best, playing 100 straight fights can be tedious and you are probably prone to drop a few games. At this point, everything seems pretty legit. Justin plays the games while TF manages the company and handles the business deals. Pretty straight forward. So far...
Fast forward to a GameStop tournament. The winner gets to go to an invitational to play against other winners of their respected tournament to decide who is the best in the country. We view some interview footage of Justin Wong explaining that he is doing this for his grandma and that she needs the money to pay rent, when TF stops the interview and some shadiness begins. TF tells Justin to say it again the way he told him to say it and it is implied that Justin's grandma story is fraud and it is being used to boost his image. Now, this is bullshit. First off, on TF's part. The fact off that he is even considering having one of his players do this is ridiculous. Second, I put blame on Justin Wong just for going along with it. Major error on both parts; talent and manager. The GameStop tournament featured many players and lasted longer than a day. But when everything was said and done, Justin Wong came away the winner and would move on to play against the best players in the country.
The National tournament was in Las Angeles, CA, and we are introduced to the very popular Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez. If you have not seen Cross Counter, then go here: http://www.crosscounter.tv and you will know. Gootecks explains how to determine if a player is good using win percentages as an example. He continues by detailing that the really good players can win in the 97+ percentile. The documentary also displays Gootecks' effect on the fighting game community and all the great things he has accomplished; hosting tournaments that feature the best players in the country, podcast, his show, etc. You get the understanding that the community has a large respect for him.
We then segway to one of my favorite parts of the documentary, the Keystone arcade. Keystone is basically just an arcade built in someone's backyard in their garage. A lot of the Southern California players go to play against each other and it is a great look into an underground scene. In the film, you see Justin Wong, Gootecks, Mike Ross, and even Seth Killian aka “S-Kill.”
Seth Killian is a community manager for Capcom and is very involved with events featuring Street Fighter. He is the host for most of the main events like EVO and also does commentary for a lot of the matches. Everyone then gathers around as Justin Wong and Gootecks have a Balrog mirror match; first to five. Justin Wong came out the victor.
|Keystone is owned by a man simply known as Albert|
Now to the day of the national tournament. We learn that not only with the country's best be playing, but the winner will have exhibitions matches against Poongko, the Korean champ, Iyo, the Japanese champ and Daigo Umehara. Real quick, I wasn't expecting to see Poongko in this documentary. I didn't think he was known until this last EVO where he placed 3rd. But apparently, he's been around for a while. A group picture is taken and everyone gathers on the bus and we hear some shit talking as Daigo enters the bus. My favorite was, “How many SF4 tournaments you won, Daigo?” Obviously, there's a line drawn in the sand between US players and other countries. Other included in the tournament for the US were Mike Ross, Floe, Juicebox, and others.
|U.S. National finalists|
Before the tournament begins, we witness a pretty humorous moment. TF and his Power Glove are shunned by Justin. Justin says that this is a Street Fighter thing and that he has to remove. TF replies by stating that you have to conform to the industry and once he makes his first million, he's going to tell the industry to kiss his ass. This is fuckin' stupid. If I were TF, I would rock the glove regardless. Conforming to anything pisses me off. I get the feeling that the only reason why he did it was because he had no good defense to tell Justin and because the cameras were on. Just do what you want. I never viewed the fighting game community as a form of conformity. But according to TF, you have to have money to tell the industry to fuck off. I have no money so hear me now:
Dear Industry, FUCK OFF.
Was that so hard? Seriously, and this is to everybody, be who you want to be and don't let anyone or anything manipulate who you are. If you want to go tournaments with a Power Glove, then fuckin' rock it. But don't give me some bullshit that you have to conform to the industry. That changes the meaning of your cause from an independent, respectable goal to a drone company that only does what everybody else does. You get minus 10 cool points TriForce. And Justin, you get minus 5 cool points for even giving a shit about the Nintendo Power Glove.
We also get a scene where TF discusses how much impact Gootecks has on the community and takes a shot at recruiting him. This fails. Gootecks has definitely heard some of the things TF does and makes a particular comment that stands out, 'It always feels so shady, right?” Obviously, Gootecks knows what's going on.
Now then, on to the tournament. Oh, and guess what? Justin Wong wins. My favorite fight during his victories was against Mike Ross(E. Honda). Justin(Rufus) won the first set and then went right up to Mike's face and talked shit. Love it. Justin(Rufus) then goes on to beat Poongko(Ryu) and Iyo(Dhalsim) and is left to take on the beast himself, Daigo. Before the fight takes place, we see some footage of TF telling Justin that if he wins that he needs to say that the person he thanks the most is his manager and to invite him on stage. In my opinion, this is unnecessary because I'm sure if Justin won, he would have mentioned the Empire at some point. This leads to more of the supposed shadiness that is TF. But in reality, TF did provide Justin the tools and a place to play and practice and they are best friends, so it's more of a selfish thing to do. But who knows how someone else would react considering the heat of the moment. Also, who knows if TF was implying that Justin should bring up EMP as well as himself. I guess only they will know.
Justin(Rufus) takes on Daigo(Ryu) and loses. Justin did make some great achievements getting 1st place in the nationals as well as defeating the Korean and Japanese champions. Just a funny part though, TF was telling Justin that the only reason Daigo won was because Daigo counter picked Justin. I laughed my ass off at this point. Daigo does not counter pick, he simply bodies people. I mean, really? Daigo counter picked Justin? Give me a fuckin' break. I mean, he could have said that maybe for encouragement, but you can't buy that Justin believed him.
|Justin Vs. Daigo; Victory to Daigo|
Afterward, Justin gets prepped for a TV interview to talk about his tournament experience. But TF tells him, “what we couldn't do on the stage, we're going to do here.” Um, ok? Justin is doing his interview when out of nowhere, TF comes up and “occupies” the mic from Justin. His part is quick and he talks about how great Justin was. I don't think this is a bad thing. I mean, it's not like he took the mic as was all, “My name is TriForce and I am the greatest. I built EMP. Justin is nothing without me.” Instead, he just hyped Justin. Then he says he didn't want to take any more TV from Justin and leaves with a final remark that Justin is better than Daigo. Once again, this is one of those unsure moments. TF even appearing on Justin's interview is strange but the fact that he did it to spread the good graces of Justin just seems like a friend having another friend's back. I mean, Justin's expression was uncomfortable though. At this point, I get the impression that neither TF or Justin knows how any of this is supposed to work. I thought TF was going to take the mic and spout about EMP but instead just talked about Justin and then backed off. This made me think that TF himself was not sure if what he was doing was the right thing and the same for Justin. These actions make me gather an even further thought that this was new to them and they were both figuring it out as they go along.
|TriForce and Justin on GameStop TV|
Continuing on, we see the great praise and notice of Justin Wong. He appears on a Podcast with Gootecks and is held in very high regard. Gootecks explains that everyone is talking about Justin losing to Daigo but nobody was talking about how Justin defeated the champions of Korea and Japan. Which leads to a funny part of the film where Gootecks tells Justin that Morgan Webb, a G4TV personality, mentioned him on the air. Justin shrugs it off and Gootecks tells someone on the phone, “Justin doesn't care but I care.” This made me laugh my ass off. Gootecks you are entertainment in itself.
Cut back to TF that explains how Justin has landed deals with Evil Controllers and Gamernook. Also during this documentary, he details some background of his life. His father was a cab driver and that sometimes he would work so much that he would have to take his kids with him. TF explains that his father said that only a sucker works a “9 to 5” which is also the header for this film. The phrase “9 to 5” is spoken of frequently in the fighting game community and is tainted as the one thing nobody wants to do. I'm have mixed feelings about this. I think anyone can that nobody wants to work 9 to 5. That's given. But being someone that does work a 9 to 5, I don't think it is a fool's errand. I make money so I can eat, have a roof over my head, take care of my loved ones; it's not a bad life. Because the view of it is so negative to some big personalities in the community, it gives me the impression that people who can't work their dream jobs or need to do what they need to do are a lower class of people. Now, I'm sure this isn't the intent if you ask any of these people, but that's somewhat of the attitude I get. I'm pretty sure these people mean that they don't want to get stuck at a dead end job and that they want to do what they love, but labeling as 9 to 5 and pissing on it, or at least not covering their bases and saying that its not the people they dislike, but the work itself, leaves too much to the imagination. Plus, 9 to 5 is too broad a statement. I could be working at Microsoft or somewhere else that I really want to work and I'm sure I would have a set schedule of hours. Also, you can sense a detection of fear, which is understandable, everybody wants to do what they love, but sometimes shit doesn't work out that way and you have to do what you have to do. Maybe I'm going too much into this but I think someone needs to run through this community and actually clarify what it is they're talking about. But, that could just be me.
Fast forward to EVO 2009. TF explains that their 50K goal was met as EMP made about $52,000+ up to this point. Ok, hold it. That money was brought in by Justin(as explained throughout the documentary). My question is, how much of that money does Justin even get? Plus, EMP would have to divide up to everyone else. Once again, I think $50,000 in the hole is too much to go against. Of course, the details of how the money is spent or where it goes is not fully detailed, so, who knows how much was actually needed. But back to EVO, Justin makes his way through the ranks and ends in the Grand Finals to face, who else, Daigo. But for the second straight time, Daigo beats Justin. Justin was fantastic at EVO 2K9 and it only increased his praise and name.
|Daigo Vs. Justin at EVO 2K9; Victory to Daigo|
The documentary then transitions to “one year later.” We see TF and other EMP members sitting at the Arc listening to a podcast. They are revealed that Justin Wong has left The Empire and is now with the sponsor Evil Geniuses. This comes as a major shock and surprise to TF and the EMP members. We cut to TF trying to contact Justin and he explains that Justin is not answering his phone or his texts. You see the panic and fret as TF tries to compile why his best friend jumped ship, without any explanation whatsoever. TF says that he will confront Justin at EVO 2K10 and get his answers.
|TriForce hearing the news about Justin|
Skipping ahead to EVO 2010, TF is there and he is on the hunt for Justin. He then runs into a friend, bragging to him that “he knows what's going to happen.” He is then met with a blitzkrieg of opposite facts as he is told that he can't hold Justin liable for deals he previously had because TF has no contracts. Lets pause for a moment. I thought TF was going to just go to EVO and just hear it straight from his best friend why he left EMP. Not go there and tell him that he is legally held and has to fulfill some halfassed agreement. This is just being salty. I agree that Justin, who claimed to be TF's best friend, should have been a man and just told him, but I wouldn't be a prick and fly to Las Vegas just to tell someone that they can't legally leave. I view this as a friend that got hurt and he just wants to inflict pain back.
TF tries to reach Justin but it intercepted by a representative of Evil Geniuses. Immediately, the rep demands the camera to be shut off. We then cut to TF outside explaining what happened. He tells the story that if he took EG or Justin court, it wouldn't work out for him because they have too much capital. Basically, they have money to resolve anything, where as TF's ridiculous claims couldn't be backed up because he doesn't have the cash. I mean, if this was some other situation, I would be in TF's favor but I'm not going to give a guy that travels across the country thinking he's going to sue the hell out of a friend any sympathy.
We leave EVO 2K10 with a final gesture from TF to Justin. He approaches him and asks, “Still friends?” Justin replies with a favoring “Yeah.” They wish each other luck and move on their separate ways.
The film takes us “three months later” and we come across TF working, oh what's that? Oh, he's now working at a “corporate retail outlet.” Also known as A 9 TO 5. Now, I wouldn't really be salty about this but it is kind of poetic justice. Hate on 9 to 5 so long and you find yourself doing it. TF explains how EMP is not dead and he still has some good players. He also describes how he thinks Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is going to hit the fighting game community in a big way and that EMP needs to jump on it.
|9 to 5|
Oh, one more thing. Justin got his victory against Daigo at the next major tournament: Season's Beatings. So obviously, EG has treated him well enough to finally conquer The Beast.
|Daigo Vs. Justin at Season's Beatings; Victory to Justin|
After watching this documentary, I feel I have to choose a side; Justin or TriForce. What is my decision about all of this? Who was right, who was wrong? Honestly, I'm on the fence. I think this was just a tale of two friends that didn't have a full understanding of what they were doing nor did they know how to handle the success and fame that came from it. While some can argue that TF was trying to just cash in, I think he thought he was doing what a manager or talent agent does. Plus, Justin agreed to things that TF wanted him to do; the fake grandma speech, the TV time, everything. He could have backed out or refused at any time. But he didn't because I think a part of him felt like he needed TF. Furthermore, I don't like how Justin just jumped to EG with contacting his so called “best friend.” I do realize that sponsors or talent agencies are a business, but Justin got big working with his friend making it personal. Don't start something personal and try to end it like a business deal. He is your friend. You tell him straight to his face.
I really liked this film for one reason. This film began being shot in 2009. That's right at the same time I got really into Street Fighter with the release of SF4. EVO 2K9 was the first EVO I watched and I like seeing what was going on behind the scenes. Plus, I feel I am a product of Street Fighter IV's popularity because as soon as I got into it seemed that that was the time that SF heavily boosted and the scene exploded. So, it's kind of cool to get into at about the same time most causal fans did. I thought this film captured a lot of what TriForce and Justin were going through but I would have liked to see reactions or listen to some thoughts from actual EMP members that were there at that time. I don't think the full story will ever be known but it makes for great discussions among fighting game fans.
So, where are TriForce and Justin now? Well, Justin is a household name when it comes to Street Fighter or MvC. He's still a part of Evil Geniuses and is as popular as ever. He seems to have landed great with EG and I think they are managing his career perfectly. As for Triforce, he recently released an interview stating that EMP is back for fighting games in 2012. He has a large list of fighters and may even have something going with Time Magazine. You can watch the interview below:
Check out these sites below for more info on King of Chinatown, TriForce and Justin Wong:
King of Chinatown Official Site: http://www.kingofchinatown.com/
Evil Geniuses: http://myeg.net/team/
Empire Arcadia: http://www.empirearcadia.com/