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The King of Kong

USA 2007
Directed by
Seth Gordon
79 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The King Of Kong

Synopsis: Welcome to a world of chronic under-achievers with bad wardrobes and even worse haircuts who form strange little self-defining sub-cultures grouped around adolescent activities, such as, in this case, playing 1980s arcade games. In this tragic world Billy Mitchell, with his blow-waved shoulder length hair, black shirts and trousers and loud ties is the King of Cool who for 23 years held the record for Donkey Kong, a particularly difficult game. Billy takes his regal standing seriously so when Steve Wiebe claims to have beaten his record he pulls out all stops to quash the upstart.

Seth Gordon’s highly entertaining documentary takes us into Napoleon Dynamite territory, a universe so comprehensively clueless yet so deadly in earnest as to be bizarre. The underlying joke of this film is the fact that these people take what they do so seriously. Make no mistake about it, King Of Kong will take you into hardcore geekdom. Lord of this small universe is Billy Mitchell a man whose overweening vanity is only outdone by the sycophancy of his devotees, in particular Brian Kuh, a sad young man to whom Billy is the next best thing to Jesus Christ, or maybe even better. In contrast Steve Wiebe is a relatively normal chap, albeit, with a bit of an obsessive streak who, having lost his job and with too much time on his hands, set out to break Mitchell's Donkey Kong record and thereby unleashed Billy’s dark forces, leading to a fight to the (metaphoric) death.

It would be interesting to know the backstory of how this documentary came to be made. It is, after all, a most marginal topic about which very few people would be aware (the big playoff seems to have an audience of about 30, including the wives of the players). However Gordon came across this strange little world, he has fashioned from it a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek heroes-and-villians story with nerdishly-offbeat characters that for humour and pathos beats many a mockumentary hands down.




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