March 26, 2008

The King of Kong review
King of Kong

Matt: Four and a half

Length: 79 min

Don’t get chumpatized.

Précis: Compelling documentary about super arcade-game players and an epic good vs evil battle to decide the holder of the Donkey Kong crown.

Review by Matt:

Just imagine that you hold the world record score for classic 80’s video game “Centipede”. Oh, the heady feeling of worth! As Walter Day, the World Arcade Gaming Referee, said of his own efforts at this record, “I wanted the glory, I wanted the fame, I wanted the pretty girls coming up to me saying ‘Hi, I hear you’re good at Centipede'”. Ok, now imagine that you hold the world record score for “Donkey Kong“. Oh ho! The pixelated jewel in the 80’s video game crown! “Donkey Kong” is the tour-de-force of classic gaming and you’ve just rocketed into the stratosphere of arcade fame and fortune!

Wake up, little gamer. As the new documentary The King of Kong will show you, you’re not getting these records and the “Donkey Kong” groupies will never be yours. For there is already an almighty battle going on between Earth’s gaming gods. As this documentary begins, California’s Billy Mitchell is the undisputed king of classic gaming, holding the records for “Pac-Man”, “Donkey Kong Jr” and, of course, “Donkey Kong”. Like the genius super-nerd Boris Grishenko in Golden Eye, Billy is all nerdish swagger. At least Boris’s cocky lines were scripted (“Admit it! You’re hot for my hard drive!”); Billy is a real life egotist whose gaming success and burgeoning hot-wing sauce business have swelled his ego (and seemingly his mullet) to Kong-sized proportions. To put it simply: jerk. And behind Billy is a whole squadron of gamers working at emulating his success. Watching this world of obsessive hobbyists you realize pretty quickly that you have to be a stand-out oddball before you’re going to take any of these records.

But then, a pixel of hope. Enter everyday guy Steve Wiebe. He is gentle and likable. A school teacher. Wife. Little kids. Some hard luck in life that robbed him of reaching his true potential. His humility is like a salve to the hot-wing-sauce hubris over in Hollywood. Steve’s been practicing at the “Donkey Kong” machine in his basement and amazingly he has a chance at beating Billy’s once untouchable record. Through interviews, archival footage, and footage of the key events, The King of Kong follows Steve’s quest to claim the title. It also presents the scheming of the Mayor of Jerk Town and his minions when wind of the would-be usurper reaches ‘Gaming Record Headquarters’ (yes, that’s what Billy calls his apartment).

Oh, the result is grand excitement! Pointing the lens at this weird niche of reality has given The King of Kong drama, twists, heroes and villains that great fiction writers would struggle to emulate (‘A Fistful of Quarters’ is a great subtitle for this battle of good and evil). I mean, man, what is with this Billy guy? Stroking his goatee, wearing the American flag, pulling the strings on his little puppet disciples. He is Vader. Or that Russian guy from Rocky IV. And Wiebe is the real-life Rocky, pounding the joystick instead of the punching bag, up against the odds. It doesn’t matter if you find “Donkey Kong” as boring as a teenager’s blog, the story very quickly becomes about overcoming the odds and conquering injustice. Suddenly it’s damned important that that little Mario guy jumps those barrels and dodges those springs.

It might only be a video game high score, but King of Kong uncovers so much about rivalry and the reactions of those whose egos are piqued that it is a microcosm for all kinds of humanity’s challenges. All the world is a Funspot arcade tournament. You don’t need to be a gamer to enjoy the eccentric and extreme personalities, the tension, and the wrestling-like side-taking that King of Kong documents. It’s a fascinating portrait of a subculture and a David and Goliath drama that makes compulsive viewing. And, if you are a gamer, look upon your gods with both envy and disgust.


Laughs: Some, at the curious antics of obsessive gamers. The self-proclaimed “Mr Awesome” is a prime candidate for your laughs.
Tears: Some tears on the faces in camp Wiebe, and possibly a few on yours. If you have any kind of love for JUSTICE that is…
Deaths: It’s a bloodbath. About a million Marios, one thousand Pac-Men, hundreds of centipedes…



  1. Okay I’ll be laughing all the way to funspot because of this posting …


  2. This is the best Documentary that I’ve seen in ages. I originally thought it was going to be a “laugh at” doco but to my surprise it was far more compelling. The amazing characters that are on display in this film draw you so far into the world of competitive gaming that you forget that all the drama is in fact over an arcade game.

    To watch the nasty piece of work that is Billy “U.S.A” Mitchell is to know what it means to squirm. There were multiple moments where I felt that my sole compulsion in life was stand and shout at the screen “JERK!!!”

    You can always measure a doco by the fallout from its release and by all accounts this one has set a Donkey Kong amongst the Marios. It’s also worth paying attention to “Mister Awesome”; sure he’s a sexist jerk, but it’s hilarious to watch someone like this take himself seriously.

    5 stars

  3. I hadn’t heard of this documentary before! And, boy, does it look far superior to a lot of the “oddball” sports movies that have been coming out lately. And this review is so well written, it really put me in moment, made me cringe and smile at same time. I’ll be looking out for this one!

  4. Billy Mitchell is the ideal video game villain, facial hair and everything

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: