Thursday 18 April 2024

Karate Man: A Live-Action Video Game review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

It's 1988 and Karatetown has been overrun by pesky goons. Luckily Karate Man is here to save the day. But can he expel all the goons AND get the girl? Karate Man: A Live Action Video Game comes from the ingenious minds of BEAK (Daniel Scarratt and Bruno Dubosarsky) where the entire story takes place in the style of an 80s arcade game.

The audience gets to dictate the narrative and all of Karate Man's movements, because as the show title subtly alludes to, this is a live-action video game. We are given a demonstration of the controller functions and then it's up to us to lead our hero to victory. Through some creative use of Bluetooth technology, when someone presses 'punch", the word is boomed over a speaker and Karate Man punches. If "left" is pressed, then the word left is announced, and Karate Man moves left. It's a fantastic way to get audience invested and engaged in the story.

There’s great enjoyment seeing the mistakes people make when taking control and watching Karate Man carry these actions out: accidentally pressing right when they should be kicking, running into the villain in panic or simply not sure what they are supposed to do and pressing buttons at random. It's not long before the room is helping the controller or, when faced with a choice that Karate Man must make, calling out what they should have Karate Man select. There's a considerable sense of community that is formed in the space without anyone realising it's happening, which makes it that much more affective.

The design perfectly captures the video game mood and tone with bleeps, bloops and various other sound effects coming through. The music especially brings us into the world of Karatetown and the performances of the other characters (Scarratt, Tim Dunk, Steph Ryan, Juliet Rae Timmerman) are knowingly wooden and one-note - precisely how the big bosses and minor characters speak and behave in these games. The only criticism is the inclusion of swearing in conversations which takes you out of the authenticity of the world being presented. You would never hear the words fuck or dickhead in these games - or at least I never did.

Dubosarsky is incredible as Karate Man, remaining committed to the hero persona of the era. He has a blank expression on his face and his knees are constantly bending as Karate Man patiently waits for an instruction. He follows every command regardless of how physically demanding it might be.

There are surprisingly some emotional stakes (and damage) to be found in Karate Man. Yes, it's an extremely fun show, but on a deeper level, it's also about Karate Man losing himself in his quest to be a hero and a reminder to value what we have before it's too late. Maybe I am reading too much into it, it is an "arcade game" after all, but the fact that this isn't just about saving a princess is a nice trope to break.

For anyone who has ever played a video game in the 80s or 90s, Karate Man will fill you with nostalgia for the good ol' days. For anyone who hasn't, this is a brilliantly constructed comedy that will have you eagerly waiting for your turn to control Karate Man. With BEAK not being locals, Melbourne audiences only have until the end of the week before it’s game over for this show, so make sure you get some quarters together and get those tickets.


Venue: Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne
 until 21 April | 5:30pm
 50 minutes
 $39 Full | $35 Conc

 Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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