The King Of Kong - Online Review

'whether this story featured chess or tiddlywinks or pie-eating or target shooting: with this cast of characters and series of events we'd be in documentary nirvana regardless'

The key to great documentary film making is really as simple as being in the right place, at the right time. Sure it's a tried and tested argument but one that frequently rings true and only the most ardently egotistical film maker would attempt to shout you down if you voiced it to them. One person who I suspect you won't need to convince of that argument's validity is The King Of Kong's director Seth Gordon who can't possibly have imagined he was going to witness this thrilling and compelling tale of deceit and intrigue when he set out to make a movie about competitive retro videogamers.

That's right, I used 'thrilling' and 'compelling' in the same sentence as 'videogamers'. The videogamers in question are Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, the former a master gamer and holder of the record high score at Donkey Kong since the mid eighties, the latter a garage geek, previously unknown to the other gamers, who suddenly comes out of nowhere to rival Mitchell as the best gamer around.

It's unfair to place all the credit at the door of blind luck because there's some really great storytelling at work here from Gordon as well. As The King Of Kong opens we're introduced to all the main players and their potential roles in the piece. Mitchell is cast as the good guy - a gaming Goliath who has fronted the role of champion for many years whilst running a successful hot sauce business on the side. Wiebe doesn't quite take the roll of bad guy but there certainly seems to be something fishy going on here - he's cast as the 'nearly guy' who's never quite made it to the top in anything, Gordon almost wants you to be convinced that he'd do whatever it takes to best Mitchell's score.

And then the piece plays out as it does and the result is really something remarkable. It's hard sometimes to believe that these are real people and not characters Gordon created somewhere. Mitchell's protege, a weaselly little man called Brian Kuh, is absolutely incredible, performing all the dirty tasks and actions you'd expect an evil sidekick to do in an animated adventure, then being forced to crawl back into his box when Wiebe hands him a sound and convincing public beating. Steve Sanders, a writer on retro games, performs a u-turn any anti-hero would be proud of, publicly praising 'the hero' in front of the eventual 'villain', despite his supposed allegiance to the latter. At times watching The King Of Kong it's easy to imagine that someone shook the world and everybody fascinating and interesting enough to land in a brilliant documentary ended up in front of Gordon's camera.

Naysayers will easily shrug The King Of Kong off as being 'about videogames' but those that do are tremendously missing the point. It doesn't matter what the fight is over, it's the fight itself that holds all the interest. Whether this story featured chess or tiddlywinks or pie-eating or target shooting: with this cast of characters and series of events we'd be in documentary nirvana regardless. All that really matters is that the competition at stake matters to the people involved and whatever your own personal feelings on the subject, the people here really care about videogames. Both Wiebe and his wife are in tears at various points during the film and although I can imagine people scoffing at the potential for this in a movie about videogames, I defy you to watch it and then say that the emotional investment at those moments doesn't justify their reactions. I can tell you now: it does.

Like reading a great book there were several moments in The King Of Kong where I was so interested in what was going on, I felt like I needed to skip ahead a few chapters to see what happened. A really quite outstanding piece of work.

Look further...

'one of the most immersive documentaries I've ever seen. I know this because I really can't stand the gaming community, but I found myself groaning and cheering' - Nitflicky


  1. sounds really interesting ... this is the first ive heard of it so if it is as good as you say, ill have you to thank...

    Righto - to LoveFilm for me then!



  2. Sounds like an awesome movie, title ever, by the way. I have to see it now.

  3. Cracking! Glad you're both going to take a look at it, will keep an eye out for your thoughts on it - I'm sure you won't be dissapointed.