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The King of Kong: The Passion and Pain of Donkey Kong



Almost every great story has a hero and a villain—two eternal enemies, bitterly and violently opposed in mind and spirit.

Our villain in the hilarious documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is one Billy Mitchell—born in Massachusetts in 1965, he currently owns a restaurant chain and has a passion for both patriotic neckties and, one assumes, hair conditioner, for his flowing, carefully coiffed locks. Mitchell has set records in Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Burgertime, and achieved a "perfect score"—3,333,360 points—in Pac-Man. He has been called the "Gamer of the Century," and he is an insufferably arrogant dick.

Our hero is Steve Wiebe, a painfully earnest Redmond, WA man who lost his job at Boeing at age 35—on the same day he and his wife had signed the papers for their new house. Wiebe, now teaching junior high school science, found solace and direction in Donkey Kong, at first playing when his children went to sleep, and then aiming at the impossible—beating Mitchell's record score of 1,000,000, which had gone unchallenged since 1982.

The resulting battle is nothing short of epic. Wiebe desperately tries to prove his Donkey Kong skills to the über-nerdy purveyors of gaming at Twin Galaxies, a crew of obsessive dweebs who bill themselves as "the worldwide authority" on competitive gaming, and who revere the conceited Mitchell as they would a god. Fighting cronyism, deceit, and unveiled loathing, Wiebe—eager to prove himself at something, anything—finds nothing but adversity, whether it's his family's confusion or Mitchell's cowardly refusal to play him head-to-head.

And all of it is far, far more entertaining than it has any right to be. Director Seth Gordon skillfully and briskly limns Wiebe's story, centering on the emotional human element—if you're a gamer, sure, you'll get off on this, but I have a hard time thinking of anyone who wouldn't get caught up in King of Kong's funny, moving, and unexpectedly nerve-wracking story. With King of Kong, Gordon finds something far deeper (and far more engaging) that plays out against the backdrop of a videogame. King of Kong taps into a pretty classic tale of good vs. evil—an archetype that's as engrossing as ever, even when it's enacted against a soundtrack of archaic bleeps and bloops, Gordon's camera cutting from Wiebe's determined face, to Mitchell's sneering grin, to a close-up of a slowly climbing high score at the top of a videogame screen, while below, a pixilated gorilla endlessly throws barrel after barrel for Wiebe to avoid.


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