King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

King of Kong was named by many critics as one of the best documentaries of last year, out of a very strong field. A movie about Donkey Kong? Yes, a movie about Donkey Kong.

One nice guy, Steve Wiebe (pronounced Wee Bee), decides to take on the world record for Donkey Kong, which has stood for about 20 years. Recently laid off, he wanted to do something that he was good at.

The record belonged to Billy Mitchell, a celebrity in gaming circles, and was one of many records he held over the years. What ensues is a sequence of reversals, and a cast of characters so bizarre, that I felt like I was watching a Christopher Guest mockumentary.

What makes it so satisfying is how easily the two men fall into the roles of hero and villain. Wiebe is an affable, good-looking blond guy who used to play baseball in school. He’s got a patient wife who tries to understand his weird obsession, two kids, and he teaches and coaches at a local middle school. Mitchell is a lifelong gamer. He sports a well-kept mullet, and his wife wears deep V-necks to showcase her breast implants. He’s a successful businessman, yet passive agressive in all dealings with Wiebe. This is a fun, funny film about a weird corner of the world. I think Donkey Kong has windmills in it, and Wiebe’s engaging underdog tilts at them well. He never let himself be chumpatized.

5 Responses to “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)”

  1. Steph Says:

    Loved this one! I was both horrified and fascinated by this video game world, and was completely sucked into the story. I’ve since read that some things have been skewed in this doc to present a very specific story, but I still found it really entertaining nonetheless. Compare this to a similar documentary from a few years ago (”Word Wars” - about Scrabble fanatics), and there was just no contest. You root for Steve Wiebe to triumph here, whereas I could not have cared less about the outcome in Word Wars, as everyone there was offputtingly weird and abrasive. This was an unexpected gem.

  2. Sydney Says:

    Ahem. Speaking as a Scrabble fanatic, I take offense to the above comments…

    And, Girl Detective, you have been known to wield a Scrabble tile with mighty vengeance now and then. (Even if I do usually beat you) :)

  3. Steph Says:

    I suppose I should clarify: I love boardgames and I love words, and while I have never really gotten into Scrabble, it’s a fine boardgame. But “Word Wars” follows 4 people who are trying to win the National Scrabble Championship, or something of that ilk, and honestly, they were freaky. Not charming and eccentric, but curmudgeonly and maladjusted… which is not what I think most Scrabble players are, but man were these people the kind you would cross to the other side of the street to avoid. Honestly, if you’ve seen Word Wars and somehow didn’t feel the same way, then we will have to respectfully disagree on this point… but I really think that if you’ve seen Word Wars, then there’s no way you’d be aligning yourself with these people. Being a huge Scrabble fan is totally fine, but being those people featured in the doc? Not so much. Like if Billy Mitchell had been totally unsuccessful in any element of his life and even worse adjusted than he already was/is.

  4. Kirk Says:

    Great film! Highly recommended. The director does a great job of playing up the hero/villain angle. It’s hard to know how much it was docu-embellished, but it felt quite truthful and worked great.

  5. girldetective Says:

    I haven’t seen Word Wars, and based on your comments, probably won’t. I can see how a doc about unsympathetic people would be much less engaging than King of Kong–so much of why it works is because Steve Wiebe and his family are so sympathetic.

    My favorite Scrabble story is one that my uncle told at my grandmother’s memorial service. He went to visit her when she had advanced Alzheimer’s. As she’d done all her life, she beat him at Scrabble. And no, he wasn’t being nice and trying to let her win.