King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

About a month ago I was in a tattoo shop when I overheard four of the artists discussing a documentary. When I heard one of them say “It’s the best ...
August 25, 2008

About a month ago I was in a tattoo shop when I overheard four of the artists discussing a documentary. When I heard one of them say “It’s the best documentary since American Movie. In fact, I think it’s better than American Movie,” I had to ask what they were talking about. It was King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

While I disagree with this assessment, King of Kong is as entertaining as films like Spellbound, Word Wars and even Pumping Iron. And like them, Kong follows a group of people obsessed with one thing, and who are determined to be the crowned “the best.” In this case, it’s the video game Donkey Kong.

It’s also infinitely frustrating. The doc follows Billy Mitchell, the undefeated 1982 champion (who also happens to be the champ of Centipede and played the first perfect game of Pac Man), and Steve Wiebe, a guy who doesn’t play many videogames but is incredibly good at Kong. There’s a definite good guy, bad guy scenario at work throughout this film. Mitchell, a charismatic man who appears to be good at everything he tries his hand at, is a sleaze ball when it comes to the way he handles the competition against Wiebe. Meanwhile Wiebe is the underdog who is treated poorly because he’s not an insider in the world of classic gaming. The injustices in this world of competitive gaming are frustrating, but it’s the unfairness that also brings most of the drama to this film.

One of the most interesting things about this doc is the background on the game itself. Apparently, Donkey Kong is one of the hardest games ever invented because of how random all the obstacles are and the fact that there really is no ending to the game. The DVD has some great special features such as two video game experts comparing Billy and Steve’s Donkey Kong playing screens to discuss their strategies and a Very Very Brief History of Donkey Kong animated featurette created by I am 8-bit.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.