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For Us, It Was Tuesday: Looking Back at the ‘Street Fighter’ Movies

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Street Fighter is a game about people fighting, presumably in the streets. The franchise has been around since 1987, with 1991’s Street Fighter 2 almost single-handedly creating the modern 2D fighter. Throughout the ’90s, Street Fighter was huge, with five different games released between ’91 and ’97 across various platforms and arcade systems. Like Mario and Double Dragon before it, someone decided it was a good idea to write, shoot, edit, and release a Street Fighter movie in 1994. Then, someone even more insane decided it was a great idea to do that again in 2009.

Neither movie is particularly great, let’s just get that out of the way now. These aren’t Oscar winners, nor are they worthy of any other awards one could fathom. These are bad films for otherwise great games and don’t do their source material any justice. With that in mind, here are my thoughts, along with the thoughts of my friends that I made watch these with me, on the two Street Fighter movies.

Street Fighter (1994)

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Street Fighter opens in Shadaloo City, home of the dictator M. Bison (Raul Julia) who has taken hostage a group of civilians and United Nations Allied Nations soldiers. Colonel Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme) tells Bison he’s going to stop him, to which Bison responds by giving the AN three days to hand over $20 billion or everyone dies. Also, he turns Blanka (Robert Mammone) into a monster because Guile called him out by name. Real smart Guile.

Meanwhile, Ken and Ryu (Damian Chapa and Byron Mann) are trying to sell guns to the region’s local warlord Sagat (Wes Studi) when all three, plus Sagat’s right-hand man Vega (Jay Tavare) are captured by the AN. They bust out of jail and kill Guile, but not really, and earn an audience with Bison. During this meeting news reporter Chun-Li (Ming-Na Wen) and her crew of Balrog and Honda (Grand L. Bush and Peter Tuiasosopo) reveal that they’re actually assassins hell-bent on killing Bison and Sagat, which they try, and fail, to do by blowing up a truck. Everyone is taken back to Bison’s base, which is soon attacked by the AN and a not-dead Guile, giving plenty of reason for a series of one-on-one fights that sort of mirror the game. Bison and Guile throw down, there’re fights everywhere, and the good guys win while the bad guys loose. We’re all losers for watching this film.

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The plot is kind of crazy although given the fairly insane story of the series itself, with games sometimes ret-conning or outright ignoring the canon of previous titles, and a timeline that would make the Zelda series confused, this might be the best we could hope for. There’re a few sub-plots, like how M. Bison is responsible for the death of Chun-Li’s family and friends, and Ken and Ryu’s attempts to profit off the war in Shadaloo, but none of these really matter. Actually, none of it matters at all, since this is such a by-the-numbers mid 90’s PG-13 action flick, that you can probably predict most or all of the plot within the first few minutes. They’re no twists other than ones you can see from a mile off.

The acting is, at best mediocre. By far the best performance is Raul Julia as M. Bison who really has fun with the character, delivering lines like a crazed Shakespearean actor. It might be one of the worst performances of his career, and unfortunately, the last movie he ever did, but his worst is still better than everyone else’s best. The other characters range from second rate just looking to cash a cheque, to completely out of place. For the latter, we turn to Van Damme as Guile, who proves that the best form of unintentional comedy remains asking non-Americans to play ultra-American characters, a la Schwarzenegger in half of his movies or Tommy Wiseau in The Room. Speaking of out of place, there is really no reason Kylie Minogue should be in this film since her acting is so bad it makes everyone else in any scene with her look better by comparison. She delivers lines with the enthusiasm of a fourth-grader, and about the same level of acting proficiency.

Street Fighter is a bad movie, that gets nearly everything wrong to a certain degree. The camera, editing, lighting, and sound work are all over the place and it’s a mess to look at. But it is a fun movie, and twenty years on it has an almost innocent charm that shields it from too much vitriol. It’s just hard to get angry at this movie, and while you know it’s bad even as you watch it, it’s easy to forget that as you laugh at the insanity happening on-screen. It’s the perfect movie for a lazy Saturday afternoon with some friends and a few drinks, and it’s sure to make anyone, not just fans of the games, have a good time, if only for the wrong reasons.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

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The second full-length Street Fighter movie won’t make anyone laugh unless it’s a hysterical screech as they beg for the sweet relief of death. First thing: forget everything you know about the Street Fighter canon, as this movie almost instantly throws it out the window. Also, forget everything about decent film-making since this movie does away with that too.

The plot is, strangely, a lot simpler than the first movie. Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) and her family move to Hong Kong, where her father is abducted by local mob boss M. Bison (Neal McDonough) and his henchman Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan). Chun-li grows up, her mom dies of cancer than a mysterious ancient scroll reveals that her father is still alive and being held captive by Bison in Bangkok. Chun-Li travels to Bangkok where she’s trained by a karate master named Gen (Robin Shou) to take down Bison. Also, for some reason, there’re a couple of really incompetent police officers chasing Bison too, because he’s a bad guy doing bad things. Chun-Li becomes a karate master, she fights M. Bison, and… actually, that’s pretty much it. This is basically the plot of every classic karate film but performed by people that skimmed the Wikipedia pages of these movies. There’s no connection to the games at all, save the character names and a downright confusing appearance by Vega at one point.

Worse than the “plot” is the various fight scenes. Camera work is better than action movies like Bourne or any other shaky-cam nightmares of the mid-2000s, but that doesn’t save these fights from just being boring to watch, with little or no payoff. Even the final confrontation between Chun-Li and Bison isn’t even remotely interesting, up to and including the worst use of CG in a film from 2009 and a finale that actually made a grown man cry with laughter during this review.

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Most confusing about Legend of Chun-Li is trying to figure out who this movie was meant for. In 1994 Street Fighter was huge, and people were in love with it. In 2009, Street Fighter had a healthy fan-base, sure, but it wasn’t really on anyone’s lips. There wasn’t even a Street Fighter game released in 2009, with the most recent game being 2008’s Street Fighter IV. Now, with that said, IV was a great game, possibly one of the best of its generation, and the fact that this movie is, in any way, tied to it is an indescribable shame.

Legend of Chun-Li couldn’t even be called a kid’s movie like the first one since it’s just too damn weird. There’s a scene where a man splits his wife’s stomach open to pour his goodness into his unborn daughter. There’s a sexual subplot between the two police agents that keep showing up for no reason, a guy gets his head twisted off, and there are some really brutal executions. All of this courtesy of a series known and lauded for it’s cartoonish graphics and goofy look.

During our re-watch,  there was a theory floating around that Legend of Chun-Li wasn’t even meant to be a Street Fighter movie, a theory that gains merit the more one thinks about the film. It’s not out of the question to believe that the movie was originally a generic action flick about a karate cop working with INTERPOL to take down a dangerous crime boss, and most of those plot elements are still in place. At least that would justify why the cops are in the movie in the first place. There’s no real evidence to support this claim, but part of that might just be that everyone wants to forget this movie actually happened in the first place.

There’s no reason to watch this film. The first movie at least had a time and a place to exist, but Legend of Chun Li is just a mess of a movie. Worse, it’s not even bad enough to be funny, just sort of stinks its way across your screen for an aggravating 96 minutes. Even if you’re a fan of the series or just a fan of Chun-Li, this movie should be avoided at all costs.

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Street Fighter is a great movie to watch with some friends. It’s charming, stupid, and laughable in all the right ways. If for some reason, you find yourself craving a slice of the ’90s, they’re far worse movies you could find yourself watching. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is an irredeemable pile of crap not worth the digital data it’s comprised of. At the end of the day, neither film is really that great, but at least one of them is worth coming back to for a laugh or two.

PS: I was just informed there are plans for future Street Fighter movies. Send help.

Andrew Vandersteen has been watching movies and playing games since before he could do basic math, and it shows. But what he lacks in being good at things, he makes up for with opinions on everything nerd culture. A self described and self medicated audiophile and lover of anything and everything really, really terrible, he's on a constant quest to find the worst things humanity has ever published. He's seen every episode of The Legend of Zelda, twice, and thinks the Super Mario Movie was a war crime. When he's not playing games or writing about them, he's messing around with audio or fixing computers. Perpetually one paycheck short of breaking even, and always angry about something.

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