Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is not the movie Street Fighter fans have been clamoring for, but that is mostly because Street Fighter fans haven’t really been clamoring for a movie. The fighting game franchise doesn’t really demand a film adaptation, but despite that we now have two. 14 years ago Street Fighter was a campy Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle and also sadly the last role of the legendary Raul Julia, now it’s a franchise starting, kung-fu flick with a focus on bringing the over-the-top fighting game franchise some what down to earth.
One of the reasons The Legend of Chun-Li isn’t the theoretical film Street Fighter fans have been looking forward to is the fact that it isn’t about the Street Fighter competition that all the games are about. Instead it follows the path of Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk), the massively thighed female character from the games, whose father is kidnapped by Bison (Neal McDonough) and his henchman Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan) in order to allow Bison to take over the slums of Hong Kong and Bangkok. It’s never really explained how her father does this, but you just sort of roll with it. Chun-Li must then ditch her wealthy life and train with Gen (Neil Shau, of American B-Grade kung-fu movie fame) so that she will be able to defeat the mythically powered Bison in battle and take out both Balrog and Vega.
Fans of the fighting series will recognize all these names and those who have never played the games won’t really care as you don’t need to be a fan to easily understand who the bad guys are and who is on the side of right. Also on the side of right are Interpol and the Bangkok police who Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) leads. This sub plot is completely and totally useless in the film and features no characters from the game. In fact the entire story could have been removed, saving us all from Klein’s god awful performance and allowing the filmmakers to put a few more fights in quite easily.
The fights in the film are surprisingly well done, with just the right amount of real stuff, wire work and CGI thrown in to actually make you enjoy them. I was pleasantly surprised when the first fight broke out and it was actually well directed and paced. Most American films of this grade have no idea how to handle their fight scenes, but Street Fighter flowed along very well. That might be because, to the film’s credit, it is all shot on location in both Hong Kong and Bangkok. Taking a look at the crew on the film it’s easy to see that the solid fight scenes come from the fact that a large chunk of the crew was actually from the Hong Kong film industry, where I think we can all safely agree they know how to make kung-fu flicks. And yes, Chun-Li does pull off all her well known moves from the game, and despite Ryu not making and appearance a few fireballs are even thrown (he’s not the only one who can “hydoken” you know).
It is clear however that Kreuk is not a fighter. Her fight scenes are far more edited than everyone else to make it look like she’s a smooth and skillful kung-fu master, but it’s pretty clear she isn’t. Why the filmmakers chose to go with a non-fighting, non-Asian, nobody instead of fighting, Asian nobody is still a mystery to me. Kreuk is a very pretty girl, but she feels a bit out of place in the film and is clearly outclassed by McDonough, the only person that seems to get what kind of film he’s in and plays it well. Of course its not that hard to be the best actor in a film where Duncan basically spills out one-liners and Shau is your nearest competition to a reputable actor. Seriously, I was desperate to convince myself that Klein was indeed some other actor that had never been on screen before his performance was so bad.
However, in a film like The Legend of Chun-Li, we don’t look for good acting or a deep interesting plot, even if the film seems to think it has both when it doesn’t. We look for solid fights and enough of a story to justify said fights. In that section the movie delivers pretty well. It’s good to see that the franchise, and trust me we’ll be seeing more Street Fighter movies, is in capable hands. Let’s just hope that when Ryu shows up they realize that the ten seconds of back story we get in the game is around the same amount of time we want to spend watching it in a Street Fighter movie — bring on the hydokens, man!
(Originally posted on Examiner.com)