Friday, November 6, 2009

A Decade of Dreck #3: Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li

Charge Shot!!! is celebrating the end of the decade in the most masochistic way we know how - by watching and writing about the 100 worst movies of the last ten years as defined by film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Click here to see RT's complete list, click here for more about the Decade of Dreck project, and click here to see all of the movies we've done so far.

Editors' note: This piece, originally posted in March of 2009, is about a movie that happens to be on RT's Worst 100 list. It has been reposted for your benefit.

A couple of months ago, in the chaotic era of Charge Shot!!!'s ascendancy, I did a little experiment in liveblogging the Spike Video Game Awards: it was a horrible experience. I was subjected to nearly 2 hours of the worst the world of video gaming has to offer: every stereotype and slur of the gamer was made manifest before my very eyes. This past Thursday, I endured another 2 hour torture session in the name of this little blog of ours: I went and saw Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun-Li.

I have a theory: Josef Stalin clearly traveled into the future and produced this movie for the purposes of showing it to Soviet political prisoners and class enemies in the gulags. There's just no other explanation for its existence. If that is indeed the case, please consider me Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Well, there is one that doesn't involve time-traveling Communists, but it's not nearly as fun. Clearly some Hollywood big wig thought that they could make some money off of the release of Street Fighter IV and assumed that the bad taste of the first Street Fighter movie was out of the world's collective mouth after 15 years. If anything, this new movie fills me with all sorts of nostalgia and fond memories of 1994 (hey, remember Bill Clinton?) and the Street Fighter film from that golden age gone by.

I guess any review of a Street Fighter movie in the context of this blog requires some disclosure of personal history. I've never been a huge Street Fighter fan, the Boivin household is a Mortal Kombat household, but as one of the more important pop culture phenomena of the mid-90's, I have a more-than-passing familiarity with it. Growing up, my friend Ben Reynolds owned Super Street Fighter II Turbo for the SNES and we spent many a Friday night beating the crap out of each other on that. Recently, my apartment has rediscovered the game via the "HD Remix" available for download over XBox Live and we play that on the regular. So there: not a fan, but an admirer.

I decided to see this movie out of a perverse curiosity, I guess. Over Christimas break, friend of the blog/Washington fat cat Ben Peterson purchased a copy of the 1994 Jean-Claude Van Damme movie used for $4.00 on a whim. We promptly got drunk and watched it. I had seen the movie before, years before as a child, but hadn't seen it sense I had reached the age where I could properly understand its crappiness. I've been an avid fan of the Mortal Kombat movie (and even its horrible sequel, I own both of them on DVD) since I was 9, so I weigh the original Street Fighter movie against that one I guess. The JCVD film is an odd creature indeed: it features every character from Street Fighter II with the exception of Fei Long, who I guess could only be played by Bruce Lee, in a major part. The movie even has T. Hawk in a somewhat prominent role and serves mostly as an extended in-joke for hardcore fans of the Street Fighter game series. In that sense, it's kind of a success, full of "hey, there's Zangieff!"s and "I can't believe Kylie Minogue is playing Cammy!"s and the like. 1994's Street Fighter apsires to be nothing but a giant reach-around for Street Fighter fans, its example was completely lost on the people behind the Legend of Chun-Li.

TLOC-L seems like someone decided to make a C-grade action movie about a girl who wants to avenge her father's death and then heard from a friend that the rights to the name "Street Fighter" would only cost another $2,000.00 to use. There are some streets, there is some fighting, but there is very little resemblance to any popular game franchise whatsoever. The plot (from what I can tell) consists of concert pianist (changed from the much cooler supercop of the games) Chun-Li (played by the girl who has sex with that guy who looks like but is definetly not Matt Damon in Eurotrip, Kristin Kreuk) tracking down the man who kidnapped her father when she was a child. That man is, because the title of this movie is "Street Fighter", M. Bison.

Bison, who was never really given an ethnicity in the video games, is Irish in this movie and played by Buck Compton from Band of Brothers (Neal McDonough). In 1994's movie, Bison was played by the late great Raul Julia, whose Puerto Rican-ness gave Bison a sort of Pinochet-esque vibe that was kind of cool in its own way. Despite the fact that Julia was dying of cancer during production, his over-the-top, seemingly miscast performance is one of the highlights of the first film. M. Bison in this film, it is explained, is the child of Irish missionairies who died in Thailand shortly after his birth. The orphanage then left him for dead (which is what they do in Thailand, a character explains), leaving him to grow up in the slums of Bangkok alone, which does nothing to explain why he has an Irish accent if his parents died when he was a baby.

M. O'Bison is an evil criminal overlord who wants to buy all of Bangkok's slums and convert them into luxury condos which places him squarely in the Lex Luthor school of lame supervillainy. One day, Chun-Li finds an ancient Chinese scroll that literally reads "Go to Bangkok and look for Gen" (which begs the question: why does an ancient Chinese scroll contains instructions so specific to the actions of individuals in the 21st century?). Our heroine promptly does so and meets Gen (Robin Shou, Liu Kang of Mortal Kombat fame) who sports a gross 'stache that makes him look like a 14-year-old Mexican kid and tattoos that I swear have white supremacist connotations. There he instructs her in Wushu and teaches her how to throw fireballs for some reason. This is all so she can fight Seamus McBison and his army of stupid henchman which include Balrog (unfortunately not of Morgoth) played by Michael Clarke Duncan at his Michael Clarke Duncaniest and Vega played by that other asshole from the Black Eyed Peas: the one who isn't Bob Dylan (*shudder*) and who didn't pee his pants.

MCD does okay, I mean can you really go wrong with him? If a character is huge and black, MCD can play him. "Taboo" as this Vega-playing guy is called doesn't fair as well. Vega is built up to be really threatening, decapitating a bunch of Bison's rivals with his famous Wolverine claw in his first scene, but goes down like a bitch when Chun-Li fights him. Vega, who if I remember correctly is some sort of Spanish nobleman (a hidalgo, if you will) in the games, yells at Chun-Li when she knocks his stupid-looking mask off, and I quote, "I'm gunna cut you!" which seems both out of character and ridiculous. This is not the only instance of people threatening to cut our heroine: at one point Chun-Li is captured by Bison's goons and is to be killed while hanging from the ceiling suspended by a rope. One of her would-be murderers asks her, brandishing a knife in her face "Would you like us to cut you before or after we kill you?". WHAT KIND OF QUESTION IS THAT? WHAT'S WITH ALL THE CUTTING?

Also, we are assured that Bison is so evil because when he was a young man, in order to make himself completely and totally evil, he ritualisticly murdered his wife an imbued his newborn daughter with all that remained of his goodness. He literally goes to a cave in a flashback to do this. That's stupid. You sell your soul to the devil to play guitar, not to become evil; that's just part of the deal. He couldn't get his trademark "psycho power"? I hate this movie.

Did I mention that M.Bison's second-in-command is a lesbian cougar who Chun-Li lures into a nightclub bathroom with promises of hot lavatory scissoring? After Chun-Li beats her up, Bison punches her to death. I hate this movie.

But all of this is nothing compared to the "good guys". Chris "my acting career's too good for me to be featured in American Wedding" Klein appears as Charlie, who I forgot was a Street Fighter character but apparently was Guile's war buddy in the games. Klein was what made me okay with the fact that I paid $6.50 to see this movie, but not in a good way. All of his lines are attempts at snappy one-liners or sexy puns. He spends the entire movie throwing innuendos at Thai detective Moon Bloodgood (too weird a name to really be hot) and attempting to score, at which he fails miserably. His first line in the film is, upon seeing the buxom Ms. Bloodgood, "I love this job." or something to that effect.
The movie is much better if you imagine Charlie as an awkward virgin, trying his best to have sex with every woman he lays eyes on because he's on the wrong side of 30 and hasn't touched a boob yet. Basically, he's kind of like me my freshman year of college...and sophomore year...and junior year. His anti-chemistry is then mostly spent with a lot of whining about the amount of time he's spent as an INTERPOL agent trying to bust Bison's criminal organization and running away from explosions. Look for his performance to become a Wicker Man-style Youtube meme by the year's end.

The whole experience seems kind of pointless, as if the movie is trying to ignore or actively fight against the fact that it's based off a video game of any sort of reknown. At the end of the movie, with all the baddies killed and the day saved, Gen proposes that he and Chun-Li go to a street fighting tournament in Japan to see "some guy named Ryu" and recruit him in their continuing fight against evil, to which Chun-Li responds (literally) "No, I think I'll just stay home." (good advice, Chun-Li). This movie feels like Street Fighter in name only, as if there are enough rabid Street Fighter fans these days to fill a multiplex. It uses character names and the idea of martial arts and then goes haywire from there, seeing no reason to create an adaptation of any sort of video game. If this had been called "the Legend of Some Asian Girl Who Fights People", it would lose NOTHING. From concert pianist Chun-Li, to Irish Satanist M. Bison there is nary a trace of Street Fighter to be found in this film.

One of the major complaints about video game film adaptations is that they are slavishly devoted to their source material and can't capture the essence of the original. In this case, the video game has been ignored. There were very few nods to the game series, the best I can think of is a necklace of a "spinning bird" that Chun-Li gets from her father; Chun-Li never once says "Yup yup!" And the thighs! Kristin Kreuk does not have the thighs to play Chun-Li (though I suppose no woman on Earth does)! I don't think it's even possible to call this a video game adaptation; appropriation, maybe. Even Super Mario Bros. (which I consider an inspired attempt to realize Mario in a Blade Runner-esque enviroment) had more respect for the source material than this.

All in all, I think you're better off seeing Watchmen this weekend.

P.S. Thanks for the opportunity to hyperlink to "Scotty Doesn't Know"!

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li is ranked #44 on the Rotten Tomatoes Worst 100 list with 4% freshness. Its RT page can be found here.