In 1994 and 2009, audiences all over the world watched in horror as the “Street Fighter” series, one of the most beloved and enduring video game series ever created, was subjected to the cinematic equivalent of a crucifixion, only to have their faith that the series might someday be done justice in live-action form restored by the fan film “Street Fighter: Legacy” in 2010. Four years and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears later, the fan film’s highly anticipated follow-up, “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” has finally arrived. To say that it makes up for the previous two film’s failures is understatement and a half. “Assassin’s Fist” is the “Street Fighter” movie fans have been waiting for, and exceeds just what they hoped the series would eventually become by an enormous margin.
Assuming the role of the series’ major protagonist Ryu is Mike Moh. Few video game heroes carry the degree of stoicism that Ryu does, which makes him a hard character to craft for both the writer and the actor playing him, but whether it’s conveying his rock-solid mental focus and discipline or his massive physical prowess, Moh couldn’t be more at home in his character’s skin.
Reprising his role as Ryu’s close friend and training partner Ken Masters from “Legacy” is series co-creator Christian Howard. A far more jovial and rambunctious character than Ryu, Ken is nevertheless his equal as a fighter, and Howard adds some splendid comic relief with his character’s many one-liners and seemingly spends half the series with one or both legs off the ground performing some jaw-dropping kicking techniques.
Akira Koieyama portrays the duo’s wise martial arts mentor Gouken, while Shogen embodies the young version of the character, who receives some intense mentorship himself under the tutelage of Goutetsu, played by Togo Igawa. Gaku Space gives a highly emotional performance in his role of Gouken’s ambitious young brother Gouki, while the series’ co-creator Joey Ansah assumes the role of Akuma, the darker, more ruthless martial arts master that Gouki is destined to become after his overzealous embrace of Satsui No Hado.
In Japan in the late 1980’s, Ryu and Ken Masters, two eager and highly promising students of the arcane martial art known as Ansatsuken, have excelled far enough in their training that their wise teacher Gouken finally deems them ready to learn the art’s most advanced techniques known as “Hado”. Under Gouken’s guidance, Ryu and Ken master techniques at the highest pinnacle of Ansatsuken training such as the Shoryuken, Tatsumaki Senpukyaku, and Hadouken, with their expertise in each eventually such that both are able to summon their natural energy, or ki, (also known as ‘qi’ or ‘chi’), at will and astronomically heighten their physical abilities.
In the midst of their training in Hado, Ken uncovers an old training manual of Gouken’s detailing a technique called “Satsui No Hado”. Impressed with its ability to strengthen his ki, Ken begins practicing Satsui No Hado, only for Gouken to sternly forbid him ever doing so, with the warning that Satsui No Hado should never be practiced. Gouken later relates his own Ansatsuken training days alongside his brother Gouki under the wise Goutetsu to Ryu and Ken, assiduously hiding from both of them what his aversion to Satsui No Hado stems from – Gouki’s eagerness to master the technique eventually led him to become vicious and bloodthirsty. His determination to master the technique would ultimately result in his transformation into the demonic entity, Akuma.
Imagine watching a version of “The Matrix” in which Neo’s abilities to defy the laws of the artificial reality crafted by the machines was only exploited once or twice throughout the entire film, and with only about one one-hundredth of their true potential, and it’s easy to understand the horrendous reception which last two live-action “Street Fighter” films received among fans of the series and the general public. “Assassin’s Fist” rests on the opposite side of that spectrum.
We see Shoryukens, Tatsumakis, and Hadoukens right from the start in episode 00, aptly titled “Alpha”, which flashes the series into the future to show Ryu and Ken sparring at the peak of their training, before going back several years to show how each of them reached that skill level.
Already, “Assassin’s Fist” has set itself a universe apart from the last two films, and indeed most video game adaptations, by allowing the viewer to sample what’s to come before taking them on the same journey as Ryu and Ken to reach the skill level that we’ve seen. Simply endowing Ryu and Ken with the fighting prowess each holds in the games and letting them cut loose would have been more than enough for fans of the series to pump their fists into the air and cry out for joy. But seeing both of them in awe at the sight of Gouken demonstrating a Hadouken before their eyes for the first time gives a weight and meaning to their abilities that they’ve arguably never had before.
Right away, “Assassin’s Fist” has done the unthinkable by outright stating for the viewer that the superhuman abilities Ryu and Ken display in the games, and the opening sequence of the series, are something that both must work tirelessly to achieve, and which the viewer gets to see them accomplish. The fact that whenever any character launches a Hadouken, it has roughly the same destructive power as a hand grenade certainly doesn’t hurt either!
The series parallels Ryu and Ken’s training under Gouken with flashbacks of Gouken’s training alongside his brother Gouki under the tutelage of Goutetsu. “Assassin’s Fist” is actually far more of a drama than most fans will be anticipating, especially in the flashbacks showing Gouki’s gradual fall from grace and transformation into Akuma. The Darth Vader of the series, Gouki is guilty of nothing but the sheer determination to reach his highest potential in Ansatsuken and a refusal to accept defeat, and Gaku Space gives an incredibly emotional portrayal of his character, both in dramatic scenes and in combat.
His transformation into Akuma (portrayed by a VERY beefed-up Joey Ansah) is terrific in how it runs counter to Ryu and Ken’s training – the viewer cheers the latter on, whilst begging the former to turn back from the dark path he’s heading down (the training montage of Gouki’s metamorphosis into Akuma, set to an ominous, foreboding soundtrack, is simultaneously captivating and horrifying in equal measure). Either story would have been perfect for a “Street Fighter” film to follow on its own, but “Assassin’s Fist” interweaves both into its two and a half hour running time.
What also stands out about both is the sheer attention to detail given to every aspect gleaned from the games, right down to the characters’ respective theme music. Not only special moves but more basic techniques from each character’s fighting arsenal are vividly seen in the action, with the techniques’ names being verbalised aloud as in the games. Even basic fighting stances, a detail that most fans may have overlooked, seem completely indistinguishable from their portrayal in the games.
All of these factors make choosing a favorite among the series’ many martial arts duels surprisingly difficult. Even without the game’s signature special moves, the choreography is marvelous in every action sequence, but one of the series’ biggest standouts is the vengeful Akuma’s battle with Goutetsu, which brings their bitter past to a head with the darkest techniques of Ansatsuken. Ryu and Ken’s many sparring matches are equally as powerful, in part from the fact that Christian Howard seems to actually be a flesh and blood “Street Fighter” character, his execution of kicking combinations worthy of Scott Adkins presenting roughly the same difficulty to him as blinking.
However, the best of Ryu and Ken’s matchups is the battle shown in episode 00. The culmination of their Ansatsuken training, Ryu and Ken are permitted to face one another without Gouken’s supervision, with no techniques off-limits. Having seen the duo’s many years’ of dedicated training, the fight takes on much greater meaning for the viewer, with Christian Howard’s aforementioned aerial kicks absolutely amazing to say the least and Mike Moh being no slouch in this arena either. Even better is the fight’s conclusion, in which “Assassin’s Fist” effectively sets up the entire “Street Fighter” universe to come with Ryu encountering something that will be instantly familiar to fans of the series…
It took twenty years for “Street Fighter” to recover from the near-fatal blow dealt to its prospects of a life in live-action form, but “Assassin’s Fist” has not only revived the series’ cinematic career – it’s set the bar exceptionally high for all video game adaptations to follow. It’s more than debunked the notion that films based on video games can never aspire to be more than puerile tripe. The way the series chronicles both Gouki’s descent into darkness and Ryu and Ken’s mastery of their abilities makes the art of Ansatsuken seem shockingly plausible, and NOT in the “Legend of Chun Li” way. Without a single doubt, “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” is the best live-action video game adaptation, to date!
- In 2013, Joey Ansah launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to gather the necessary funds for the series, but ultimately cancelled it on April 17th, 2013 when private backers stepped forward with the money needed for the series.
- “Assassin’s Fist” was filmed in Sofia, Bulgaria in the summer of 2013 at roughly the same time as the upcoming ensemble action film, “The Expendables 3”. According to Joey Ansah, the two films even shared some of the same crew.
- In the fan film that preceded “Assassin’s Fist”, “Street Fighter: Legacy”, Ryu was played by Jon Foo, who also portrayed another famous video game character – Jin Kazama in the live-action “Tekken” film.
Film Rating: 9.5/10