There are a few things that everyone can agree upon whenever the topic of The Legend of Chun Li comes up. The first is that no, it unfortunately is not the Street Fighter adaptation fans had waited for since seeing their beloved series so horribly disgraced by the first film. The second is that, like the original, it is far too loosely connected to the game that inspired it to do it the justice it deserves. And the third is that the villain seen in this film is most definitely NOT M. Bison. Where the conversation becomes more debatable is in the consensus among fans that The Legend of Chun Li is worse than the first film.
Kristin Kreuk leads the film in the titular role of Chun Li. Kreuk is best known for her role as Superman’s teenage girlfriend Lana Lang on the long-running show Smallville, where she got to show off her martial arts skills rather frequently. She isn’t given nearly as much material to work with as she should have been, but she nevertheless gives it her all as the first lady of fighting games.
Robin Shou, well-known for his role of Liu Kang in the first two Mortal Kombat films, portrays her mentor in the film, Gen, and he too brings greater energy and passion to the film than anyone behind the camera. Chris Klein and Moon Bloodgood portray Interpol agents Charlie Nash and Maya Sunee, the latter supposedly based on the character C. Viper from the games, though neither bears any resemblance to their video game incarnation.
Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas stars as the masked Ninjitsu expert Vega, while the late Michael Clarke Duncan portrays the domineering boxer Balrog. Portraying the film’s principal antagonist is Neal McDonough in the role of an Irishman in a suit and tie running a criminal organization known as Shadaloo and who happens to have the last name Bison. Any argument to convince the viewer that this character is M. Bison from the Street Fighter video games should not be taken seriously at all.
Chun Li lives an idyllic life in Hong Kong with her father Xiang, a wealthy businessman who passes his vast knowledge of martial arts onto his daughter throughout her childhood. Her tranquil childhood is interrupted when her father is inexplicably kidnapped by the henchmen of Bison, chieftain of the crime syndicate Shadaloo. Years later, the adult Chun Li has fulfilled her father’s dreams for her to become a successful concert pianist, when out of the blue, she receives a scroll written in Mandarin from an anonymous source. She eventually determines the sender to be a man named Gen living in Bangkok. After spending several nights searching for him amid the city’s seedy ghettos, Chun Li encounters Gen after a fight with some street thugs.
Gen reveals that he was once a member of Shadaloo, before fleeing Bison’s inner-circle to form the Order of the Web to combat the evil Bison’s spreading through Shadaloo. After Gen reveals that he knows where Bison is keeping her father, Chun Li agrees to join the Order of the Web, and Gen sets about training her for the battle ahead.
Like the first film this is made by filmmakers who either didn’t do their homework or who skipped class altogether. The original film tried to transplant the characters from the game into a “G.I. Joe”-type scenario merged with tons of campy humor and hammy acting pulled right from the 1960’s “Batman” TV show, and ended up being arguably more of a parody of “Street Fighter” than the straightforward adaptation fans were expecting.
With The Legend of Chun Li the filmmakers seem to be trying to have their cake and eat it too by merging a real-world feel to SOME of the fantastical elements of the game. As anyone who has played a “Street Fighter” game for even five minutes will know, this approach is completely anti-thetical to the very essence of the series. Why allow Chun Li to battle opponents with her Spinning Bird kick and Kikoken whilst depriving Bison of his Psycho Power-fueled abilities? For that matter, why strip the film of the visual style the games are renown for, or the colorful costumes, the impossible musculature of the characters, the diverse fighting styles and stances adopted by each character?
Chun Li only ever adopts her signature look of a blue qipao and ox horn buns in a single scene, only to return to her “normal” attire in the very next scene. Gen never resembles the wise old kung fu master with the flowing white beard that he is traditionally seen as. The very idea of Bison donning a business suit rather than his military dictator attire is simply inexcusable. Vega is the only character in the film who consistently resembles his look from the game, but his is only a minor role in the film’s narrative (and one really has to wonder how the filmmakers talked Taboo into Vega’s new reasoning for donning his trademark mask.)
The film’s many handicaps are further exacerbated by just how unsatisfying the action is. Accomplished stuntman Dion Lam handles the fight choreography, but far too little of the film’s first third produces anything to get the viewers’ blood pumping. The first half hour is largely devoted to Chun Li wandering aimlessly around Bangkok on her quest to find Gen, who never even considers simply knocking on her front door, and Chun Li spending her nights sleeping on the streets of Bangkok presumably because her family fortune won’t cover a few nights in a hotel.
When the action does kick in, it’s severely hampered by lightning-fast editing that chops up the film far better than Vega ever could. Speaking of which, for being depicted as Bison’s vicious, bloodthirsty personal assassin, Vega proves to be a complete joke when his duel with Chun Li arrives. Gen’s involvement in the action proves just a flat and uninvolving thanks to the editing, and Bison displays hardly any perceivable fighting prowess at all until the finale.
As with the first film, numerous characters are also left with almost nothing to do despite their combat skills in the game. That fate befalls Maya Sunee, or C. Viper if you want to call her that, and Charlie Nash, though at least he isn’t merged into one character with Blanka this time around. Still, the most egregious offence is the absence of the fighting styles and special abilities the characters display in the games.
Bison’s flight and Psycho Power are nowhere to be found, and even Chun Li only displays a limited percentage of the her capabilities in the game. Gen is probably the most short-changed in this regard, being the mentor who teaches Chun Li her Kikoken while never being able to exhibit the Northern Praying Mantis and White Crane styles he utilizes to great effect in the game. Indeed, that arguably illustrates an even greater problem with the film; basing itself on a video game where characters make use of a wide range of different martial arts, the fighting style of each character in the film looks and feels very generic and amorphous, displaying little if any divergence from one character to the next. Which, once again, ignores the very essence of what makes “Street Fighter” great.
As you can tell, there is no shortage of flaws to point out and criticize – the absence of each characters signature look and abilities, the bland and often awfully edited action sequences, the attempt to pass off a character who cannot possibly be regarded as M. Bison as such.
However, the consensus that the film is worse than its predecessor is misguided. It may bear little resemblance to the Street Fighter games, but it also takes them far more seriously than the campy, cartoonish first film. Given her immense popularity among gamers, the idea of a Chun Li solo outing wasn’t a bad idea, and the nod the film makes to the game’s flagship character near the end could’ve led to a much better sequel had the execution in this film been better. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li is most certainly not the movie that the Street Fighter series deserves, but it’s also decidedly not Street Fighter: The Movie.
- Rick Yune had originally been cast in the role of Gen, but was later replaced by Robin Shou.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme revealed in an online interview with MTV that he was offered the chance to reprise his role of Guile from the original film, but he declined.
- Taboo, who portrays Vega in the film, holds a black belt in Ninjitsu and is also a practitioner of Jeet Kune Do (JKD).
Film Rating: 4/10
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