If you were a child of the late eighties or early nineties, you’re most likely intimately familiar with the fighting games. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior is often credited as the progenitor of the fighting game genre. The game’s combination of colorful artwork, a diverse and distinct character roster, and its blend of both real and fictional martial arts turned Street Fighter II and fighting games in general into a cultural phenomenon.
Sadly, each and every one of those exalted attributes is absent from 1994’s Street Fighter: The Movie. Despite bearing the Street Fighter name, the film’s connection to the game which supposedly inspired it is tangential, at best, but disgracing its namesake is just one of the film’s many sins. As it is, Street Fighter may very well be the most hilarious film of 1994, and considering that this is the same year Jim Carrey achieved mainstream popularity, it’s hardly a compliment.
Jean-Claude Van Damme leads the cast in the role of Colonel William Guile. Van Damme had at last risen to prominence by the time of this film’s release (a delayed reaction to the classic that is Bloodsport), but despite being up to the task, he has precious little to work with and spends a surprising percentage of the film’s first two-thirds off-screen.
Not the case with the film’s villain General M. Bison, flamboyantly overacted by the late Raul Julia. If there’s any redeeming factor to be found in the film, it’s in the sheer zeal of Julia’s performance as the megalomaniacal dictator. Julia’s dialogue is an endlessly quotable eruption of lines such as “Something wrong? You come prepared to fight a madman, and instead you found a god?!” bellowed from his lungs at regular intervals.
In the role of Chun-Li, well-known as the first lady of fighting games, is Ming Na-Wen, while Byron Mann and Damian Chapa portray the series’ flagship characters, Ryu and Ken. With Wes Studi and Jay Tavare rounding out the major characters in the roles of Sagat and Vega, the film would have been much more coherent and streamlined if this represented the entirety of its major cast. But this is where another of the film’s major issues emerges – with just a few exceptions, nearly every “Street Fighter” character makes an appearance in the film, with many being given almost nothing to do.
The extremely egotistical warlord, General M. Bison rules over the South East Asian nation of Shadaloo with an iron fist, only to see his nation’s capital city fall to forces of the invading Allied Nations. But Bison won’t go down without a fight, and kidnaps 63 Allied Nations relief workers, demanding a $20 billion ransom within three days for their release. After capturing Bison’s chief arms dealer Victor Sagat and his right hand man Vega, the Allied Forces, under the leadership of Colonel William Guile and Cammy White concoct a plan to locate Bison’s hideout by infiltrating two handpicked double agents, Ryu Hoshi and Ken Masters, a pair of con artists busted in Shadaloo City.
Meanwhile, journalist Chun-Li Zhang has her own vendetta against Bison. She and her two cohorts, E.Honda and Balrog are all later captured by Bison’s forces after a failed attempt to kill him, while the Allied Forces plan their assault on Bison. What the A.N. doesn’t know is that, under the coerced direction of Bison’s chief scientist Dr. Dhalsim, Guile’s captured friend Carlos “Charlie” Blanka is being transformed into a mutant super-soldier which Bison plans to mass produce in his plot to conquer the world.
Nearly every Street Fighter character present in the game at the time is in the film, save for Akuma and Fei Long, although the character of Captain Sawada, created specifically for the film, is widely seen by fans as a surrogate for the latter. (Side note – when a game has a Bruce Lee analogue as one of its characters, he’d better be a Bruce Lee analogue in the movie!) As for the characters present in the film, Zangief, Blanka, Dhalsim, Cammy, T-Hawk, Dee Jay, Honda, and Balrog could all have been completely jettisoned and we’d never notice the difference.
Many are so altered from the video game incarnations as to be completely unrecognizable, and in some cases, downright embarrassing. Zangief is made into a gullible blockhead who serves as the film’s source of (intentional) comic relief, while Dee Jay is reduced to a cowardly sycophant with none of the fighting skills he displays in the game. And the less said about the film’s take on Dhalsim, the better. That is a fate unfortunately shared by most of the characters in the film – a distressing number of them either never throw a single punch or execute the bare minimum of action that fans expect.
Not that the characters who do hold some significance to film have it much better. For a film bearing the name “Street Fighter”, there’s next to no real street fighting until the climactic battle in Bison’s fortress (and even then, anyone unfamiliar with the games could easily be persuaded that they were watching a glorified episode of “G.I. Joe”.) The distinctive and exotic combat styles enhanced with superhuman abilities that made the game famous are nowhere to be found in the film. Many of the characters themselves aren’t given any discernible fighting prowess or consistency in their depiction in the film. M. Bison in particular falls victim to this quagmire.
In the film’s opening scenes, Bison easily crushes a group of Allied Soldiers without breaking a sweat, only to appear completely ineffectual while facing Chun-Li or Guile later in the film, in both cases only tipping the scales in his favor with some form of technological assistance. The only match-up that has any real impact is Ryu and Ken’s duel against Vega and Sagat. Unfortunately, the combatants are permitted to merely pantomime their signature moves from the game, only for them to be completely stripped of the superhuman impact and visual pizzazz they are renown for, and fans of the series will surely note the mismatching opponents – Ryu’s reverence in the game stems from his defeat of Sagat, who is most certainly no Emperor of Muay Thai in the film. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the film often devolves into outright cartoonish territory, frequently incorporating sound effects straight out of “Looney Tunes” cartoons into the action – i.e. augmenting Balrog’s punch with a zoom sound effect, or playing Godzilla roars – yes, GODZILLA ROARS – over footage of Zangief and Honda grappling.
Street Fighter: The Movie is, quite simply, an unsalvageable mess. It transmutes Street Fighter characters into a premise far removed from that of the game, leaving the majority of the characters all but standing around twiddling their thumbs, and submerges them in a campy and frequently unintentionally humorous atmosphere straight from the 1960’s Batman TV show.
In short, this movie is to video game films what Batman and Robin is to comic book movies. Oddly enough, however, it’s an experience well worth partaking in. The average butcher shop has less ham than Raul Julia’s performance as M. Bison, and the film overall is often laugh-out-loud-funny regardless of whether it actually wants to be. If you can overlook how horribly it disgraces one of the greatest video games ever created it is one of the most enjoyably bad movies you’ll ever come across.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down the role of Johnny Cage in the original Mortal Kombat film in order to play Guile. Ironically, Johnny Cage had been modeled after Van Damme himself!
- The controls on M. Bison’s floating desk are identical to the controls on the arcade versions of the game.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme was said to be developing a sequel to the film in 2003, but it never materialized. He later declined an offer to appear in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li.
Film Rating: 3/10
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