Chun-Li: The First Lady of Video Games

An in-depth examination of the first female Street Fighter and what made her the icon she is today.
April 17, 2006

Ah, Chun-Li. What an amazing character. Her name translates to mean "Spring Beauty". It was given to her on March 1, 1968 by her father when she was born in, of course, China. She stands at 170cm (about 5'7") with the impressive measurements: B 88, W 58, H 90. Her blood type is A. And her weight? Well, she'll never ever tell.

Street fighter II was released in 1991. Chun-Li's original design concept was created by the CAMPCOM design team. The members at the time were SHOEI, NISHIMURA KINU, IKENO and AKIMAN. AKIMAN is considerd the father of the Street Fighter characters. He was involved with increasing the detail of the body designs for the game's character concepts.

Chun-Li has no official last name. CAPCOM does not acknowledge any name given to her by movies, anime, or comics. For what it's worth, Wikipedia suggests Chung was her last name according to unidentified sources in the early 90's. But I'm pretty sure Capcom would disagree. If you need to be formal when adressing Chun-Li, I'm sure "Miss Li" will do. Her father remains officially nameles too.

MTV reported that on April 7th, 2006 Lara Croft was awarded a Guinness World Record that recognises her as the "most successful human video game heroine." The Tomb Raider star won the prize for "transcending the boundaries of video games and becoming a recognisable figure in mainstream society". That's all fine and well, but Lara would be nowhere if it weren't for Chun-Li. Chun-Li is notable for being the first successful and popular female video game protagonist in an action game. Prior to Street Fighter II being released in 1991, most female characters in games existed as objectives to be rescued or cast in the roles of other supporting characters, such as townspeople, girlfriends, the occasional opponent, or simply background decoration. Beyond RPGs, there were very few heroines in action-based video games. After the success of Street Fighter II and Chun-Li's popularity, female protagonists became more and more common. Since then, in games with selectable characters, at least one or two of them will be female; and there has been a number of games released since that have placed a female character in the lead role. Take that Lara!

Of all the versions of Street Fighter that were released, Chun-Li's popularity increased the most when Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers came out. This was because her face became more beautiful and the now classic pose for her Kikouken special attack grabbed people's attention. The move showed Chun-Li sticking her butt out and firing both hands forward to launch the attack. Between her new image and that pose, many male players became quite stricken with her. And here I thought the panty shots during her Hyakuretsu Kyaku (Hundred Tearing Kicks) and her Spinning Bird
Kick were what did the trick.

Of course, it also could have been that shower scene in the Street Fighter II Animated Movie. Heh.

Chun-Li's attire has been described in many fanfictions I've read, but nobody seems to know the correct words for the clothes she wears. Chun-Li wears the qipao, a traditional Chinese dress popular among girls during the early 20th Century. Her outfit is modified to allow a far wider range of movement than a normal qipao. She also wears combat boots and dark brown tights with her blue qipao. She was originally supposed to wear a peach-colored qipao, as seen in her in-game profile and ending in the original Street Fighter II. This was corrected to the blue one in Street Fighter II: Champion Edition.

During the period covered in Street Fighter Alpha, she wore an embroidered vest, leotard and athletic shoes, as well as studded wristbands. It is unclear why she chose to stop using this outfit and switch to a qipao. With the switch to the qipao, she also swapped her wristbands for spiked training bracelets. Many people were not pleased with this costume change as they were quite attached to Chun-Li's qipao ensemble.

In various official art, she has also been shown in her police outfit, as well as (presumably) her favorite casual attire: a varsity-style jacket, T-shirt, and jeans. It has been shown in some official art when wearing her casual attire, she also wears her Alpha wristbands.

Okay, we got the clothes. But what about the hair? Chun-Li's famous hairstyle is called "Ox horns", a typical style in which Chinese children dress their hair. During the Alpha series, she chose to wear them unadorned, while in the remaining games, she uses silk brocades and ribbons to cover them, presumably to match her qipao.

Chun-Li has many skills. She plays a mean Ehru (a traditional two-string Chinese instrument) and is pretty good with a gun (she placed 6th in an international sharp-shooting contest). She likies crepes, steamed nikuman, American candy and soda. And she regularly practices aerobics to ward off the fat these foods invite. She is a big fan of Bruce Lee and has posters of him in her room. Her turn-offs include crime and indecisive people.

Chun-Li's fighting style was first called Wu-shu, then changed by Capcom to Tai-Chi. However, in the recent publication "Street Fighter: Eternal Challenge" her style is more thouroughly explained. Over the years she has learned many Chinese martial arts and other elaborate fighting styles. By understanding her own inner-self, adapting her father's Chinese martial arts, and learning many other Kenpo styles, Chun-Li has built up a powerful array of kicking strikes. She takes pride in her incredible acrobatic balance and uses it to perform various "hit and run" type attacks. Over the years, Chun-Li has also developed several Chi-energy attack forms to add to her already impressive abilities. It should also be noted that she has had training from Gen, a reknowned assassin and family friend. She's also done time in the X-men Danger Room if you count X-Men vs. Street Fighter and/or the Marvel vs. CAPCOM games. ;-)

Her moves are various and she often calls them out as she fights. "Spinning Bird Kick" anyone? The English ones we understand. but what about the Japanese ones? Well, here you go!

Hazan Tenshokyaku - Supreme Heaven Ascent Kick
Hazanshu - Supreme Mountain Kick
Houyokusen - Phoenix Fanning Wings
Hyakuretsu Kyaku - Hundred Tearing Kicks
Kikouken - Chi Energy Strike
Kikoushou - Chi Energy Blast
Sen'en Shuu - Spinning Circle Kick
Senretsukyaku - Thousand Tearing Kicks
Souhakkei - Double Energy Release
Tensei-Ranka - Heavenly Riot
Tenshou-Kyaku - Heaven Ascent Kick

Does anyone else find it odd that Chun-Li, a Chinese fighter, shouts out all her moves in Japanese? ;-)

Chun-Li's fighting methods consist of quick strikes, confusing her opponent with swift movements and performing throw moves when she can find an opening. Her attacks dominate in the air using the advantage of her powerful air throws.

After Street Fighter II Turbo, Chun-Li's familiar techniques were weakened. She gained the Kikouken maneuver to compensate for this. Her "hit and run" attacks were still useful, but they left her open to the possibility of being cornered quite easily. These flaws were counteracted in Super Street fighter 2: Turbo with new Super Combos and special attacks that increased her offensive capabilities. Her Super Combos gave her practical invulnerability when utilized, making her a devastating opponent.

In the Street Fighter Alpha series, her potential continued to grow with new maneuvers such as the scissor kicking Sen'en Shuu which she could use to leap over projectile attacks. Her taunt maneuver caused jab-equivalent damage, allowing her to send an enemy into defeat with the ultimate embarrassment.

When Street Fighter Alpha 2 hit arcades, a rumor began that Chun-Li was the strongest chracter in the game. Truth or not, when Alpha gave way to Alpha 2, CAPCOM tweaked Alpha 2 a bit for balance, but that was it. The characters were not changed. However, this "balancing act" gave Chun-Li the chance to demonstrate the power of her mid-air throw. Beyond her increased aerial combat abilites, she also gained the ability to use the Kikouken in mid-air. A particularly powerful Custom Combo of hers was to start with a crouching strong kick, rise from it and follow through with a strong Hyakuretsu Kyaku. When it succeeded, 70-80% of an opponents's health was taken off.

In Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike Chun-Li has become a vetran fighter and capable combatant. Although her strength has weakened from her first appearance in Street fighter II (Age will do that to you ;-)), her speed has stayed a constant advantage.

Chun-Li's popularity isn't all from her looks and her ability to kick ass. She has a good tragic backstory too. Her story up to now is not for the faint of heart. She is a special agent for the International Criminal Police Organization (aka INTERPOL or ICPO depending on who you talk to). Her story begins in Street Fighter Alpha 2, where she is trying to find her father, who has gone missing on an assignment. She receives a lead from Gen, a friend of her father's and one of her former sensei, and begins tracking the movements of M. Bison and his criminal empire, Shadaloo. She finally tracks down M. Bison and demands that he tell her what happened to her father. Bison laughs, and the two of them fight. M. Bison defeats her and escapes, mocking her and bragging that he killed her father. Chun-Li, now more determined than ever to find and destroy M. Bison and Shadaloo, swears to avenge her father's death.

Chun-Li's next encounter with Shadaloo takes place in Street Fighter Alpha 3. Two years have passed since the events of SFA2, and Chun-Li is now heading up INTERPOL's investigation of Shadaloo. But due to massive management corruption, Chun-Li finds herself powerless as an official investigator. She aligns with Charlie, who is facing a similar corruption scandal in the U.S. Army, and together they form a vigilante task force dedicated to bringing down M. Bison. The Army has other plans though, and they send Charlie's best friend and superior officer, Guile, to stop Charlie. As seen in Guile's SFA3 story, Chun-Li tries to stop Guile, but he ignores her.

Once Guile finds Charlie, though, Guile comes to realize the truth about Shadaloo, the corruption scandals, and Charlie's mission, and they join forces. The air strike Charlie and Chun-Li had ordered was called off by corrupt officials. As Charlie and Guile go to destroy the Psycho Drive, Chun-Li sets up explosives around Shadaloo's base, and briefly catches a glimpse of Cammy, but Cammy runs off before Chun-Li can find out anything about her. In the end, Charlie died in the explosion thanks to Bison, but the base, and the Psycho Drive, were destroyed, and several of Shadaloo facilities around the world were shut down.

Three more years pass. Shadaloo has taken a serious hit, but it isn't dead yet. The next Street Fighter tournament has arrived, and the host is none other than M. Bison, who is somehow still alive. Chun-Li enters the tournament to find Bison and finish him, and Shadaloo, off for good. The full results of the SF2 tournament have never and probably will never be made completely official. About the only thing that has been officially stated by Capcom is that Akuma appeared out of nowhere and killed Bison. So, if that's true, I think it's a safe bet to say nobody won because the tournament was disrupted by the conflict between Akuma and Ryu.

In SF3 3rd Strike, which takes place shortly after the actual SF3 tournament, Chun-Li is investigating the abduction of a kidnapped girl by a new organization led by Gill. However, the abduction apparently was masterminded by Urien, Gill's brother. Although we never really know Urien's motives for kidnapping the girl thanks to Capcom's unwillingness to give the SF3 series much in the way of plot details, Chun-Li doesn't seem to care much about Urien's motives, she just wants the little girl back.

When Chun-Li confronts Urien, she demands the release of the girl. Urien replies that he will release the girl, but first he wants to fight her, because her "legendary legs are said to have destroyed [shadowloo]." He then adds, "Let me see for myself, if the rumors about you are true..." Chun-Li defeats Urien and rescues the girl, and as she holds the girl in her arms, she realizes what her next "fight" will be. For her father, for her country, and for all the warm-hearted people she has met throughout the world, Chun-Li decides to begin teaching children the true meaning of strength and beauty through the martial arts.

Chun-Li has no love interest. However, that hasn't stopped people from trying to give her one through art, manga, fanifiction, and other mediums. Some fans hope it will be Ryu. Several Japanese manga I've read do as well and the now defunct Street Fighter RPG from White Wolf suggested an unspoken attraction between Ryu and Chun-Li. Some hope it will be Guile. Some say it was Charlie before he died. Street Fighter II V put Ken as her suitor. She even fell for a warrior from another dimension in the American cartoon: Street Fighter, based on the live-action Street Fighter Movie. However, Capcom has never given her an official love interest. And her ending in Street Fighter III 3rd Strike suggests she may never have one as she forsakes the desires of her own heart to spend her life training children. Kids notwithstanding, what a waste. My money is on Ryu, by the way. As I said in Happily Ever After Part I. The only person who deserves to be with CAPCOM's Queen is its King.

Ah, Chun-Li. She's quite a gal. The strongest woman in the [video game] world. And she is too. For if it wasn't for her strength of character, it's a sure bet the female presence in video games, even the award winning Lara Croft, would not exist as it does today. Thank our lucky stars she showed up when she did. Yata!!!

Peace Out.

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