The year was 1994. During this time, Nelson Mandela was inaugerated as South African president, and Brazil won the FIFA World Cup against Italy. Disney's "The Lion King" was named the most financially successful animated film, and while the video gaming world was ready to retire the NES, we were introduced to a wormy superhero named Earthworm Jim. Late in the year 1994, the third live-action film adaptation of a popular video game was completed and released in theatres the day before Christmas Eve. This was a movie called...
Director: Steven de Souza
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen, Damien Chapa, Kylie Minogue, Simon Callow, Byron Mann, Roshan Seth
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Runtime: 102 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 (martial arts action)
"Street Fighter" is yet another movie adaptation of a very hot video game series. The earlier two movies--"Super Mario Bros." and "Double Dragon" were nothing but disappointments. However, this movie would be different. Sometimes, we love to see attention down to the very last detail. But, simplier times have their charms too--they provide a break from the overly complicated for some good-old-fashioned fun. Back in the final week of 1994, my brother and I saw this movie theatrically and had a blast. Right now, for it's 15th anniversary? Well, here goes.
WHAT'S THE DEAL?
The setting is in Shadaloo City (presumably Thailand), Southeast Asia. Just entering the seventh month of war, the Allied Nations soldiers have been combatting the iron-fisted rule of General M. Bison (Raul Julia). Over the course of under 24 hours, he has taken 63 Allied Nations relief workers hostage. With his milita and technological resources rivaling those in the industrialized world, the fiendish dictator is holding them prisoner for a ransom of $20 billion, which can only mean trouble for the fate of the free world. If the AN do not pay his ransom demands within the timeframe of 72 hours, he will have them all executed.
The heroic Colonel William F. Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme), together with his British Secret Service agent Cammy White (Kylie Minogue) must find Bison's hidden fortress, free the hostages and lay the smackdown on Bison. He is able to cripple Bison's weapon supplies when he successfully arrests his chief arms dealer Viktor Sagat (Wes Studi), head of the Shadaloo Crime Tong. In the sweep, he learns of two con artists named Ken Masters (Damien Chapa) and Ryu Hoshi (Byron Mann), who just unsuccessfully tried to rip off the Tong leader. Knowing Sagat would not suspect a pair of new enemies as spies, and with the boys sickened by the death and corruption of Shadaloo City, he has them pose as criminal mercenaries to infilitrate Sagat's gang as they stage a prison break.
Complicating things further involves Bison's ideal utopia that calls the "Pax Bisonica" and Col. Guile's best friend Carlos "Charlie" Blanka (Robert Mammone). The lone AN milita survivor of the attack that led to the hostages' capture, he has been sent to Bison's laboratory to become an experiment for Bison's upcoming plot to finance his project to create an entire army of "Perfect Genetic Soldiers". Blanka's only hope from having his mind warped into a vicious monster may lie within the hands of the peaceful, unassuming Dr. Dhalsim (Roshan Seth).
However, there seems to be a wild card amongst all these proceedings--the GNT news reporter Chun-Li Zang (Ming-Na Wen). Is she here to simply cover the news, or does she have her own secret agenda?
So the ultimate question is: can Col. Guile rally the heroes together, find Bison's hidden fortress, discover the fate of his friend Capt. Blanka, free the hostages and defeat Bison all over the course of less than a week?
Movies that are a tie-in with a video game have a risky preposition. Many people agree that it's more fun to play a game than it is to simply watch it, and that's just what you end up doing with a movie. You are not an active participant--you just watch the events unfold, almost the exact opposite of a video game. At this time, plot in video gaming was not a full-fledged idea--there needs to be a heart at the core of the film. Why would the audience care about endless fighting? It would need to be more complex than 'walk up to someone and fight'. I do think though, that if one wants completely perfect pixel-screen descriptions though, there would be no point in seeing the movie--just play the game. It's not like the world of Inspector Gadget where the whole world just popped up one day and then it just carried on--we need reason to care. You know, what's this all about? That's partly a problem that comes with video game-to-movie translations--the plot needs a medium to make sense so fans of the series will accept it and casual moviegoers can enjoy it too.
The movie begins with grainy war footage to help create the dire nature of the scenario, but otherwise the movie doesn't take itself seriously at all. This would be a good thing, as it seems interested in finding its own identity. If this movie was played dead serious it would be really blah, and in the sea of other movies with a fighting tournament scenario, the movie would risk being lost. This, I feel helps the movie carve its own niche.
Like the game it's based on, it's not meant to be violent--some elements from the game such as the blood and gore are more comical than grisly. The movie was not intended to be a cruel beat-em-up, which probably left some viewers disappointed, but the film obviously recognizes it's roots and tries to make the most out of it.
This film also succeeds in being one of the few movies that is not animated and is not from Disney that uses the "Goofy Holler" sound effect.
In addition to that, it's a very quotable film--you'll have a hard time not finding yourself spouting off lines from the movie here and there.
The characters? There's a lot of 'em for ya. Pretty much every last playable character from the game "Super Street Fighter 2" found their way into the movie. Here's a rundown of the primary characters:
Col. Guile, played by Belgian action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, is pretty faithful to his game character. He is the main hero of the movie, being the player popular character of the time. His mission is to find the hostages before Bison has them killed, and defeat Bison. This movie was a first for Van Damme--he was to be the hero in a PG-13 rated movie. At first, he is powerful and has little reason to trust many people due to what he thinks happened to his friend Charlie, but that begins to change after he meets the civilians Ken and Ryu. When forced to step down by the AN Deputy Security, that furthers his need to depend not on power but that he can succeed even without it. True to the 1990s aesthetic, he is a highly-ranked military colonel, but still cannot find the correct path to fighting the power mad Bison. Only by having to abandon his position of power, and fight as 'average Joe' Guile is he able to make an impact. He makes Guile an amiable hero that is not perfect, and through several losses he is able to start to earn his title of a hero.
General M. Bison, played the late Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia (who died near the end of the movie's filming), is often regarded as one of the movie's best elements. He is also very faithful to the game character, and often gets to use the majority of his game character's moves (the movie's producers didn't want it to seem too fantastic, for the sake of more casual moviegoers). The movie's main villain, he is willing to throw as many characters under a bus as he can to get what he wants. Upon getting his ransom demands, he plans to finance the scientific means to transform everyone in his army as new "Perfect Genetic Soldiers". Bison is so power-crazed, villainous and evil that he is able to ham his way to making the movie as much fun as it is. Despite his craze for power, he still feels his actions are just and worthy of excellence. Even someone who is not happy with the film can say his role is very memorable.
Chun-Li Zang, played by Ming-Na Wen, is also faithful. She is a news reporter using this as a cover in her attempts to get close to Bison and avenge the death of her father at his hands. The main problem she has is her personal vendetta may actually endanger the lives of the hostages. Ming-Na Wen has proven herself a competent actress and succeeds in playing the vengeful video game heroine's plight. She seems to have competent, not-just-imitating fighting abilities and lends a good performance overall. Plus, she looks really nice in that Chinese dress.
Viktor Sagat, played by Wes Studi, is different in some regards. In the movie, rather than being a Thai boxer with a strong urge for a rematch with Ryu, he's a kickboxing crime lord that is driven to revenge after Ken and Ryu's treachery. Height wise, Sagat's character is over seven feet tall. I would think it would be extremely difficult to find a look-alike for Sagat that is also that same height (his game character is unique, I'll say that now), but little things aside, he's still somewhat true. In proposed future sequels, his rivalry with Ken and Ryu would probably start to evolve into what it was recognized for. Wes Studi is known as one of the more versatile American Indian actors, and still gives Sagat the strong sense of honor that he is typically known for.
Ken Masters and Ryu Hoshi (respectively Damien Chapa and Byron Mann) are the two con artists who help enforce the change Guile needs to confront Bison. They are a little different as well, but their roles help influence a little element that I feel is worth mentioning. Throughout the movie, they are drifters with little to aim for, but the film causes Ryu to later start to see the more noble side of fighting. While Ken still feels like the glory is all that is necessary, he soon finds himself having to aid Ryu once he sees he's in danger. Their roles seem to suggest that if future movies were to arise, they would start to become more like their game counterparts. It's an interesting part of character development.
Then there are the secondary characters. What's interesting to note is upon closer inspection, there may have been more to this film than one first sees. Several events over the course of the movie were seemingly done for the purpose of this being done as part of a multi-sequel franchise. Anyway, here we go...
Cammy (Kylie Minogue) is similar in some regards. She is a lieutenant in the AN and serves as Guile's go-to girl for advice in this desperate time. Cammy's role in the game for the time being has her on a hunt for Bison to learn about what her past was like, having lost her memory. Now, an awful lot of issues about what Capcom does with her in later games is something fans speculate about, but because the movie predates the Alpha series, there was still little known about her (like what her game counterpart is like). Cammy basically plays a supporting role to Guile but she is also a worthy addition to the film. She is the New Challenger from "Super Street Fighter 2" that was likely the best adapted.
Carlos Blanka (Robert Mammone)...well, while he only appears briefly in the film, he seems to be on both ends of the faithfulness catalog. While Charlie has been credited in earlier games as having been murdered at the hands of Bison, he did not physically appear in the game series until 1995's Street Fighter Alpha. Some may see this description in this film as being a total farce, while others may see it as something worthwhile--a grounding of Guile's story and his own, considering Blanka is not a character with a strong personality, motivation or goals (it may not make sense to non-video gamers about why there is a character that has green skin and orange hair at the beginning of the film). His role probably would start to develop like his game character's afterwards. So, his characterization is both unacceptable and acceptable at the same time.
Dr. Dhalsim (Roshan Seth) is a character that some people may find oddly characterized. A witch doctor in the game who plans to use his yoga abilities to reach a higher state of consciousness, in the film he is characterized as a captured research scientist in charge of Bison's villainous experiment. What's interesting to note is near the end of the film, Dhalsim comes in contact with the DNA mutagen responsible for Blanka's mutation. In a confusing bit of camera editing, he goes bald near the end of the film. If sequels were to arise, he could be seen as the doctor that abandoned his previous life to become a monk and would start developing into the familiar character. It would be an interesting bit of character development.
And then there are the supporting characters. What was better, just focus on the key characters or try using every last character from the game? ...Well, that's best left to personal opinion. Like the secondary characters, they'd have probably seen some interesting developments if sequels were to arise...
Balrog (Grand L. Bush) is very different from his game character. While in the game he is Bison's hired muscle and the first boss character you fight, in this movie he's a fallen boxer due to Sagat and Bison's interference, now he is Chun-Li's cameraman and he is a hero. Grand L. Bush is a competent actor, but Balrog's character in the game is not a friendly, thought-induced character with a sense of humor. What I imagine would happen is later on down the line, he would find he would not be able to nobly return as a boxer and would have reason to turn evil--he would fulfill the role of a corrupted hero.
Edmond Honda (Peter Navy Tuiasosopo), while not one of the game's more popular characters, is recreated fairly faithfully. While in the game he is Japanese and in the movie he is a Native Hawaiian, both versions have him as a sumo-honoring hero. In this movie he, like Balrog, had his career in sumo fighting come to an end due to Sagat and Bison, and now works as a sound tech for GNT, working together with Chun-Li and Balrog. He'd probably be able to return honorably to sumo fighting and aid when necessary--not a whole lot more development, but it would be interesting if he and Balrog later would have to come face-to-face in a sequel.
Zangief (Andrew Bryniarski) is often credited with looking very much like his game counterpart. A powerful Russian, he is a Soviet patriot in the game and in the movie works as Bison's dumb muscle. He is driven to be Bison's bodyguard after presumably being rescued from the Siberian cold and now follows Bison's every order to the letter. Not inheritly evil but can be easily deceived, many times he adds comedy relief. The movie seems to hint that if future movies came, he would start serving as an aide for Guile and would be the first reformed villain.
Dee Jay (Miguel A. Nunez, Jr.) is another New Challenger character adapted to the movie from "Super Street Fighter 2". While not one of the game's most developed characters, he is a hero in the game and serves as Bison's communications expert in the movie. A money grubber that looks for a big score, he's the smart one of Bison's two lackeys. Some may say he may have fared poorly in the transfer from game-to-movie (considering he never fights as all), but I would imagine that if future sequels arrived, he would later on reform, slowly begin fighting and start siding with Honda after Balrog had turned evil. Again, interesting bit of character development.
T. Hawk (Gregg Rainwater) is...I'll say the most different character. His development is minimal; just another agent in Guile's military forces. While I imagine it would be very difficult to find a seven-foot-tall Indian that has a muscular physique and with competent acting skills, like Sagat he's not really as tall as his game character is made out to be. While it's not...actually he could have just been cut from the movie considering compared to Cammy he doesn't do anything memorable. And there's not much else I really could see him doing as he's not really like his game character at all. He's my pick for worst translated character.
Vega (Jay Tavare) is still a pretty boy cagefighter, and like his counterpart insists that no harm come to his face. He works as an assassin for Sagat and still wears a mask and claw to fight his opponents to the death. He doesn't have many lines of dialogue and never develops too much personality beyond vanity and sadism. Chances are he probably wouldn't appear in the proposed future sequels considering...
...well, it's implied that he dies fighting Ryu by being impaled on his own claw.
Finally, there is Capt. Kenzo Sawada (Kenya Sawada). Who is Sawada, you ask? Well, the game has the Hong Kong action movie star Fei Long, the Fourth New Challenger and the only Super Street Fighter 2 character to not appear in the movie at all. According to Steven de Souza, there would be a few problems if he was to be included in the film. First thing was the producers deemed him 'too generic' as a character; like Dee Jay, Fei Long is not an especially well-developed character. Plus, there was also the uncertainty of how his character would fit within the context of the film and there would also have to be some royalties they would have to pay to Bruce Lee's estate (the character of Fei Long is a Bruce Lee lookalike). So, the canon immigrant was Capt. Sawada. I felt he probably could just as easily played the role T. Hawk would have done in addition to his own role.
How did the movie do? Well, it got a few good reviews, but otherwise the movie was panned mercilessly. The harsh critical response didn't seem to leave the studio with the impression they wanted a sequel, but money talks otherwise. Worldwide, it successfully made $100 million, nearly triple its $35 million budget. For awards? Well, it didn't have a chance at winning any type of Academy Awards. But at the same time though, it was not even nominated for one Razzie Award, so that has to say something as well.
Very much a poster film for "Your Milage May Vary", "Street Fighter" is a movie with basically no middle grounds. You will either love it or you will hate it. Is it a cinematic masterpiece worthy of a new Renaissance? No, absolutely not. Is it a complete, irredeemable train wreck? ...No, the movie knows it's not art and it's too much fun to be a total waste. It has fun with the premise, acting almost like the equivalent of riding a movie-themed roller coaster at Universal Studios. There's no denying the thrills of seeing your favorite Street Fighter characters now come alive on the screen as live-action. Some people object to their 'recasting' in this movie, but one can see that it may do more justice to the game series than one may credit it for. Oh yeah, and there was another thing that probably contributed to the fact there never was a sequel...
...shortly before the movie was finished filming, Raul Julia suffered a cancer-related stroke and went into a coma. He never woke up from it and on October 24, 1994 he was pronounced dead.
I still remember one person wrote to GamePro and had their letter printed in the September 1995 issue saying, "After all the closing film credits in the rental film version of "Street Fighter: the Movie", there is a sequence at the very end that shows Bison is still alive. Will there be a sequel?"
Indeed, there was such a sequence. At the end of the end credits, Bison's computer at the end reactivates and brings the villainous Bison back to life.
Just then, he goes to his computer to select "World Domination: Replay".
Now, face value, yes. It's suggesting a sequel that never came to fruition (just like what happened at the end of Super Mario Bros.), but this end was not seen in the original theatrical release--it was added once released on video. The point of this sequence exists as a method for the filmmakers to pay their respects to Raul Julia, who never gave less than his all.
("Vaya Con Dios" is Spanish for "Go with God".)
And yes, there was a whole lot of merchandise to go along with this movie. The DVD? Yes, there was a very, very descriptive DVD. It is loaded with information about the cast and crew's work on the movie. There was a G.I. Joe-like action figure lineup, a comic adaptation with some minor changes, and yes, there was even a game based on the movie!
...So, there was...a game about a movie about a game? Odd as it may sound, yes (there was a game about the "Double Dragon" movie too, for as far as I know it was only available for the Neo-Geo). In 1995, there was an arcade game made about "Street Fighter: the Movie".
This game was developed by Incredible Technologies and distributed by Capcom. Using one-on-one fighting as its motif, the game gave the option of 14 immediately selectable fighters:
For the heroes, you got Ryu, Guile, Ken, E. Honda, Chun-Li, Cammy, Sawada (who was featured in the movie) and Balrog.
For the villains, you got Vega, Sagat, Blade (a generic Bison trooper), Bison, Akuma (Ken and Ryu's master's brother who, despite not being in the movie, was playable without a code for the first time) and Zangief.
There were also some 'hidden fighters' all of which were Blade palette swaps: Arkane, Khyber and F7.
The object of the game is to fight your way through 12 opponents, a clone match and finally Bison. This game is very different from the earlier games, putting more emphasis on juggling, air combos and stringing together multi-hit combos (as one example, chain Guile's double foot sweep into a four-hitting Flash Kick). There is also the ability to counter-throw and slam, and the "Regeneration" moves, "Interrupt" moves and "Come Back" moves. I also liked the little things added into the game (like the AN globe for a 'hero victory' and the Shadaloo emblem for a 'villain victory'). It's fun in its own unique way.
Did the game come home? ...In a way, yes.
The home version of "Street Fighter: the Movie" was a first-generation release for the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation. It's not a direct port but developed on a similar premise.
Developed by Capcom and published by Acclaim, this game plays more like a Street Fighter game people are familiar with, like a Movie-based version of Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. The game, notably has a different playable character roster. You still get Guile, Cammy, Sawada, Chun-Li, E. Honda, Balrog, Ryu, Ken, Vega, Zangief, Sagat and Bison. Blade and the palette swap Bison troopers were axed and Akuma is now a hidden character. Who's playable in the home game includes Blanka (who's seemingly been rushed into the game) and Dee Jay.
There is a "Movie Battle" where the player, using Guile, must find the shortest path to gaining information necessary to get to Bison under an expiring time limit. If you reach Bison in time, you can get the good ending. Failure to find Bison results in the AN being forced to pay Bison the ransom, Guile being court-martialed and Bison mass-producing his "Perfect Genetic Soldiers".
In the "Street Battle" mode, the object, like the earlier games, is to first fight your way through 8 of 10 preliminary opponents from the movie (Guile, Ken, Chun-Li, Ryu, E. Honda, Blanka, Cammy, Sawada, Balrog and Vega). Next, you fight the four bosses, all in line with the theme of the movie:
3rd: Dee Jay
1st: Bison (Akuma in harder difficulties)
The game is...at the least decent, I think. Not a home run but it can be an enjoyable game.
Also in 1995 was the cartoon series "Street Fighter: the Animated Series". It aired as part of USA network's "Action Extreme Team" Lineup. Acting like a sequel to the movie, it centered on Guile, now de facto leader of a counter-terrorist group codenamed "Street Fighter". A few elements for characters' allegiences are different though. Guile's allies included Blanka, Chun-Li, Ken, Ryu, T. Hawk, Dee Jay, E. Honda and Cammy, while Bison primarily has Sagat and Zangief (Vega is on call from time to time, and Balrog makes only one appearance). Other characters, including Fei Long, Dhalsim, Sawada and the Alpha cast, make appearances.
This show is hated by pretty much everyone whose heard of it--truth be told, it's NOT a bad show at all. I'll admit...I happened to watch this show all the time. It was something I made my ritual to watch, and I did, with the exception of the series' finale "Cammy Tell Me True". It ran for two seasons (1995-1997) with a total of 26 episodes. The whole series came to DVD in two box sets ("Code of Honor" and "Soul Powers"). Maybe that can be another topic for another article...we'll see, right?
The Street Fighter franchise never had another live-action film...that is, until 2009.
This movie, "Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun-Li" was intended to be a reboot of the franchise in live-action--it has nothing to do with the 1994 movie. Basically telling the story of Chun-Li (Kristen Kreuk), who slowly is driven to want to seek justice against the Shadaloo tyrant Bison (Neal McDonough). Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, this movie was released theatrically with no publicity (a sign of certain doom), completely bombed and now it's seen as a film that's So Bad it's Horrible. It basically has less to do with the game series--Charlie's (Chris Klein) a generic movie cop that seems to be reading off of cue cards, Gen (Robin Shou) is a lot younger, Rose went from being Bison's nemesis to his daughter and Bison himself is now...um, who's he trying to be, Geese Howard? Vega (Taboo) appears in the movie for less than 5 minutes and goes down like a punk. The story's consisting of idiot plots and makes no sense. Worst of all, this movie is BORING--it takes itself far too seriously. If this movie did not have Michael Clarke Duncan (as Bison's...security guard Balrog), this movie would be free of any redeeming value.
Even critics who did not enjoy the 1994 film still say it is a better version than this reboot that didn't impress much of anyone. ign did a comparison between the two movies and the original 1994 movie still came out the winner. Jean-Claude Van Damme was once asked to make a cameo in this film, but he chose against it. Maybe he knew it would blow...
Finally, what I'll say about "Street Fighter" is: It's campy. It's cheesy. It's comic booky. It's overblown. But you know what? It doesn't bother me, I love it! The movie itself is not meant to taken seriously, it's just big, dumb fun. And that's what makes it enjoyable! There doesn't seem to be a fair, definitive way to grade the movie as I know you will either agree very strongly or you won't agree at all. I love big, dumb fun as much as anyone else does and that's what this movie provides in that it succeeds where others fail: in doing it's job as a fun popcorn flick.