Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Super-Powered Movie (well, at least it should be): Street Fighter Legend of Chun-Li

After weeks of debating whether or not I should watch Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, I finally picked up a copy and watched this movie. It had terrible reviews (a whopping 4% at Rotten Tomatoes), but being an unrepentant Street Fighter fan, especially one without a PS3 or 360 to play the latest game in the franchise, takes what one can get.

And what one gets is pretty shabby.

Don’t get me wrong. I really think screenwriter Justin Marks (who has a list of geek movies in development including Super Max (Green Arrow), Hack/Slash (based on the Devil’s Due comic), Voltron, Grayskull (He-Man), Suicide Squad (based on the DC comic), and Shadow of the Colossus) tried to make a really good movie here. The screenplay was a passable attempt at trying to make a “real world” version of the Street Fighter storyline. It still takes huge liberties, often for absolutely no reason: from Charlie Nash as a member of Interpol to Rose as a teenage girl. But he honestly tries to get things right, a major change from the writers of the the previous film. But it all seems to have went terribly wrong in production.

I highly doubt director Andrzej Bartkowiak has ever played a video game, let alone Street Fighter. Considering his previous cinema achievement was the screen adaptation of Doom, I think its pretty much 100% guaranteed. He can direct passable action, although in a rather old school fashion, which probably dates back to his days working as director of photography on films like Lethal Weapon IV and Speed. But he does not seem to know how to make his actors become the characters, or for that matter act.

That becomes an even bigger problem when you look at a cast made up of the world’s worst actor Chris Klein as Charlie Nash, “I play every B-movie villian I can find” Neal McDonough, and worst-of-all the Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo as Vega. Kristn Kreuk still acts like a teenaged soap star, and her other lack of Asian features (despite apparently being 50% Chinese) makes her hard to swallow as Chun-Li. Even the slumming Michael Clarke Duncan (who did better work in The Scorpion King) and up-and-coming actress Moon Bloodgood could not make the director actually force anyone to act. The only shining light in this mess is Robin Shou (most famous as Liu Kang in the two Mortal Kombat films). Shou brings Gen to life with perfection, despite his young(-ish) age. Perhaps that shouldn’t be particularly hard; all he has to do is play the same ancient master seen in hundreds of wu shu pictures for the past several decades. But his work does shine past that of the rest of the cast.

Even with the lack of acting, the movie might have been passingly forgivable if any effort was made in costuming. Chun-Li wears a bland black jumpsuit 90% of the time, while Balrog and Bison basically just wear business casual for the entire film (even in their climactic battles). Gen keeps a more traditional look, although without the gray hair. Vega seems to be the most token effort of all the characters. While Taboo certainly bares a resemblance to the original character, his utter lack of fighting talent and the formless black lump that covers his body under his neck do not seem to fit a character as vain as Vega is supposed to be. And do not get me started on Nash, who looks like.... an unwashed Chris Klein.

Which brings us to the fight choreography. Dion Lam has a history of working on great kung fu films with credentials including The Matrix and Black Mask. But instead of using his skills to actually adapt Street Fighter moves for the cinema, he usually resorts to very standard modern wu shu techniques. Yes, we do work in the Lightning Kick, the stomp kick, the rising bird kick, and the axe kick in to her repertoire... a grand total of once each. As for the other characters... nope, no special moves here. Gen even teachs Chun-Li how to summon her fireball... despite the fact he doesn’t possess the move in the games. Nash shoots with guns. Balrog swings a pipe. Bison mostly just parries other people’s moves. Hell, in the final battle, Chun-Li spends most of the fight using a staff she just picked up. Honestly, I don’t think it would be too much to ask for Balrog to box or Bison to throw out a Psycho Crusher. Even if you are trying to avoid the more superhero-y aspects of the franchise (which you really aren’t trying to do when you do feature healing and Gen’s mystic healing powers), those moves could have been worked in to the movie quite easily. It smacks of laziness (and again, lack of knowledge of the source product) by the production team.

Even in its badness, the movie doesn’t give you anything fun to work with. This isn’t a Seagal or Uwe Boll film, the badness is not fun, not amusing. It just makes one want to cry a little inside that no one can seem to figure out how to make something as seemingly simple as a Street Fighter film.

So instead of being the possible start of a new film franchise, The Legend of Chun-Li succeeds only in falling flat on its face. Even if you’re a Street Fighter fan, avoid this one like the plague. Go watch Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie instead. Not Recommended.

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