Should I Watch..? 'Street Fighter'
What's the big deal?
Street Fighter is an action film released in 1994 and is loosely based around the hugely successful video game Street Fighter II released in 1991. The film follows an international coalition of peace-keeping troops led by Colonel Guile as they attempt to prevent megalomaniac dictator M. Bison from taking over the world. The film stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kylie Minogue, Ming-Na Wen, Damien Chapa, Bryon Mann and Raúl Juliá in his final film role - he would sadly pass away two months before the film was released so director and screenwriter Steven E. de Souza dedicated the film to his memory. Sadly, the film was a critical disaster as fans decried the movie for its camp tone and poor use of characters but the film was a surprising success at the box office with global takings just shy of $100 million. Its reputation was so toxic that it was rebooted fifteen years later with the equally derided Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li, making any further movies based on the games extremely unlikely.
What's it about?
In south-east Asia, the remote country of Shadaloo is ruled with an iron fist by the ruthless dictator M. Bison who plans on conquering the world with an army of genetically enhanced soldiers. Attempting to overthrow him are the thinly-stretched forces of the Allied Nations led by Colonel William Guile but things are not going well in their war against Bison. Aid relief workers have been kidnapped - among them, Guile's friend Charlie Blanka - and Bison demands an astronomical ransom for their release. Perhaps realising that such a demand will never be met, Bison orders his hostages to undergo genetic experimentation performed by captive scientist Dhalism.
Meanwhile, Guile assembles his troops to begin an intensive hunt for Bison's hidden base in an attempt to rescue the aid workers. Together with con artists Ryu and Ken and investigative reporter Chun-Li and her crew, Guile prepares to deliver a message direct to Bison - release the hostages or prepare to get your ass kicked...
Jean-Claude Van Damme
General M. Bison
Steven E. de Souza
Steven E. de Souza*
Release Date (UK)
19th May, 1995
What's to like?
Although fans of the game might not like to admit it, Street Fighter makes a good fist of cramming as many of the game's larger-than-life characters into the film - even if some are reduced to little more than a cameo. Even the more unlikely figures like sumo wrestler E. Honda and Jamaican kickboxer Dee Jay feature in the mix somewhere and eagle-eyed fans will love trying to spot them all. By and large, they all look like their digitised counterparts although it's fair to say that not all of them act like it. Good guys are suddenly baddies and vice versa - perhaps a bit more research might have helped here.
The film is an intriguing blend of explosive action and tongue-in-cheek comedy which doesn't always work but makes for an interesting experience, especially if you enjoy really crap movies. The only real person to emerge from this steaming pile of garbage is the late Raúl Juliá who deserved so much better than this film to serve as his epitaph. Throwing himself overboard with Bison's theatrical mannerisms and hokey dialogue, he has a look of power that disguised his fragile health at the time and he looks as though he had fun in the role. How could he not with lines like "You still refuse to accept my God-hood?" and the inevitable "Game over!"
- Due to Capcom co-financing the film, they oversaw every aspect of the production. They insisted on Van Damme for the part of Guile and Juliá for the role of Bison. Seeing as Van Damme's salary claimed $8 million of the film's $35 million budget, the rest of the parts had to be filled by unknown or little-known actors instead.
- When news of Juliá's cancer diagnosis hit, the film's training schedule was severely reduced - sometimes, actors would only rehearse their fight scenes mere hours before shooting them.
- With the film falling behind schedule, de Souza requested more time for filming but Capcom refused. This led to de Souza shooting the more dramatic scenes while stunt coordinator Charlie Picerni oversaw the shooting of the action scenes. The pair nearly came to blows after de Souza realised that Picerni had omitted several signature moves from the game from the various fight scenes because they weren't realistic enough.
What's not to like?
The very definition of a guilty pleasure, Street Fighter has such an extensive list of problems that it makes its rival Mortal Kombat look like Citizen Kane. With the exception of Juliá, the entire cast are a joke with Van Damme's over-the-top delivery indicative of the fact that he might not have realised he was in a comedy. Mind you, I wouldn't blame him - the script feels devoid of humour, logic and cohesion with characters the audience would recognise stripped of their personalities and generally acting like idiots. Take the game's heroes Ryu and Ken, here reduced to bickering morons and playing second-fiddle to Van Damme's military man. But by far the worst character is Blanka, easily the worst looking green-mutant since Lou Ferrigno hulked up in the late Seventies and a role so embarrassing that he doesn't even have a fight scene.
Speaking of which, there is also a rather glaring flaw that I can't believe de Souza missed. The video games are reliant on martial arts and physical combat so why does de Souza flood the film with noisy shootouts and boring boat chase scenes? Don't get me wrong, the plot of the games wasn't much more than a excuse for these characters to bash each other to bits but why did the film have to deviate so much? It feels as though de Souza had secured the licence but instead of making the martial arts movie it should have been, he chose to rely on his tried and tested formula of noisy gun battles and an inexplicable number of explosions.
Should I watch it?
It isn't the worse example of a video game adaptation but Street Fighter does nothing to dispel the myth that all such films are rubbish. It's far too silly, far too camp and far too dull to recommend only to the most forgiving fans of the series. The script is hopeless, the effects are cheap and the cast are hopeless - Juliá must have only taken the role for the money because if any film was going to sully his otherwise respectable career, it was this one.
Great For: unintentional comedy, killing directorial careers
Not So Great For: Capcom, fans of the games, action lovers, anyone older than 12
What else should I watch?
Street Fighter represents a real low point in the annals of video game adaptations but it is not the absolute worst, not by any stretch. Disastrous cinematic outings like Super Mario Bros., DOA: Dead Or Alive and Tekken are largely relics of the past with Hollywood increasingly obsessed with finding one film to break the so-called curse. These days, ever-larger amounts of money are flung into projects such as Warcraft, Assassin's Creed and Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time but alas, there has not been a corresponding increase in the quality of these films. The wait goes on.
However, fans of the Street Fighter series of games mustn't give up hope. Released in the same year as this camp car crash, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is a totally different affair which is much more serious and closer to the source material. I enjoy a good anime at the best of times and this film is bloodier, edgier and proved influential for the games that followed as well as opening the possibilities for other anime versions of video games. Frankly, it knocks Van Damme's live-action ham into a cocked hat.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox