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STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI
2009
Written by Justin Marks and directed by Andrezj Bartkowiak
96 Minutes
Unrated

The new Street Fighter movie, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, performs the amazing feat of actually being worse than the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle from 1994. The reason for this is what plants the film squarely in yellow star territory instead of red: the deathly seriousness and earnestness of the story and direction. It's clear that everyone here is interested in producing the first serious, and quality, video game action film.

Well, everyone except the director. While I want to blame Justin Marks for his horrible screenplay (and rest assured I'll get to that), Andrezj Bartkowiak, who previously wowed audiences with the first major bomb of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's career, Doom, should be held largely accountable for the failures of this film. Andrezj equates seriousness with a lack of style or panache, and the film's extraordinarily dull direction only ever seems to perk up during the mostly passable fight sequences. There's a horrible blue screen effect early on at Chun-Li's piano recital where you can actually see the halo on her, and it sets the tone for a very dull-looking film. You can tell he's totally disinterested in making a halfway decent film, and that this is just a paycheck for him.

While we're blaming Andrezj for the poor direction, let's go ahead and blame him for the extraordinarily poor casting. Though some actors are game and handle their roles fairly well (Robin Shou is surprisingly one of the better performers, and Michael Clarke Duncan is clearly having fun slumming it as Balrog), others are more questionable choices.

The biggest question mark is reserved for Kristin Kreuk as Chun-Li. I'm getting damn sick of people who aren't even the right ethnicity being cast in ethnic roles, and I thought we'd done away with this in the early twentieth century, but between Justin Chatwin being cast as Goku in Dragonball: Evolution and someone who's only half-Chinese and doesn't even look it as an iconic Chinese character, I'm getting a little pissed. Kreuk is too small and frail to even pull off the role, looking like she's about one stiff wind from being blown over for most of her scenes. She will make you long for the halcyon days of Ming-Na Wen in Street Fighter.

The next is a series of terrible decisions is Chris Klein as Charlie Nash. He looks like he's trying to do his best impression of Scott Patterson, and it doesn't work. You can grow out the scruff, Chris, but you just look like a pretty boy with pubes growing out of your face. He's not masculine enough to pull off the role, no matter how hard he tries. After him is Edmund Chen as Chun-Li's father. He isn't a bad actor, but the problem is that while she ages about fifteen years, he looks exactly the damn same when they reconnect. I know Asian people age well, but give me a break.

And finally, there's Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas as Vega. The character is pretty much a failure from start to finish, and despite being given little to do, Taboo manages to fuck up as much as humanly possible. He doesn't look the part, doesn't act the part, and the whole character design should've been scrapped and at least made to better resemble the game's counterpart.

I will, however, grudgingly grant that Neal McDonough was a fine M. Bison.

The other major problem has to do with the screenplay for the film. While capable direction could've made this script work on at least some level, I still feel like the reason video game movies have largely been failures is because the liberties taken in transferring the story from the game to the film seem to always be the worst ones. The elements Marks dispenses with and the ones he includes are seemingly random.

In the games, Chun-Li is working class, and grows up to be a detective at Interpol. In the film, Chun-Li is a spoiled rich kid and concert pianist who goes slumming in Bangkok, Thailand. This change alone causes her eventual connection with Nash to appear completely random and nonsensical. In the games, Chun-Li is indeed taught how to fight briefly by Gen, but Gen is an old man and a dangerous assassin. Here, Gen is about as old as Chun-Li's father, and a former cohort of Shadoloo, and as game as Robin Shou is, you can't help but feel like the character would've been more interesting had he remained similar to his original counterpart.

One of my biggest nitpicks is the way Vega is handled. He's more or less completely redesigned, given a shitty metal mask that looks worse than his original ceramic one would've looked, is ugly instead of beautiful, and the fight everyone waits for - the one between Vega and Chun-Li - is woefully anticlimactic. This is a match-up that's the stuff of legend after its appearance in Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, but here it just fizzles.

Finally, the screenwriter keeps adding characters where existing canon would do. Detective Maya Sunee is interesting enough, but had they simply stuck with Chun-Li working Interpol, she wouldn't have been needed. Likewise, the character of Cantana proves nearly as unnecessary, and could've easily been replaced by one of Bison's Dolls (for those familiar with canon) or even just Balrog himself.

If it seems like I'm nitpicking, it's only because I know the mythology of the series enough to be able to tell where the changes just weren't necessary, and they do feel profoundly arbitrary. It's a situation where pleasing the fans would've been perfectly congruous with producing a better script and film.

One last nitpick has to do with how Bison's fighting ability is handled. Prior to the final fight scene, there's never any indication that he's the supernaturally powerful fighter that he is. I've mentioned this in other reviews, and it bears repeating here: flash the gun early so we know it will be used later. We never get much of an impression that he's this absurdly powerful fighter until we see him fighting at the end of the movie.

The film doesn't work. But hey, they gave Balrog a gun, so at least he finally has a projectile attack.

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.