THE DIRECTOR: Steven E. De Souza
THE WRITER: Steven E. De Souza
THE CAST: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen, Kylie Minogue
Once in maybe a generation, you get a video game that completely redefines an entire genre. In 1991, Capcom did just that with its release of Street Fighter II to arcades. Records were set. Awards were won. Everyone and their mother tried to make another fighting game to capture the same magic. It was inevitable that with this level of unbridled success that an adaptation to the big screen was coming. The action-packed game came to life with one of the biggest action stars at the time. The stage was set for glorious victory. Instead, the film was swiftly K.O.’d by critics and defeated at the box office.
Well, let’s fierce punch the rewind button and see what went down…
The original Street Fighter movie really is a giant pile of WTF. One could spend each line of dialogue or each event perplexed as to what anyone involved was thinking. Well, outside of “I’m going to fire my agent.”
On paper much of the film looked good. Martial arts superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme, who was still on fire at that point in time, signed as the lead. Hailed actors Raul Julia and Wes Studi were on board as two of the main villains. While a number of the cast didn’t have martial arts experience, several did. They even had a legitimate sumo wrestler!
But for all of the talent involved, two very large issues dominate the film. First, the tone was beyond campy to the point of silliness, which was quite jarring for most. The thing that could have saved the film, however, would have been the fight scenes. After all, it’s based on a fighting game. Unfortunately, the fights were noticeably absent from the movie until its finale, which is simply baffling as a decision.
Steven E. de Souza (who we have previously seen here as writer for The Running Man and Judge Dredd) makes his feature film directorial re-debut, having previously written and directed the film Arnold’s Wrecking Co. more than twenty years earlier. He was quoted as saying that he didn’t want to make a run-of-the-mill action movie with Street Fighter. Being the co-writer for the far from run-of-the-mill Die Hard and Die Hard 2, I doubt anyone would have expected that from him, but given the game it was inspired by there is a clear expectation for fighting. Presumably on the streets.
Instead we’re lead on the quest of a faux United Nations military team trying to liberate a dictator’s nation and rescue some hostages. Then, if there’s time, we could maybe fight?
To make matters worse, the fights that were there ended up quite lacklustre. The martial arts boot camp that the cast were supposed to go through was cut short and many of the fights were choreographed nearly on the spot. Even with some of the skilled performers they had, sub-par results were almost inevitable. In the film-maker’s defense, there were mitigating circumstances that lead to the shuffle of the schedule.
The late, great Raul Julia had been stricken with cancer and was deteriorating. In a consummate professional show-must-go-on fashion, he powered through the shoot, but became too weak to do much that had been planned. De Souza moved things around to best accommodate the star’s health. While his scene-chewing performance has been the source of many jokes through the years, there is no denying that Julia put everything he had into his role. The movie wanted over the top and he delivered in spades. Tragically, he passed away not long after filming completed.
The rest of the cast certainly tried, save an admittedly drug-addled Van Damme, who is clearly phoning things in here.
One fair point of credit I’ll give the film in closing: there was great effort to present the characters in their game costumes by the end of the film, when the modicum of combat actually happens. Despite the eighty-plus minutes prior, de Souza was making sure the Street Fighter II fans were given something reasonably true to what they came to see in the final moments of the film.
A lot of people peg this movie as being the end of Van Damme’s career, which is way off base. Street Fighter was closely preceded by the awesome John Woo flick Hard Target and the highly successful Time Cop, and was followed up by a few more hits. Now, between Street Fighter and the previous year’s Super Mario Bros (and, oh boy, are we going to get to that one), what it came close to ending was the video game movie genre. Even with Street Fighter‘s international quasi-success, it still flopped domestically. A lot of projects in development around that time fizzled out entirely. If it weren’t for the success of the following year’s Mortal Kombat adaptation, who knows what the fate of video game-based movies would have been? The premise of this movie was also largely the basis for the animated series that debuted in North America a few months later.
So, what if Street Fighter had more closely followed the structure and plots of the game? The various characters were given strong enough back-stories to be in the tournament itself, you could have come out with some interesting plot lines, and, more importantly in this case, some hard-hitting fight scenes.
THE BIG QUESTION:
With the recent release of Ultra Street Fighter IV, who would you like to see play some of the series’ newer characters?
Let us know in the comments below!
Street Fighter does live square in the deep end of “so bad it’s good.” It’s entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s such an epic failure, it almost needs to be seen to understand how terrible it is, though doing so sober is not recommended. That said, the Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie and Street Fighter: Alpha are definitely worth looking up.
NEXT WEEK:STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI!