THE YEAR: 2009
THE DIRECTOR: Andrzej Bartkowiak
THE WRITER: Justin Marks
THE CAST: Kristen Kreuk, Neal McDonough, Michael Clarke Duncan, Chris Klein, Robin Shou, Taboo
Sometimes, you can just imagine the thought process when some projects start: “We tried this once before and messed it all up. Now we have a second chance, a chance to really do things right this time!” After 1994’s Street Fighter movie, it would seem like there was nowhere to go but up. But we were so, so wrong. Barely making back one-quarter of its original budget, the failure of The Legend of Chun Li is, well, legendary.
So let’s high kick the rewind button and see the damage…
A Street Fighter redux had been in development since 2003. Originally envisioned as a semi-sequel to the 1994 movie with much of the same cast, but with a different tone. That was scrapped along the way and re-tooled as a complete reboot and prequel starring the character of Chun Li.
The focus on Chun-Li is somewhat puzzling as traditionally we see the the American characters (eg Guile) in the lead role rather than the other “World Warriors”. But the film easily solves the problem of having a Chinese lead, making Chun Li half-white, American educated, accent-free and only remembers that she reads and speaks Mandarin part of the time. See? Issue averted.
Chun Li is played by Smallville and Beauty and the Beast star Kristen Kreuk, who I will admit puts a decent effort into her performance, but is seriously miscast. At no point is she convincing as a martial artist or possessing any other of her game counterpart’s strong attributes, and that’s a disturbing trend in this movie. Everyone is horrendously miscast. The stand-out of terrible is Chris Klein who offers up one of the most laughable attempts at a tough guy cop I have ever witnessed.
The funny thing is Moon Bloodgood (Falling Skies) being in the film as Maya, who was apparently a precursor to the character of Crimson Viper. It’s funny because Bloodgood seems much more fit for the role of Chun Li. She exudes much more confidence as well as physical strength. Her character in the film is also an Interpol agent, which is Chun Li’s background in the game. Interesting bit of trivia, Bloodgood’s ancestry is a mix of Dutch and Asian, much like star Kreuk (Kreuk’s mother is Chinese, Bloodgood’s is Korean).
In regards to it’s source material, I would say that with the exception of Balrog being a boxer, there is even less adapted from the actual game series than the 1994 version, and that is a scary concept. The intimidating and eccentric dictator M. Bison is inexplicably reduced to a blonde businessman. Much like the previous movie, the film ignores all of the detailed backstories of the game series. Which is even more baffling given that Capcom supervised much of the film.
The Legend of Chun Li was directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, director of the atrocious Doom adaptation (which, yes, we’ll get to), as well as a littering of lackluster action films starring Jet Li, rapper DMX and Steven Seagal. He hasn’t directed anything since this film, however. Bartowiak spent much of his film career as a cinematographer, which leaves one wondering why The Legend of Chun Li looks so flat and bland.
One last note I found interesting: While the film touts the strong (in theory) female character of Chun Li, the original theatrical poster (above) clearly shows a male fighter battling someone who appears to be Vega.
The film’s devastatingly bad performance at the box office decidedly ensured that no future Street Fighter movies were being made. And plans were definitely in the works. The ending of Legend of Chun Li was set up to continue as a series delving into origins of the other characters as well. This would have been incredible if only this movie was handled with the care it deserved.
There is so much wrong with Legend of Chun Li that you can really take your pick of What If’s. “What if absolutely anyone was appropriately cast?” would likely be where I would start. But I think the question I am left asking is whether or not this was actually intended to be a Street Fighter film? What if the names were just changed in a similar script? In all honesty, that is often how it feels.
Okay, I’ll be objective. What if the original 2003 concept was executed? Nearly a decade later, how would the much older cast (Van Damme would have been just shy of fifty years old) fared?
THE BIG QUESTION:
Was it better to reboot based on the previous generation’s Street Fighter II game, or would you rather have seen an adaptation of a more recent Street Fighter game?
Let us know in the comments below!
There is absolutely nothing of value here. Unlike its predecessor, it’s not “so bad it’s good”. It’s just bad. And dismally so.