In the war between two of the worst films of all time–both sadly being adaptations of one of my favorite game franchises–which will prove to be the best? This is the first part in a series where I subject myself to movies based on fighting video games. And before these reviews I want to say that I’ve never seen any of these films and have no idea just how painful this experience is going to be.
So without further ado….let’s see who wins the fight between Street Fighter: The Movie and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.
Street Fighter’s story is a bastardization and misunderstanding of everything happening in the game. It’s pretty much the typical video game film of the 90’s where none of the production staff seem to have any knowledge or care about the source material to the point it alienates the fans: the ones who are supposed to be going to the theater and paying money to support the project. Shadaloo is a nation in Asia rather than Bison’s organization. M. Bison takes hostages and demands billions of dollars in order to release them. A crack team is built to face off against Bison and his minions comprised of the military commander Guile and his sidekick/love interest Cammy. Reporter Chun-Li, dude bros Ken and Ryu (pronounced Rye-you through the whole movie for whatever reason), and computer nerd E. Honda (among others) join in.
The Legend of Chun-Li has the titular hero going to Bangkok to save her father who has been kidnapped by Bison. Her father is a rich businessman and Bison is trying to take over the Shadaloo corporation. Chun-Li faces a plethora of baddies in her pursuit of vengeance, ending with a dockside battle in which Chun-Li breaks Bison’s neck in front of his daughter. Now, her father’s neck was snapped in front of her by Bison previously in the movie but Bison’s daughter literally has nothing to do with anything. So this is almost shocking in how out-of-character and malicious it is. Anyway, that’s the extent of the plot. No tournament, no excitement. It’s the basic story of a basic action/adventure film with no flourish to it. So while Street Fighter felt like a cartoon and had some sort of character, Chun-Li lacks any sort of noticeable personality. I guess you could say both movies are products of their time in that respect.
Deviations from the Source
Street Fighter is nothing but deviations. Our hero is Guile rather than Ryu or Ken. Guile belongs to the Allied Nations, some fake UN, rather than the United States military. He’s replaced his Americanism and flattop with being a Belgian with a buzzcut. Pretty much all of the representations of characters, with the exception of Raul Julia’s Bison, are terribly cast and put into situations unfitting of these characters. Julia’s Bison only works because Julia hams it up, obviously knowing he’s not there to flex his acting chops. Another major deviation is the fact there is no street fighting aside from a weak scene toward the beginning. Otherwise, I don’t think one part of the movie has any resemblance to the source material.
In the Legend of Chun-Li, Chun-Li starts as a tiny Chinese girl. But as she grows older in the prologue, she gets progressively whiter. Actress Kristin Kreuk is half-Chinese but despite that looks nothing like Chun-Li. And that’s somehow the least egregious miscasting. The villainous Bison is played by one of my favorite B-actors, Neal McDonough, a blond haired blue eyed gentleman. Shadaloo is a corporation, there’s no tournament fighting, Bison is evil because he put all his good inside of his daughter in a mystical cave, Nash is a Nicolas Cage look-alike more so than a Nash look-alike. Chun-Li’s dad is a businessman rather than a cop. They mispronounce “Ryu” at the end of the movie like either an inside joke or a blatant slap in the face and mispronounce “Shadaloo” the whole film like an actual slap to the face. Vega’s mask looks stupid. At least Balrog, played by the wonderful Michael Clark Duncan, looks like Balrog enough to be passable. Otherwise, this movie doesn’t feel like, look like, or play out like you’d expect of Street Fighter.
Made for 35 million, Street Fighter does at least look like a mid-budget 90’s flick. That said, the sets are still ugly and bland. All of the actors are pretty terrible for the most part. The script is another real miss, which is strange given it’s the man who gave us Commando and Die Hard. He must have phoned it in for this one, providing some of the most unfunny humor on the planet along with one of the slowest moving, least compelling video game adaptations imaginable. The directing is bland and there’s absolutely nothing about even the technical side of this movie that makes you think someone cared while making it.
With a budget of 18 million, Legend of Chun-Li had less to work with and it shows. The director of the first Street Fighter movie was a newbie, a screenwriter turned director who had very little idea of what he was doing. This film is directed by the guy who gave us Doom. But before that, he was a cinematographer on quite a few decent films, including Speed. So you think he’d at least have some idea of how to operate in that facet of production. But nope, we have a poorly directed film with action sequences chopped together as we’ve come to expect of Western martial arts releases. Terrible CG as well sprinkled throughout. If nothing else, the acting is a little less painful in Chun-Li…but just a little.
Street Fighter is nearly devoid of action. What little action there is comes in the form of sloppy shootouts and a terrible boat sequence near the end. In a movie about street fighting, we only get two real hand-to-hand battles. And they’re both at the end and hard to take as anyone’s serious attempt at making a martial arts scene. The editing is extremely choppy and poorly handled, the moves themselves are nothing like the characters being represented, and it doesn’t even come across like Flashpoint or something where you can tell there is a good sequence taking place despite the editing. No, this is two incompetent people throwing kicks and punches. It’s an absolute embarrassment to the Street Fighter name.
The Legend of Chun-Li at least manages to have a decent amount of action throughout. While some of those scenes are shootouts, the majority were hand-to-hand combat, though of middling quality. I was impressed that the action sequences at least had some level of competence to them but the shot-to-shot continuity was off constantly and the editing did not help anything. Saying the action in Chun-Li is better than that of Street Fighter…well, pretty much any movie has better action than Street Fighter.
Street Fighter is a definite product of its time and another example of how not to make a video game adaptation. I was hoping this would be on par with Double Dragon, a film that, to me, is so bad its good. But Street Fighter doesn’t even manage that. The acting is straight-up terrible, the story is garbage, and the fighting is bad. Very rarely is it actually funny how bad the movie is, and that’s mostly because of how boring the entire enterprise is. I was so bored, even through the final scenes of chaos and explosions, that I wound up having to speed up the movie just to get to the credits. Street Fighter is the epitome of everything you don’t want to do when making a film.
The Legend of Chun-Li isn’t fun to watch but I have to say that I was a tad less bored with it than I was with Street Fighter. Street Fighter was such a chaotic mess with no action or any sort of glue, while Chun-Li was at least focused and threw in fights at the right times.
Which Movie is Better?
This is a tough question. Both movies are terrible in their own right. Street Fighter: The Movie is boring, it’s dated, it has no focus. But if you read up on all of the issues the production had (as this article discusses) you will probably forgive everything about it. The mess of production made director/writer de Souza make one of the worst films ever and it wasn’t his fault.
Meanwhile, Legend of Chun-Li doesn’t seem to have had any production issues. It’s just a bad, bland, and stupid movie that doesn’t get the characters or the story right. At least Street Fighter, even if it did bastardize the plot and characters, was in the right vein.
But Legend of Chun-Li is the more watchable film in my opinion. It’s not painful to watch so much as its straight up incompetent. Street Fighter is incompetent on a level that’s impossible to justify watching. As I said, I can forgive that knowing the backstory. But we’re deciding the best movie based on what we have in front of us.
And for that…I guess I have to go with Legend of Chun-Li. That’s not a glowing endorsement, I’m not telling you to go out of your way to watch it. In fact, I think watching Street Fighter: The Movie is a better investment if only because it has a legacy. But Chun-Li has more action, the acting is slightly better, its shorter, it moves faster, and it has more focus. Don’t watch it.
In this battle between two turds, Chun-Li wins by a hair.