- Written and directed by the screenwriter of some of the best action movies of our time
- Starring one of the biggest action stars on the planet
- Based on one of the most popular video game franchises in history
Excited yet? Now rewind back to 1994, nearly 20 years ago. The filmmaker is Steven E. de Souza, writer of Die Hard, Commando, The Running Man, and 48 Hours. In the 90’s, that was quite a resume. Throw in Jean-Claude Van Damme, and you have the makings of a hit. And if I told you the game is Street Fighter? You just lost your mind.
As we all know now, this movie was a steaming pile. While it made a profit, it was a joke of a movie and was one of the main reasons video game movies got off to such a slow start. Before Street Fighter, there were 2(!) video game movies in existence: Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon. Many today may not even realize these movies exist, but they do and they’re dreadful. While Street Fighter may be a step up, it is by no means good.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Street Fighter was a hugely popular arcade game that also sold a lot of Super Nintendo consoles. It was essentially one of the first tournament-style fighting games and was popular both in the East and West. It utilized a colorful and diverse cast of characters and button-mashed its way into our homes. It paved the way for games like Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, DOA, and many others. In 1994, it was hard to find a more popular video game. JCVD was a huge star and antagonist Raul Julia was fresh of his success as the lead in the Addams Family franchise. The rest of the cast were relative unknowns, but the film had all it needed to be a monumental step forward for video games as movies. Alas, it was not meant to be.
The look of most characters was spot on. M. Bison‘s look was a direct port from the game. It took a while, but Ryu and Ken eventually donned their normal attire. Guile, Zangief, and the rest were very accurate as well when it comes to their look and costume. While mostly unnecessary, the idea of Bison as a terrorist leader with henchman and Guile leading a freedom force was a nice way to bring the characters together and explain their presence in this conflict. It set up the fights and different character interactions. In Raul Julia’s last film before his untimely death, he delivers the best performance of the movie by far by playing M. Bison as a diabolical figurehead that thinks he’s doing what is right. There’s also some great 80’s action movie dialogue to be found:
Stuffy government suit-type when advocating paying M. Bison’s ransom: “Guile, have you lost your mind?”
Guile: “No. You’ve lost your balls!”
What Didn’t Work:
While de Souza does his best to bring these characters into a conflict that justifies their actions against one another, it seems completely unnecessary to ditch the fighting tournament element in favor of this anti-terrorism approach when you are just going to stay with the game’s cartoonish tone anyway. Remember, this film came out a year before Mortal Kombat and there were no video game films like it. And most of the one-on-one fights were found at the end of the movie after several gunfights and near encounters.
About those fight scenes. When playing the video game, each fight takes place at one of many exotic locales. In this film, all the fights come in M. Bison’s layer as the building is falling apart and our heroes are helping hostages escape. Also, its as if the fight choreographers were limited to moves the characters performed in the game. And I’m not talking about the good moves (I’m staring at you, Ryu’s “Hadouken”). I’m talking about watching JCVD do a round house kick several times IN SUCCESSION, much like a player taking advantage of a lesser opponent or bad computer AI. I’m sure there’s a drinking game in there somewhere.
And while we are on the topic of JCVD, a Belgian as Guile? I am all for portraying American diversity, but this is a man with the US flag tatooed on his tricep. Van Damme doesn’t try to disguise his accent at all and it is often difficult to differentiate his pronunciation of “Charlie,” his missing military buddy that would become Blanka, and “Chun-Li,” the Chinese woman posing as a journalist. It took me half the movie to realize that I was getting the two confused. Add the sexist way in which Guile sizes up Chun-Li by circling her and looking her up and down before implying they should date, and JCVD quickly becomes annoying and unnecessary.
What the Movie Industry Can Learn:
First, don’t pigeon hole a star into a role he’s not suited for. See: Prince of Persia and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Second, if it ain’t broke…you know the rest. How can this movie be called Street Fighter when there is no street fighting?
Hopefully nothing. Rebooting this franchise is a bad idea. After two Street Fighter movies, two Mortal Kombat movies, and DOA, it is almost impossible to make an original-feeling movie based on a tournament-style fighting game. But if you are forced to make one, I would pick Mortal Kombat. It has an edgy quality that resonates with audiences. Street Fighter simply feels outdated at this point.