Some movies get a free pass while others are unduly maligned. If a mediocre film has an A-list director attached, or the pedigree of a certain type of actor or screenwriter it can be given a pass as a failed attempt while a similar film from less respected talent might be beaten to within an inch of its life by the critical community and fanboys alike.
I try not to be beholden to hype; rather I try to enter each movie without expectations. I want to love everything I see, and I sincerely hope that every movie will turn out to be the best version possible. I’m the guy who liked Turistas better than Hostel. I’m the guy who defended Repo! The Genetic Opera, Charlie Bartlett, and Alpha Dog. Now I find myself defending a movie that has a whopping 4% positive rating on Rottentomatoes. But lemme tell ya’, as embarrassing as it is to admit, I sorta liked Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. More after the jump:
The film begins with Chun-Li as a child. She’s a pretty little Asian girl studies Wushu and dreams of being a concert pianist. One evening M. Bison (Neal McDonough) shows up and kidnaps her wealthy father with the help of Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan, laughing like Dr. Hibbert from The Simpsons). Years later, Li (Kristin Kreuk) has grown up to be a very pretty (and half white!) concert pianist/Wushu expert. After she is given a secret scroll telling her to head to Bangkok and seek out the mysterious Gen, Li finds herself in a position to make good use of her martial arts training in various venues, including streets. Sadly, the film does not find a way to work piano prowess into any of the action scenes.
Stylistically the movie is pretty interesting. There is a good 20-30 minutes of it in Chinese, a good 20-30 minutes of it is in English, and a good 20-30 minutes of it is silent with expository narration. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but this method could be used as a new approach to localizing cinema. With only about a 3rd of the movie actually in English (and a story logic for why the characters are speaking English in China and Thailand), and another third of the movie using extensive Sin City levels of narration, this movie could play comfortably in both the US and China and appear to be locally produced content. Now, this system has limitations, namely, it necessitates massive amounts of redundant voiceover work that result in cringe-worthy dialogue like, “Was this mysterious scroll a message?”. This movie doesn’t really use the idea that well, but I’m pretty sure an industrious young talent could find a way to put it to good use.
I have gone out of my way to name characters in this review because I’m pretty sure that most of the principal cast is based loosely upon versions of characters from the game. I don’t really play video games, so I don’t know, but I seemed to remember some of these monikers from the 1994 incarnation, Street Fighter: The Movie. As I watched Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li I realized that my very loose knowledge of the franchise lore might well be an advantage. I don’t know what Chun-Li is “supposed” to be. All I know is what the Chun-Li of this movie is. And what it is is pretty damn fun. A Street Fighter aficionado might find the strange magical elements that appear at the one-hour mark might be frustrating or out of place, but to a virgin to the series, it’s just nifty.
And once the magic kicks in, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li becomes a wild ride that approaches the sublime level of strangeness that many 80s B-action movies strived for. Bison rips a baby out of its mother’s womb and transfers all of his “goodness” into it. People make fireballs with no explanation. That creepy looking Asian dude from The Black Eyed Peas fights with a Freddy Kruger claw. It’s bizarre, over the top, and never, ever boring.
About half of the movie deals with Li. These scenes are fun, and it’s nice to see an action movie about a woman that doesn’t feature endless scenes of ogling her T&A, but in spite of what the subtitle would have you believe, she is not the center of this movie. No, this movie has Chris Klein playing the most absurd badass cop of all time. From the moment he is awkwardly introduced to hip-hop music until the moment the movie ends (with an over the top titlecard), Klein’s performance is stunning. It’s the kind of surreal, whacked out strangeness that can become legend. He plays his character, Charlie Nash, sort of like a young Nicholas Cage channeling Dirty Harry in the middle of a coke binge. It’s like one of those bad, stereotypical roles written for a hulking black guy, except they gave it to a very middle of the road, unimposing Caucasian actor.
Opposite Klein is Det. Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood) playing a sexy woman of ambiguous nationality and loose sexual mores. Her specialties include looking hot, wearing form fitting outfits, and taking off her top. I bet she got top marks in these arenas back at police academy.
The two cops are hunting Bison because he’s chosen to sort of reenact the plot of Dolph Lundgren’s 1989 version of The Punisher. Now, I don’t know about you, but I am of the opinion that not enough movies steal from Dolph Lundgren’s 1989 version of The Punisher. You probably haven’t even seen this movie/know of its existence, but I promise you, it’s a gem. Oscar Nominee Mark Goldblatt directed the film, and it’s a wonderful little piece of exploitation. In that film a female Yakuza shows up and forces all the crime families of NYC into subservience by kidnapping their children. Then, The Punisher goes around and kills about a 150 people on camera. Here, a white guy (Bison) shows up and kidnaps a bunch of Asian gangsters progeny with similar plans. Li doesn’t muder over 100 people, but I had fun anyway.
The acting is atrocious, as is the dialogue, and the images are occasionally cumbersome with oddly framed shots and lots of useless expository scenes. The action isn’t even that impressive, (though one guy does have his head spun around 180 degrees after being kicked, so it’s not all bad). But someone, all of the substandard elements come together in B-movie alchemy to become far greater than the sum of their parts. It’s not great, but it sure is more fun than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
A while back (with the DVD release of Live Free or Die Hard to be specific) Fox began including digital copies with all new DVD releases. I guess this makes their DVDs seem like a better deal to the public because everything is a two-disc edition. In reality, it’s just a second disc containing a copy-protected version of the movie*. As a result of this new feature, Fox has stopped sending out real copies of their movies for review. Instead, I get a package with a watermarked copy of the disc that features unfinished transfer. Consequently, I have no way of gauging anything about the sound or image quality on any Fox disc.
For a movie that bombed, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li has a pretty extensive set of extra features. The DVD contains both the theatrical version of the film and the unrated cut. The unrated cut is only about a minute longer, but I think they might have remixed the sound effects a bit because it is surprisingly gooey.
There is a director’s commentary also featuring actors McDonough and Klein and producers Patrick Aiello and Ashok Amritraj. Standard stuff, not as fun as it could be, but not totally soporific.
The disc also features a bunch of deleted scenes. The film might have done well to include some of these as they seem to attach the characters more to, (what I assume are), their video game personas.
“Becoming a Street Fighter” is a 20 minute-ish feature on the development and choreography. It’s basically just your standard issue “Making of” with a few extra concept drawings.
“Fox Movie Channel Presents Making a Scene” is one of those infomerical-esque shorts you see between feature films on HBO at like 3 AM. Except, this one showed on Fox Movie Channel. It’s nice to hear from the choreography department, but there is no depth here.
“Chun-Li: Bringing the Legend to Life” focuses on the physical rigor required of the lead and all of the hard work she did researching her character. Kreuk is very attractive, but if you’ve seen one of these training videos, you’ve seen them all.
One feature I like to see on DVDs is storyboard collections. This DVD has a whole bunch of storyboarded scenes. Oddly, many of them are less than 5 panels long. That said, the action oriented storyboards are clean and interesting. Not as cool as Wayne Kramer’s obsessive storyboarding, but this is the kind of feature that is generally worth looking at.
Meanwhile, “Behind the Fight: Production Gallery” is perhaps the most useless feature I have ever seen on a DVD. It’s supposed to be set photography, but really it’s just like looking through someone’s facebook albums. Some of the stills appear to have no framing whatsoever. Totally useless.
But there is another feature that is even worse. “Recreating the Game: Arcade to Film Comparisons” is literally 8 photographs long. And not one of them is interesting. I suppose this was meant to show us how the filmmakers took elements of the video game and changed it up for the third dimension. But it’s really dumb.
Rounding out the disc is a set of trailers (including one for Wolverine that actually kinda makes me wanna see the movie) and an advert for the new Marvel Vs. Capcom game.
Apparently the DVD release of this film includes an animated short. My screener copy did not include this, so I can’t do anything beyond notifying you of the short film’s existence.
There are a lot of features on this DVD and some of them are good, but there is a large amount of filler too, hesitate before buying. You can get through all of this stuff in an afternoon.
In the end, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is a goofy, fun movie. It’s the kind of film where a lion roar is mixed into the background every time the villain shows up. It’s the kind of movie that trades in dumbed down versions of eastern mysticism. It’s the kind of movie that USA, TNT, and SPIKEtv were invented to show. To be entirely honest, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is not a good movie. But if you’ve seen Dolph Lundgren’s 1989 version of The Punisher and enjoyed it, I highly recommend Chris Klein’s 2009 version of Street Fighter ( : The Legend of Chun-Li). If you only see one movie with the title Street Fighter, make sure it stars Sonny Chiba. But, if you have time for like 4 movies with the title Street Fighter, you could probably watch all 3 of Chiba’s movies, and cap it off with this one.
*You’re already legally allowed to make back-ups, so I don’t really get this feature’s point. But I guess the DVD market is hurting these days, so folks are trying new marketing gimmicks. I would suggest spending more time making movies that are better than Dragonball: Evolution, but then, I’m not an executive.