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Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

A 2009 action movie directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak

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  • Mar 15, 2011
It's true that the 1994 Street Fighter movie from Steven De Souza was a crappy, transparent attempt to cash in. But at times like this, it's important to remember the good things about it. You have to give credit to De Souza for being able to recognize the fact that his movie was piggybacking a popular video game franchise in the hopes that gamers were as nerdy and stupid as his fourth- or fifth-hand knowledge of the medium told him. He was honest enough about it to write so that everyone would recognize the fact that his efforts were tenth-witted, maybe even twentieth-witted. He at least tried to include all the characters, give them personas which were at least remotely related to who they were in the game, and turn it into a cheeseball action/comedy festival with a plot about as thick as tooth enamel. Of course gamers, having standards and everything, were quick to reject the 1994 movie version of Street Fighter (and the ensuing video game based on the movie). But that doesn't mean we were particularly quick to dismiss it. Instead of just letting it go as another movie bomb, we kept bringing it up, usually to say things like "this movie sucks! Hollywood has totally bastardized and RUINED the Street Fighter franchise! There's no way Hollywood could possibly ever make anything worse than Street Fighter!"

This moaning and whining went on for about 15 years before Hollywood finally heard our cries. Rest assured, we WERE heard and responded to, and that is good news. The bad news is that the response appears to have been a resounding "oh yeah?" And so we enter Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, Hollywood's mistaking our cries for a challenge.

The movie gods must be shaking their angry fists at The Matrix right now for the way it wrecked an entire decade of fight scenes. Who needs real martial arts when we've got computers, CGI imagery, and bullet time? Yes folks, they're all over the place in The Legend of Chun-Li. The movie gods are probably also kicking themselves because Michael Bay has has managed to create a career out of replacing real action scenes with breakneck flash-cut editing and close-ups with rapid-fire strobe lighting known to induce seizures. Legend of Chun-Li director Andrzej Bartkowiak has managed to take the worst aspects of the Wachowski Brothers and Michael Bay and combine them into a series of fight sequences whose sense could only possibly be discovered by a caffeinated coke freak. Although I am grateful to Bartkowiak for outfitting Kristin Kreuk in shorts and a tank top two sizes too small.

It's awfully cute that screenwriter Justin Marks ventured out to give The Legend of Chun-Li a plot. Marks, who has apparently spent the better part of the last two decades somewhere among the outer planets, doesn't seem aware of the fact that the entire saga of the Street Fighter video game series is nothing more than a mixed martial arts contest fought by people with backgrounds. The great tragedy of The Legend of Chun-Li is that Chun-Li the video game character already had a background that was not only a natural for an action movie, but integral - or as integral as a background could be for a fighting game, anyway - to the mythos of Street Fighter. Chun-Li in the game was an undercover Interpol agent out to get an evil warlord by the name of M. Bison. Just knowing that, a ten-year-old - or possibly even Michael Bay - could hack out a sensible, halfway decent action movie script on his lunch napkin during break. I'll give Marks credit for obviously attempting to challenge himself. He willingly made his task into a herculean one by turning The First Lady of Fighting Games into a concert pianist.

Yes, a concert pianist. Which I suppose makes perfect sense in its own little way: Try dragging a guy's guy (there's a difference between a guy's guy and a man's man which must be acknowledged here) to a classical piano concert and he'll get quite violent simply because there's nothing else to do and there are no laser lights or beers to distract him. Anyway, Chun-Li is Daddy's little girl who, while young, watches her father get dragged off by a gangster named Bison. This doesn't seem to affect her development as a pianist or as a human being until she is a fully bloomed adult, and even then not until a mysterious scroll arrives after one of her shows. After getting it translated, she learns that she has to go seek out a man named Gen, who trains her so she can find her father and fight Bison.

To spice things up a little bit, Marks and Bartkowiak offer their own version of Bison's life story. He grew up making his way as a thief, and eventually took his wife into a cave and killed her as a means of killing all the good within himself and transferring his conscience into his prematurely born daughter. It's important to note here that in the Street Fighter universe, people can create energy waves and balls of chi by waving their hands around. In spite of this fact, the whole conscience transferral thing still feels out of place and forced in to create an explanation. It's one of those twists that makes you believe that scribbling out the Legend of Chun-Li's script on a lunch napkin in half an hour is exactly what Justin Marks did. Also worth noting is the fact that it doesn't do a damned thing to salvage Bison as a character. Bison is just a boring character. He's so bland and milktoast that even using the Lazarus machine on Raul Julia, who had the time of his life hamming up his role as Bison in 1994, wouldn't save him. Neal McDonough plays Bison in The Legend of Chun-Li, apparently under directions to either growl or yell.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is 96 minutes long, and instead of attempting De Souza's method of cramming in every character he could, Marks simply introduces a grab bag of characters. Chun-Li and Bison are assisted by Balrog, Vega - who is just barely in this thing - and possibly a few characters from later Street Fighter games which I'm not familiar with. Ryu is given a throwaway mention at the end. There are two entirely new characters named Nash and Maya who could have easily been replaced by other characters from the games. Perhaps Guile and Cammy would have sufficed. Given the accuracy of the rest of this movie to the games, it literally would have required nothing more than a couple of name changes. I figured maybe Maya could be a quick, subtle nod at Killer Instinct, which had a fighter named Maya. But that is probably trying to give Marks too much credit.

By now you know that Chun-Li is played by Kristin Kreuk, and you also know these two things about her performance. The first is that she doesn't have a mite of Asian blood in her little finger. This might not seem like such a big deal at first because her mother in the movie is white, but she's also played by younger actresses who very clearly ARE ACTUALLY ASIAN! Come the obligatory reunion scene between Chun-Li and her father, after the father asks "Chun-Li?" you half-expect that line to be immediately followed by the line "Why do you look like a Canadian?" The second is that Kreuk not only phoned in, but that she seemed almost like she was directed to do so sometimes. There's one scene in which she is in mourning and convincingly looks like she is in character enough to shed a real tear. Just before the waterworks begin, Kreuk pulls back as if she she thinks to herself or is told "DON'T CRY! You can't cry because then you would be, you know, acting, and we sure as hell can't have that!" In other scenes her tone is inconsistent, and she just overexerts herself when Chun-Li is supposed to be excited.

Eventually the martial arts scenes even grow to have an air of inconsistency. This is bad because even though there's a plot, it's not what Street Fighter fans are forking over their money to see. They want to see their favorite characters and moves on cellophane. You get four characters from the games and all of two moves, the fireball and the whirlwind kick, both courtesy of Chun-Li. I will say nothing of Chun-Li's signature move, the wind kick, because of the fact that her whirlwind kick was successful on a crowd of five assailants despite missing them all by about four solid feet. Phony is the name of the game here, as Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li appears to have worse hit detection than a first-generation NES title. I did, however, find it pretty impressive when Chun-Li unleashed a bicycle kick, a move by Mortal Kombat character Liu Kang. It probably helped that Gen is played by Robin Shou, who also played Liu Kang in the movie adaptation of Mortal Kombat.

Raul Julia's role of ham actor from the 1994 Street Fighter movie is taken by Michael Clark Duncan, who plays Balrog, and you have to hope this Oscar nominee repents for whatever sin placed him into these doldrums. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li isn't the funny kind of bad, like the former Street Fighter movie. It's disturbingly easy to see while watching it why Capcom and Street Fighter no longer wield the tremendous authority and respect they once held in video games. Capcom always had a reputation for overkilling its games, and it now looks like Street Fighter movies are headed in that direction.

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March 17, 2011
I didn't like this movie either. awesome review and loved that headline!
March 17, 2011
Thanks! Though in retrospect, maybe it should have read "Press D-Pad Down, Down, Down to Execute."
March 17, 2011
More Street Fighter: The Legend of ... reviews
review by . February 27, 2009
The Legend of Chun-Li
As a child, Street Fighters was one of my favorite video games on Super Nintendo, and as one of few female in the game, Chun-Li was by far my favorite fighter, so when The Legend of Chun Li came out, I just HAD to see it.  I ended up catching the midnight screening, and, well, I was underwhelmed.      The movie started out strong, giving insight into Chun-Li's earlier life and showing her privileged childhood in Hong Kong, where she trained to be a concert pianist and was …
review by . July 04, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Dvd cover
   The awesome “Street Fighter” video game franchise was first brought to life by Hollywood in 1994 featuring a “cartoonish” Jean Claude Van-Damme, Ming Na-Wen, Kylie Minogue and Raul Julia as the despot named Bison. The movie was a disaster and it was no wonder why it failed miserably in the box-office. Hollywood should’ve taken pointers from Japan for “Street Fighter: The Animated Movie”, which was undeniably the best movie adapted from the franchise …
Quick Tip by . July 18, 2010
Bad casting, bad use of characters that are nothing like they're video game counterparts, not a lot of action and not enough characters from the series are used. Maybe thats a good thing since they too would have been mangled. More proof that if you want to adapt a comic or video game to a movie, know the source material first.
review by . August 29, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
For whatever reason, film adaptations of video games tend not to make good movies. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li follows this rule all to closely. The plot is pretty weak - basically Chun Li (Kristen Kreuk) fighting to save her father from Bison (Chris Klein), who oddly enough is an evil corporate gangster in a three-piece suit in the film - not the guy in the red military uniform from the game. Furthermore, Bison's alleged powers come from having transfered his conscience to his daughter …
review by . June 28, 2009
I very rarely do this with my reviews, but to save you the time of reading about everything wrong with this movie, I'll give you a couple of words to sum it up at the start. This was just awful, really awful. In fact, it was so awful I would rather sit through a 1 and a half hour Matthew McConaughey movie. Now that brief hatred is over, I'll begin to tell you just exactly what I hated about this movie in separated paragraphs. Sort of like bullet points, only filled with 50% more hatred.    The …
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Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #17
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li gives insight into Chun-Li's (Kristin Kreuk) life before becoming a fighter.  It shows her privileged childhood in Hong Kong, where she trains to be a concert pianist and is taught martial arts by her father.  Everything is great until her well-connected father is kidnapped by the evil M. Bison (Neal McDonough) and his henchmen.  Chun-Li ends up attending Julliard and does live her dream of being a concert pianist in Hong Kong.  However, after her mother passes, she becomes lost and feels like there's something more for her.  Eventually, she is guided to Bangkok, where she trains with Gen (Robin Shue).  Her new goals in life are to find her father and to take down M. Bison and his evil empire, who have wreaked havoc on the streets of Bangkok for much too long.

The origin story of the characters from Capcom’s popular Street Fighter video game is detailed in The Legend of Chun-Li, a live-action martial arts thriller from Doom helmer Andrzej Bartkowiak.Smallville’s Kristin Kreuk gives a spirited turn in the title role, a concert pianist turned global crime fighter who cracks her share of heads while in pursuit of the mobsters who have kidnapped her father. Neal McDonough and Michael Clarke Duncan glower effectively as Bison, the nefarious mastermind behind the abduction, and his henchman, Balrog, respectively. The film’s offbeat cast, which includes Chris Klein and Moon Bloodgood as ...
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Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Release Date: February 27, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: June 30, 2009
Runtime: 1 hr. 37 min.
Studio: 20th Century Fox Distribution, Twentieth Century Fox
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