Street Fighter (1994) / Action-Adventure

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some language
Running Time: 97 min.

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen, Wes Studi, Damian Chapa, Byron Mann, Kylie Minogue, Simon Callow, Roshan Seth, Grand L. Bush, Peter Tuiaosopo, Jay Tavare, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Andrew Bryniarski, Robert Mammone
Director: Steven E. de Souza
Screenplay: Steven E. de Souza
Review published September 28, 2006

For you gamers, the day "Street Fighter" graced your home console was the most important day of your life. But for those of us who saw the was Tuesday.

Video game aficionados need no introduction to the "Street Fighter" name, as it is one of the most popular game franchises of all time, emerging in the late 1980s only to become a phenomenon in the early 1990s with the release of "Street Fighter II" in the arcades, and shortly after, with its debut on the Super Nintendo.  Although there would be many that would master its advanced moves and different character facets, the game also proved very popular in getting casual gamers back into playing, as it is incredibly simple to understand the objective, and insanely fun just button-mashing your way to victory against an equally skilled opponent (or just the CPU).  Although 3D arcade and console games would eventually take over the fighting arena as the technology became more robust, the "Street Fighter" series has managed to still survive in the game industry for 2D-fighting purists, with variations on the same basic premise and characters (which have greatly expanded over the years) still being produced today.

Given the game's immense popularity, it didn't take long for a movie to be greenlit.  The result is 1994's Street Fighter, which introduced a live-action scenario that would introduce nearly all of the main combatants of "Street Fighter II" (including "The New Challengers", sans Fei Long) and find a way to get them doing what we all know them to do -- fight in mostly hand-to-hand combat against one another.  Despite boasting a red-hot action movie star in Jean-Claude Van Damme (Universal Soldier, Timecop), a credible actor playing the main villain in Raul Julia (Addams Family Values, The Rookie), and the writing talents of Steven E. de Souza (screenwriter for great action movies like Die Hard and 48 Hrs.), the film was nearly universally panned upon its release and tanked after the first week at the US box office (it performed somewhat better internationally).

The plot is very convoluted, but essentially it takes place mostly in the fictional Southeast Asian country of Shadaloo, where General M. Bison (Julia) has been waging a war with the A.N. (the Allied Nations -- a U.N.-like military force) after he has taken several dozen A.N. hostages, putting them up for a ransom of $20 billion dollars.  Leading the A.N. counterattack is United States Colonel William F. Guile (Van Damme), a headstrong and gifted fighter that Bison can't wait to challenge in hand-to-hand combat.  Many others would converge at Bison's stronghold, including television reporter Chun-Li Zang (Ming-Na, Final Fantasy), arms dealer Victor Sagat (Studi, Heat), and a couple of roguish martial artists named Ken (Chapa, Under Siege) and Ryu (Mann, The Corruptor). 

Given de Souza's experience as a screenwriter, one gets the impression from the finished product that he probably didn't get his way much of the time when conceptualizing this movie, as it features one of the shoddiest plots and dumbest characterizations I've ever seen for a movie of this magnitude.  The sheer stupidity of it would quickly earn the film a very poor reputation among movie-lovers and game-lovers alike, although I do believe that most of the backlash against the film comes through the disappointing treatment of a very popular series, as it is bad, but far from one of the worst films ever produced as some allege.  The fact that its most credible thespian, Raul Julia, would die two months before the film's eventual release date didn't help publicity, especially as this would be the final theatrical role for such a beloved actor.

Of course, fans of the video games would also resoundingly reject this, as it changes many aspects of the characters from the game.  Inexplicably, nearly all of them speak English, some of their backgrounds have changed (Chun Li as a flashy news reporter??), and several of the main characters are given short shrift in terms of screen time.  While the characters seemed cool and imposing in the game, when put up on the big screen, reciting funny lines, and interacting with each other in some very cartoonish ways, they seemed too silly to take seriously.  It's not difficult to see why the film was jeered by nearly everyone, although the film does have a small cult following among lovers of 1990s pop kitsch.

"This place will blow in ten minutes", Ken says during the film's climax, although those who saw this in the movie theaters could just have aptly said this when the trailers began before the film.  "Things can't get worse", Ken continues, echoing what I was thinking in my mind at the time he said it.  "Uh, I was wrong.  It got worse", the always-prescient Ken, perhaps commenting on the rest of the movie's finale.

Street Fighter is practically worthless except for the curious, and even action movie fans can't stand the film except to laugh at it for the camp value.  It doesn't even live up to its title by giving us proper street fights.  If you love the game, or just poorly executed trash, it might merit a look, just so long as you realize that it is far from a good movie going in.  However, there's still no denying that playing the video game on which it is based for 90 minutes proves an infinitely better use of your idle time and money (unless you pay in Bison dollars).

-- A television cartoon series based on the movie aired in 1995.  Other mostly unrelated feature-length releases include Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994), Street Fighter Zero (aka Street Fighter Alpha) (1999), and Street Fighter Alpha: Generations (2005).  The 1993 Hong Kong movie Future Cops is an unofficial adaptation.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo