I have decided that at the end of every month I will post a review of a film that is at least 8 years old and see how it holds up by today’s standards. The twist is that most of the films that I will be reviewing faired about as well critically when they were first released as a blind man with no arms in a boxing match. The first film to step into the metaphorical Octagon that is my critical gaze is absolutely no exception, I present Street Fighter.
If that name sounds like something you were once playing on your home console system that’s because it probably is, this film was based on the immensely popular arcade franchise of the same name that is still going strong today. Unfortunately the directors of this cinematic abortion probably weren’t hit with the same feeling of Déjà vu during the creative process. The game and the film have very little in common and it feels as if the directors simply tacked the name Street Fighter onto the film to stir up more buzz. This film is technically a part of the Street Fighter franchise but to me that’s like saying that a Tesco value microwaveable Chicken Korma meal that cost 97p, is 6 weeks out of date and has been left to fester in the sun for double that amount of time is still technically a curry. Perhaps even more unfortunate is the fact that the directors were also not hit with any type of financial consequences for their incompetence. This film somehow grossed just under $100million at the box-office but I still struggle to see where the $35million budget went, my only guess is that the service provided by the caters was simply exceptional.
The first gripe I have with this film is that it literally features no street fighting what so ever. It’s like the equivalent of George Lucas creating Star Wars and then setting the entire thing under water.
The name Jean-Claude Van Damme and the words ‘captivating’, ‘heartfelt’ and even simply ‘entertaining’ aren’t often used in the same sentence and it’s here where Street Fighter’s main problems lie. Van Damme has always seemed to me like even at the height of his popularity he was somewhat B-list, always playing second fiddle to the likes of Schwarzenegger and Stallone and it’s not hard to see why in this film. Van Damme plays the role of Colonel Guile who heads an A.N. military operation in the fictional city of Shadaloo, which we are told is in South-East Asia but oddly enough most of the scenery looks more like Australia or New Zealand. Bad dialog can be blamed to an extent and believe me there is enough in this film to make the script from Transformers 3 read like Shakespeare but Van Damme’s overall performance and delivery throughout is horrible. In a number of scenes he appears uninterested and I even get the impression that his breath may have smelt a little bit like whiskey during a number of the takes. This is never more evident than a scene around the halfway point where Guile is attempting to motivate his troops to ride into battle with him through a riveting motivational speech. Well, I’m sure it would have been riveting if it were not 50% un-eligible, read like it was written by a gung-ho 8 year old and didn’t feature Jean-Claude Van Damme in any capacity of any kind.
The casting for this film also strikes me as unusual because if I didn’t know better I’d guess that a number of the actors left their English dictionaries in their trailers and forgot about them. Honestly, Kenya Sawada who oddly enough plays the part of a character named Captain Sawada delivers his lines with all the sureness and confidence of a Rhinoceros on a tight-rope. Jay Tavare on the other hand who plays the part of Vega simply doesn’t speak at all and has his one line in the entire film delivered off screen by a voice-over. Outside of his fight scenes, Tavare seems confused and stares into space aimlessly as if he’s unaware that the camera is on him or maybe he’s praying that nobody will notice he’s in the film at all, I can’t say I blame him if I’m honest. The strangeness of the casting also stretches to the implied ethnicity of the characters. We are told that Viktor Sagat is a South-East Asian crime lord; however he is played by Wes Studi who is of Cherokee ancestry and as a result this character is about as easy to swallow as a frozen rock cake. Andrew Bryniarski dons a purely synthetic Russian accent for the part of Zangief and seems similarly out of place and at odds with everything around him. Yes, Zangief was Russian in the video game but he appeared in a far different context.
Perhaps the biggest injustice with regards to the casting of this film centers on the main antagonist of both the film and its source material, General M. Bison. This is not because the character is played or cast badly; in fact it’s quite the contrary, General M. Bison is played by non-other than Raúl Juliá and is one of few characters that looks anything like his source material and doesn’t completely phone his performance in. The character of Bison is kitted out in a red suit and cloak and is a drug lord-turned dictator who is so camp that he makes Doctor Evil seem like Hitler. Surprisingly his aims and ambitions are centered on a deep and meaningful concept that stems from his traumatic upbringing and complex way of thinking. No, I’m just building you up; typical plots for world domination are on the cliché menu and its double helpings this time around because Bison’s motivations and back story are about as deep as a muddy puddle on a sunny afternoon and have as many dimensions as a stick man drawn on a flat surface. Yet despite this and in true testament to what a class act he really was Julià attacks the role with all of the enthusiasm and zest that a 54 year old practically on his death bed can muster. Despite his ill health Julià was excited about this role as his children were huge fans of the franchise and wanted him to take the job and although he was pronounced dead a mere 2 months later his performance still blows everybody else about this film out of the water. It’s just a shame that such a consummate professional has to make do with this film as his final swan-song.
As is a common trait for most films based on video games, the plot of Street Fighter contains holes so deep you could abseil down them and so wide you could park your car in them. The problem is that the film features so many characters and sub plots and they all fight so hard for screen time that they all end up missing out on the one thing their all trying to get, a point. A major plot point occurs when Guile convinces two vastly underdeveloped interpretations of Ken and Ryu, played by Damian Chapa and Byron Mann respectively to infiltrate Sagat’s ranks as he believes it will help him find the whereabouts of M. Bison, or at least where made to assume this as its never clearly explained on screen. During the operation Guile wears a bullet proof vest and fakes his own death when he is shot by Ken, therefore gaining Ryu and Ken the trust of Sagat and ultimately M. Bison. This is all well and good and could have been potentially interesting if not for the fact that around 20 minutes later Guile reveals himself to both M. Bison and Sagat showing that he is alive and well. This makes the entire plot thread completely irrelevant and after this scene where given nothing but some badly edited fight scenes to tide us over until the credits.
Speaking of fight scenes this film has them by the truck-load. In most films a punch being thrown at somebody is a big deal and emphasizes a major plot point, in Street Fighter it’s how most of the characters greet each other.
Perhaps I’m knit-picking now but Street Fighter is just packed with weird conventions and odd direction throughout. For a start, why do most of the A.N. soldiers look 10 years old and wear Blue Camouflage? It’s as if they were expecting to fight M. Bison’s soldiers underwater, in the terrain that the actual battle takes place in they stand out more than I would in a Lauren Hill music video. What’s also odd is that when the main battle takes place not a single A.N. soldier or ‘good guy’ is killed on screen. How in the world did M. Bison rise to any position of power when his soldiers can’t seem to hit a barn door, and despite carrying machine guns and being kitted out in full body armor they can’t seem to get the best of even un-armed opponents wearing no protective gear at all?
The motives behind certain events are also very questionable. Towards the end of the film Guile and a group of A.N. soldiers corner and out-number Bison and a small group of his troops. They literally have him in their sights and by shooting Bison there and then the tragic war would be over and the poor people who paid their money to see this film in theatres would get to go home 15 minutes early. Despite this obvious reality, Guile instead opts to order his troops out of the room so he can face Bison one-on-one. What instead follows is another badly edited sequence of shots showing Van Damme beat up a man almost twice his senior, not exactly riveting stuff.
Despite all of the criticisms listed above I have to admit that part of me enjoyed seeing this film again, if only slightly. It’s camp and ridiculous to the point that it’s almost oddly entertaining but it’s hard to determine whether or not it’s entertaining by design. What isn’t hard to determine however is the shoddy plot, mostly awful acting and badly edited fight scenes, along with the fact that some directorial decisions really just don’t sit well with the average viewer. Let me just say in closing that there is a reason why Kylie Minogue’s acting career didn’t progress much further after this film. Yes, you read that right, Kylie Minogue is indeed featured in this film and it’s at least as bad as you can imagine it to be.