Sunday, April 8, 2018

Characterization in Street Fighter (1994) and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)

Fighting games are one of the simplest and longest lasting genres of video games.  Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Super Smash Bros., and Dead or Alive have led the charge, along with one other video game series: Street Fighter.  There’s something about fighting other characters to come out on top as the victor that people enjoy.  It’s like beating someone up without the real world regret and consequences.  They had their thin stories.  Mortal Kombat was about a tournament that held the world in its clutches.  The original Street Fighter was about a fighting tournament, but the sequels would bring in crime syndicates and scientific experiments.

These games have become a source for some of the lesser video game film adaptations that have been made.  Dead or Alive came out in 2006, and told the story of a fighting tournament gone wrong.  Mortal Kombat and its sequel came out in the 1990s, and told the story of beings from other realms trying to conquer Earth through a fighting tournament.  Even Tekken got two movies, with the first not being all that bad, and the sequel getting one of the worst reputations in video game movies.

Two movies have been made based on the Street Fighter video game lore.  The first, 1994’s Street Fighter, saw a bunch of people including Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Chun-Li (Ming-Na Wen), Ryu (Byron Mann), Cammy (Kylie Minogue), and Ken (Damian Chapa) working to take down evil dictator M. Bison (Raul Julia).  It was ridiculous action, overdone performances, and one-liners.  Fifteen years later, in 2009, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li would be released.  It wasn’t a sequel to the other film.  Instead, it told the story of Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) as she tried to get revenge on M. Bison (Neal McDonough) for kidnapping and killing her father.  The whole time, Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) and Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood) were trying to take down the underground criminal organizations in Bangkok.

There were some major differences in the two movies, particularly in the portrayals of the characters.  Three major characters who were in both films were vastly different from their counterparts.  Chun-Li, M. Bison, and Balrog were all changed between Street Fighter and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li to the point that if their names weren’t known, it would be hard to tell that they were the same character.  A deeper look into the characters will show how different they were in the two movies.
Chun-Li was the first playable female character in the Street Fighter video game series.  She made her debut in Street Fighter II as the only playable female character and became a fan favourite almost immediately.  She would be a playable character in almost all future games in the Street Fighter series, if not all of them.

The character would make her feature film debut in Street Fighter, a movie based on Street Fighter II.   She was portrayed as a news reporter, out for revenge against M. Bison, who had killed her father when he came to their village.  She teamed up with Balrog (Grand L. Bush) and E. Honda (Peter Navy Tuiasosopo), who each wanted to take down Sagat (Wes Studi), one of M. Bison’s allies.

The motivations behind Chun-Li’s story were kept almost the same for the movie that would feature her name in the title.  In Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, the character was a piano player whose father was kidnapped by M. Bison when she was young.  She sought revenge to get her father back.

The two movie versions of the characters weren’t too far off from one another.  The main difference between the two, outside of the obvious career change from reporter to pianist, was the stage in their revenge that was playing out.  The reporter version of Chun-Li had clearly been working towards this revenge for a long time.  The pianist version, audiences got to see the whole road to revenge play out.  She left the cozy pianist world to train with Gen (Robin Shou) and get closer to her revenge.   The whole story of Chun-Li’s journey was playing out, instead of how she intersected with a bunch of other characters leading to M. Bison’s downfall.  It was more focused, and a better story.  The movie was worse, but the potential for something better was there.
Balrog was one of the original Street Fighter characters, appearing in the first game as Mike.  His original name was Mike Bison, which was changed to Balrog come Street Fighter II for non-Japan releases.  They wanted to avoid the Mike Tyson/Bison potential lawsuits.  The M. Bison name was given to a different character, and the boxer became Balrog.

In the 1994 film adaptation of the Street Fighter series, Balrog was working with Chun-Li as she tried to get revenge on M. Bison.  He was part of her news crew.  Together with E. Honda and Chun-Li, Balrog executed a plan to blow up a meeting between M. Bison and Sagat.  When that went wrong, they were captured by the villains.  They would later team up with Guile, Ken, Ryu, Cammy, and a bunch of military people to take down the Shadaloo Empire.

Balrog would switch sides for Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.  He was now a bad guy, like his video game counterpart.  Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan) was a henchman for M. Bison.  He did all of the dirty work that M. Bison didn’t want to do.  There wasn’t too much to the character outside of being intimidating.  He fought Gen late in the movie as a lead-up to the big fight against M. Bison, which was very much like the game, where he had to be defeated before the final boss of M. Bison.

The main difference between the character’s portrayals in the two movies was his allegiance.  In Street Fighter II, which seems to be the specific game that the two movies took their concepts from, Balrog was a villainous character.  For whatever reason, he was a heroic character in the 1994 adaptation.  The 2009 film would keep him as a villain.  The villainous role may have worked a little better, but neither was all that great.  He was a character who was supporting another character, which meant he didn’t have much to do.  He wasn’t given any meat to chew on.  He was just there.
M. Bison
Now comes the villain of the Street Fighter franchise, M. Bison.  He wasn’t in the first game, but would be a major player in every game after that.  M. Bison was in charge of Shadaloo, a crime organization that was to become the foundation for world domination.  He wanted to be the dictator of the world, and even dressed the part.

Raul Julia played M. Bison as an over-the-top campy dictator type in 1994’s Street Fighter.  He gave a great performance that perfectly fit the movie it was in, yet it alienated the game’s fanbase because of how knowingly comedic it was with the material.  They wanted seriousness.  What they got was Raul Julia acting as a goofy, extremely off-the-rails guy trying to be a dictator somewhere in Asia.

The M. Bison of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li was much more serious.  He was a business man starting a crime syndicate called Shadaloo in Bangkok.  He got rid of his political rivals by having them killed and leaving their bodies for the police to find.  His motivations were no longer only to take over the world.  He wanted his daughter back because he had transferred the good part of his soul into her body.  He was evil, but he was a smart evil.

Seeing the two Street Fighter movies, M. Bison was the biggest character shift out of anyone.  His personality was completely changed between movies.  He went from the dumb power hungry dictator to the business smart power hungry crime lord.  It was a different kind of villain for a different kind of movie.  The difference was a crazy man who thought he needed to show people that he deserved power and a smart man who knew he had to take the power if he wanted it.  Each was the right choice for the movie that was being made, though neither movie was all that good. 
Speaking of the movies themselves, there has yet to be a good movie based on the Street Fighter video games.  Street Fighter, the 1994 movie, was a campy action film that didn’t take the material seriously at all.  It had good fun with the concept and made some light fluff that was easily digestible, if a little on the dumb side of things.  Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li went too far in the other direction, trying to make things too serious.  It still came off as hokey because of how serious it got.  Chris Klein was in his own world of over-acting.  Kristin Kreuk’s narration was some of the most unenthusiastic voice work ever set to a movie.  Nobody has properly found a way to do Street Fighter service yet, which has made for a tarnished film reputation.

The same could be said of any fighting game that has been adapted into a film.  Mortal Kombat was fun, but it wasn’t a great movie.  DOA: Dead or Alive had its moments, and it certainly had fun with the material, but it was a little too much sometimes.  There’s something about fighting games that hasn’t quite translated because nobody can figure out how to mix the seriousness and the fun in a way that isn’t cheesy.

Maybe there’s something lost in the adaptation part.  Too much time is spent in movies trying to pay tribute to where the idea came from.  When video games are adapted, the people behind the movie want to make sure that they bring in all of the elements of the video game that they can.  They put more focus on that than crafting an entertaining, strong storyline.  And when they do craft that story, it gets lost under all of the video game moments.  Movies are a different medium and should be treated as such.  Fighting games don’t need to play out like fighting games on the big screen.  They need to be brought to life in a different form for a different medium.  That’s the key.  When someone figures it out, they’ll unlock something great.
Let’s unlock some notes:

  • Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li was suggested by friend of the blog, @BreakABone, who previously suggested Birdemic (week 100), Steel (week 127), Catwoman (week 174), I, Frankenstein (week 217), and Jonah Hex (week 249).
  • Other movies that were mentioned in this post were Mortal Kombat (week 140) and DOA: Dead or Alive (week 191).
  • Robin Shou returned to the Sunday “Bad” Movies this week, playing Gen in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.  He was in Death Race (week 9), Death Race 2 (week 9), Death Race: Inferno (week 9), Mortal Kombat (week 140), Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (week 140), and DOA: Dead or Alive (week 191).
  • Michael Clarke Duncan made his fifth Sunday “Bad” Movies appearance in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.  He was previously in A Crush on You (week 51), D.E.B.S. (week 111), Delgo (week 148), and Air Buddies (week 270).
  • Sahajak Boonthanakit and Gigi Velicitat each made their third Sunday “Bad” Movies appearances this week after appearing in both The Marine 2 (week 30) and Skin Trade (week 146).
  • Another third-timer was Neal McDonough, who had previously shown up in The Marine 3: Homefront (week 30) and Timeline (week 222).
  • Gerry Day was in The Marine (week 30), as well as Street Fighter.
  • Seng Kawee was in The Marine 2 (week 30), as well as Street Fighter.
  • Street Fighter featured Miguel A. Nunez Jr. who had been in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (week 46) years earlier.
  • Kylie Minogue, who played Cammy in Street Fighter, also had a role in Bio-Dome (week 124).
  • Peter Navy Tuiasosopo showed up as E. Honda in Street Fighter.  He was previously in the Sunday “Bad” Movies when he was in Batman & Robin (week 138).
  • He wasn’t the only DC connection.  Byron Mann was in Street Fighter and Catwoman (week 174).
  • Jay Tavare returned to the Sunday “Bad” Movies this week in Street Fighter, after having shown up in The Human Centipede III (week 180).
  • Obviously, Street Fighter wasn’t the first appearance of Jean-Claude Van Damme in the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  He was in Double Team (week 193).
  • Benny Uriquidez was in Road House (week 200) before he was in Street Fighter.
  • Street Fighter had a performance from Andrew Bryniarski, who was in Hudson Hawk (week 232).
  • Finally, Ron Smoorenburg was in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.  He had already joined the Sunday “Bad” Movies in Outcast (week 163).
  • Have you seen either of the Street Fighter movies?  Which one do you think was a better movie?  Which one was a better adaptation?  Are there any good fighting game movies?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
  • Those are two good places where you can suggest movies for me to check out.  Twitter and the comments.  I’m always keeping an eye out for movies I might not have otherwise known that would make for good subjects for this blog.  Hit me up, people.
  • If you want to add me to snapchat, go ahead (jurassicgriffin).  Sometimes there’s interesting stuff.  Not normally though.
  • The Sunday “Bad” Movies will return next week.  Hopefully it won’t be as rushed as this week’s post.  Getting sick at the end of the week meant I’m finishing this at about 3am the night before I’m posting it.  The next movie up is The Karate Dog, which I saw once when I was younger.  I would have been fifteen when it came out.  What was I doing watching that at fifteen?  No idea.  Anyway, that’s next week, so be ready.  I’ll have a post for it.  I’ll see you then.

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