Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

This Calls For The Inverted Helicopter Kick!

I was a late starter to the Street Fighter video game, having pick it up only during the army days where our platoon was LOBO (left out of battle order) and just mulling around waiting for things to happen. So there was this holding area that turned out to be our place of refuge, and stationed there was a coin operated Street Fighter II arcade game. My character of choice were surprisingly M.Bison, E.Honda and Blanka, just so because they were easy to use, and execute those special moves compared to the fan favorites of Ryu, Ken or even Guile, no thanks to a very well used joystick.

For those of you too young to remember, some 15 years ago Jean-Claude Van Damme fronted a team of actors such as Ming-Na Wen and Kylie Minogue even, as Guile, Chun Li and Cammy respectively, up against the evil few led by the late Raul Julia's M.Bison. The movie undoubtedly boasted plenty of characters from the game (almost all of them I think) but was nothing more than a box office disaster like most other Hollywood adaptations of all things Japanese from comics to games. That effectively torpedoed further thoughts of filming the Capcom franchise, until now.

Made in collaboration with Capcom, I think someone probably thought enough time had past and the past stinker forgotten, and to follow suit in a franchise milking programme like what Marvel and DC had embarked upon, a reboot is in order and the current buzzword. So just like how the characters in Street Fighter hail from all over the world, the production too has input from everywhere, like actors in the West and in the East, being filmed in Thailand and having Indian producing input as well. It's like a melting pot of cultures collaborating in breathing life into a possible franchise should this film prove to be successful. But chances are I suspect it'll at most hit the direct to DVD route after this.

It's a little surprising that the filmmakers opted for Chun Li instead of the signature character of Ryu. Maybe they have faith in Kristin Kreuk, better known for her Lana Lang role in Smallville, to pull in the fanboys, or once fanboys, of the video game. But as it turns out, while she may be a looker, and her personal grounding in gymnastics and martial arts do help, she's ultimately let down by a weak plot (ok, so that's expected) and some very weak supporting characters. On the side of the good, you have Cheng Pei Pei in a one scene cameo, who does nothing but to tell her to go to Bangkok and live like a pauper, useless cops with Chris Klein as an Interpol cop Charlie Nash who's basically cardboard and Moon Bloodgood (love that name) as a Thai policewoman Maya who just preens and purrs, and Robin Shou as Gen, a mystical David-Carradine-Kung-Fu knock off with long grey hair.

As if the villains were good enough, being nothing but bland and uninteresting. I thought it was a good spin on things to have Neal McDonough's Bison being a corporate raider with his Shadaloo organization, aided by lesbian femme fatale Cantana (Hong Kong's Josie Ho), a very underused Vega (Black Eyed Peas' Taboo) and Michael Clarke Duncan's Balrog, who's more like a relegated Kingpin of Crime from Daredevil, now playing sidekick. Like Robin Shou, who also once had leading role status, I feel that this film was like a collection of would be has-beens waiting for another chance at the big league.

If there's any cause for celebration, then it might be Edmund Chen's role as Chun Li's dad Heung. From Ivan Heng to Adrian Pang to Fann Wong and to the coup of seeing Chin Han having possibly the role of his life in The Dark Knight, Edmund Chen looks set to follow in the latter's footsteps, but only up until some stuntmen unceremoniously took over almost all his fighting scenes, even those that require him to perform some non-life threatening qi-gong stances. The body double is really too obvious and one can tell it isn't him at all. So shave off some 50% of his "appearance" from the film.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li is a straight forward film without much depth in its story, and it's relatively lower production budget translates to many of the jazzy special prowess in the game being considerably toned down. Perhaps director Andrzej Bartkowiak's intention was to have it more rooted to reality, but therein lies the danger see, because this film has tremendous parallels with that of another super-powered movie called Elektra. Both have recognizable female actresses in the lead role, and they share a plot involving secret organizations, mystical healing, an experienced teacher to learn the ropes from, and plenty of hokey martial arts. Even the training sequence looks super summarized, uninspiring and filled with unremarkable, cliched dialogue.

Having said that it was more rooted in reality, that doesn't mean there weren't fun opportunities for some game-like signature moments. I had enjoyed how Bison power packs his punches and kicks, just like in the game but without any glowing-blue glove to visually enhance it (just throbbing sound effects). Chun Li doesn't appear in her iconic qipao, but makes up for it in one scene where she has to execute her Tenshokyaku, the spinning bird kick where she inverts herself and spins her legs like helicopter blades, and dons her hair "ox horns" style. Other than that, her costume's pretty much well suited for the heat and humidity of the Bangkok temperature, as well as the usual black ensemble made hip by X-Men.

It had tried to be more cerebral in crafting a father-daughter story between Chun Li and dad Heung, Chun Li and her master Gen, and that between M.Bison and her daughter Rose. But anything in depth has no place in the film as it opted to be more fleet-footed that even a three year old could follow. It's an origin story, and depending on which camp you're on, you may or may not agree with some of the tweaks made here to accommodate the film version of things. Despite being called "Street Fighter", the fights here are nothing too fantastic or memorable, and looks comfortably in place with many B-grade action movies out there, with the occasional lapsing into the crutch of having the fight scenes edited in double quick time.

I suppose the filmmakers had tried their best, but there's a lot of room to try harder and come up with a better product. The lead to the sequel involves a martial arts tournament, but please don't go down the same road as Mortal Kombat and the likes. Come up with a proper and stronger story, and perhaps, we could get a chance to see a franchise being developed, straight to the cinema or DVD market. I'm willing to give it a shot, even with or without Kristin Kreuk returning.

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