There was no way that a good movie could be made from the Street Fighter franchise. The very concept of a Street Fighter movie stands in antithesis of the games. How does one make a film from a concept that features nothing more than two people with irrelevant motives punching each other into unconsciousness in a no-hold-barred fighting competition? The canvas is bare, obviously, and you can fill those gaps with any manner of things, but why? And won't the details that surround the concept ultimately corrupt and overpower the idea of people duking it out in some street competition for some ultimate prize?
That aside, Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li takes the different approach of ostensibly attempting to focus on a single character's plot line instead of trying to turn the entire game into a single movie. Unfortunately, Street Fighter still doesn't have the script to pull off the feat.
First off, some might be put off by the choice of "Smallville" actress Kristin Kreuk as Chun-Li. And while she comes across as very young, much younger than she is, she actually does a surprisingly good job, particularly in the fight scenes, where I would have assumed she would be totally out of her league. Instead, she shows a great ability to act through the fight choreography and bring intense emotion to her fight scenes.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag, all good actors, but, just like Kreuk to a lesser degree, all of their performances are dragged down by the terrible script. Before I attempt to point out any of the acting flaws, it'd probably be helpful to run down the plot so you understand the mess these actors have gotten into.
We meet Chun-Li in Hong Kong as a child, an aspiring piano virtuoso whose Asian father is some sort of rich business type, the importance of whom we never have adequately explained during the course of the film. Along comes veteran character actor Neal McDonough as Bison, who, along with his henchman Balrog (played by Michael Clarke Duncan), kidnaps Chun-Li's father under the threat of murdering his family if he doesn't cooperate. A decade passes and Chun-Li the piano student is nudged along by the receipt of a mysterious, ancient scroll and cancer-related death of her Caucasian mother to search out a path in the world. The scroll supposedly relates to some thug turned good-guy martial artist named Gen, who resides in Bangkok. So Chun-Li heads off to Thailand on her own, living on the streets, for no conceivably good reason other than that she thinks Gen has already been watching her.
Meanwhile we're embroiled in the subplots of Bison, who has taken over all the various ethnic crime families that supposedly run Bangkok or elsewhere by having Vega murder them all then consolidating their power into his Shadaloo business organization, and the cops, Bangkok organized crime police detective Maya Sunee (played by Moon Bloodgood) and Interpol agent Charlie Nash (played by Chris Klein), investigating Bison and Shadaloo.
The police subplot is more or less a waste of everyone's time, but it works as filler in Chun-Li's bland and predictable hero quest. Moon Bloodgood is more or less wasted as Sunee, not to mention that there's nothing vaguely Thai about her, and Chris Klein, though enjoyable in Just Friends, chews the scenery with reckless abandon and more or less delivers the worst performance in Street Fighter.
Back on the streets of Bangkok, Chun-Li is still wading through the bullshit of the "when Gen wants to be found, he'll find you" school of plot resolution and is mainly spending her time trying to find food and shelter and stay alive. Finally, she stands up to defend a downtrodden person, as is foreshadowed twice earlier in the film, and, as expected, that's when Gen finally takes her in and explains to her that Bison has her father, he used to work with Bison until he grew a conscience, and that he'll help her save her father as soon as she's worked out her issues and has gotten the appropriate level of Karate Kid-type training, including shooting fireballs from her hands.
From here on out, it becomes a series of moronic set-pieces that involve martial arts fights between Gen, Chun-Li and random baddies and gunfights between Sunee and Nash and more random baddies. The criminals are being all criminal-y in anticipation of some sort of special shipment and our heroes are damned determined to stop that shipment, catch Bison red-handed, or just get Chun-Li's father back. Which she doesn't manage to do in the course of the movie, anyway, I guess giving her the motivation to continue her Street Fighter-like ways after the thing is over.
Now, to spoil a movie that can't really be spoiled, this is where we find out that Bison is the child of Irish missionaries, an orphan growing up on the Bangkok streets, who eventually sacrifices his pregnant bride in a magic cave for dark power and to put his conscience and good side into his baby, which he rips from the mother's stomach. Yes, it's as stupid as it sounds. So, by giving up his wife, he gets to kick ass at martial arts and, most importantly, put his conscience into his daughter... who then turns out to be the cargo being snuck from Russia into Bangkok that everyone's so hot to catch him with. Confused? Wondering how any of that makes sense? Don't bother thinking about it.
So, it all comes down to a big fight at Bison's house between Gen, Chun-Li, and Nash and all those Shadaloo assholes. And Chun-Li snaps Bison's neck and his daughter gets "rescued" after being totally non-plussed to watch her deadbeat murderer dad get killed in front of her by strangers.
So, the acting... McDonough, an American, is tasked with doing the usual overacting "bad guy" role, all while trying out a tragic Irish accent. His parents were Irish. But then you have to ask: if he's a fucking orphan, raised on the streets in Thailand, why does he have an Irish accent? And why isn't he Russian? Wasn't Bison an uber-Soviet-type character in the game?
Michael Clarke Duncan is wasted as Balrog, but at least physically convincing. Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas is in there for no reason as Vega, seemingly appearing just to have Vega in the movie. And why all the villains anyway? Why kill off the whole bad guy section of the Street Fighter retinue if they wanted to make more movies and even made reference to the next film, involving Gen going to Japan to recruit Ryu, at the movie's end?
The script woes, inconsistencies, and casting issues aside, the movie has a look and tone that reminds me of Ballistic: Echs vs. Sever, a movie I actually enjoyed much more than Street Fighter. It probably says a lot that they spent $50 million on such a mediocre film and it says even more that they only made $10 million back. It's substantially lame and amateurish while looking generically decent, like every other $30+ million on the planet. It's an embarrassment to everyone who made it for its sheer lack of ambition and noteworthy qualities.
Despite some awkward moments, Kreuk actually comes out none the worse for wear and I have more respect for her than I ever did before. I wouldn't mind seeing her in something very non-Street-Fighter-related. Moon Bloodgood also walks away clean, because, well, I'd forgive her of infanticide with a side order of ethnic cleansing, and she's barely in the movie to begin with. The only thing I'll probably take away from the film, in the end, is how damned good Moon Bloodgood looks.
Ultimately, almost anyone could have written a better movie, though I'm not sure Street Fighter, as a concept, deserves any better than this. Hopefully we can put the whole thing to bed and pretend it never happened, the Street Fighter concept along with it.