ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Street Fighter’ (1994), Part One
Chris Sims: Hello everyone, and welcome, at long last, to ComicsAlliance's brand new movie review series. For you, the day you voted for us to spend months watching movies based on fighting games was the most important day of your life. For us... it was Tuesday.
Matt Wilson: You changed the whole schedule just so you could say that, didn't you?Chris: I might've, but let's be real here: You're lucky if I manage to get through a review of 1994's universally hated Street Fighter without referencing that line two or three more times.
Matt: I don't know what's going to happen once we actually get to it. You may shoot off into orbit.
Chris: On the off chance that our readers aren't familiar with it already, Street Fighter is one of the all-time greatest video game franchises. Most players were first introduced to it through Street Fighter II, an arcade classic that ate up countless hours in shopping malls, mini-golf courses and movie theater lobbies starting in 1991. It was a huge hit, to the point that by 1993, it had racked up over $1.5 billion in sales.
Matt: Not to mention a ton of different versions of essentially the same game, tweaked and resold: Turbo, Champion Edition, Super, Super Turbo, even a pinball game. And then the series ballooned from there with the Alpha series. Something in the area of a dozen games came out before Street Fighter III hit in 1997. This movie series, however, stands at one. If you count the Chun-Li movie, two.
Chris: That's only for live-action movies, though. There were quite a few anime adaptations that expanded on the unique characters of the game -- you know, karate guys, kung fu girls, weird South American electrical jungle monsters -- and fleshed out the storyline. For the Hollywood version, of course, this was largely ignored in favor of producing a Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle that makes absolutely no sense.
Matt: Van Damme actually turned down the role of Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat -- a character who was ENTIRELY BASED ON HIM -- to play Col. Guile. Of note: Guile is not from Belgium. He is also not the lead character of the game series. That would be Ryu, who is basically sidelined in the movie. I'll be real: This made 1994 Matt, who was (and remains) a big Ryu and Ken fan and hated playing as Guile, really angry.
Chris: I was a Chun-Li fan who was equally miffed about my favorite lightning-kicking Interpol agent being recast as a plucky reporter. Seriously, as simple as the game might be (people fight and eventually fight a vaguely evil boss guy), there actually is a lot of good story stuff out there, as evidenced by Udon's Street Fighter comics -- and I'm not just saying that because I wrote one. But as much as we comic book fans have had to grit our teeth through Hollywood playing fast and loose with our favorite heroes, video games have had it way worse, with recognizable names sprinkled randomly on characters that only tangentially resemble the originals.
Matt: Which is why trying to watch this movie as any kind of adaptation of the game series is an act of complete futility. And frankly, I feel more and more like that wasn't the filmmakers' intent. They're clearly going for high camp here. It succeeds on that front. The director, Stephen E. de Souza, had previously directed a Tales From the Crypt episode and wrote Hudson Hawk, which seems to confirm that's the intent. (Another co-writing credit of his? Just Die Hard. That's all.)
Chris: Part of that is why I genuinely enjoy this movie, even though it's terrible. The other part -- the much, much bigger part -- is that every scene with Raul Julia as M. Bison is truly fantastic. So how about we jump right in and see what we can make of this mess?
Matt: If you have any familiarity with the games at all, the opening scene depicting news reports of an escalating civil war in the country of Shadaloo -- Bison's criminal empire/terrorist organization in the games -- should be a pretty quick sign that this thing is going to upend any expectations of fealty to the source material you might have.
Chris: It's pretty quickly apparent that this is going to be a minor sin when it comes to accuracy, as we're quickly introduced to TV news reporter Chun-Li and Allied Nations Commander Guile, an American with a suspiciously thick Belgian accent that makes every line of dialogue he says hilarious. To be fair, though, Bison himself is fairly accurate. Other than, you know, being played by a dude in his 40s who doesn't exactly look like he could win a fistfight with Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Matt: Guile's supposed to the in the Air Force, not the Army (he's got planes all over his stage background, guys!) but if we keep nitpicking this stuff, we'll be here all day. Bison and loyal henchman Zangief are in their Bond Villain lair tossing around guys who are literally wearing the flags of their respective countries and watching the news when Guile addresses Bison directly through the TV. And what does he say? He gives him the stiff arm. Like Bison cut him off in traffic.
Chris: This is, in all honesty, where I start to love this movie. I love that it's so firmly set in a PG-13, Good-For-The-Kids movie universe that a fairly minor obscene gesture makes Bison so mad that he breaks into the transmission to shout threats at his fellow warrior. Or as Guile says, "worrier."
Matt: This is also where the audience is assaulted with new characters. In about a minute, we're introduced to Cammy (Kylie Minogue in, I think our pal Andy Khouri will agree, one of her finest roles), skinny Dee Jay, camera guy Balrog, prisoner Charlie and news truck guy E. Honda. Even for people who know the game, these characters are all so different from their counterparts it's pretty confusing. I would imagine this is where lots of people in the audience wondered if this was actually part two, or if they arrived to the theater half an hour late. Particularly since Bison just up and starts a three-day hostage-killing countdown after a very brief exchange with Guile.
Chris: With a ransom demand of twenty billion dollars, which he will use to fund the grand new city of Bisonopolis! Seriously, you guys: This movie has Raul Julia straight up playing Cobra Commander, and those parts, at least, are awesome. The rest of it, not so much, particularly our introduction to Ken and Ryu.
Matt: The fact that he cut in to a news report but allowed them to respond to what he was saying by cutting back to their feed? High-larious. But yes, let's meet even more characters, shall we? Vega, who is actually pretty close to his video-game self, is fighting in a pit while Ryu and bad-haircut, bad-tie Ken meet Sagat for an...arms deal!?
Chris: As you mentioned above, this is probably the most infuriating change for fans of the series. The stoic martial arts master and his loyal, flamboyant pal have been replaced with a pair of preppy arms dealers, albeit ones with Robin Hood tendencies. Their plan is to sell toy guns to Sagat (also an arms dealer), a scam that they've been pulling on all sorts of warlords over the years.
Matt: Of course, the deal goes bad. Sagat intercepts their shipment and attacks them with the toy guns, which leads to a quick-furniture-breaking fight scene in which it would seem some of Sagat's henchman never quite figure out the guns are toys.
Chris: You'd think Ken and Ryu fighting would give us at least one Shoryuken or a Hurricane kick or something, but alas, the movie's dedication to the source material pretty much stops with the names. Seriously, if I told you that there was a Street Fighter movie that ran for an hour and 41 minutes without a single hadouken, you would think I was a crazy person. And yet, here we are, with Raul Julia trying to be casual about introducing us to "Dr. Dahlsim," who doesn't breathe even a little bit of fire.
Matt: Or stretch! Or even fight! Dhalsim's role is that of the good-scientist-coerced-into-bad, which here is turning Charlie into Blanka. They're getting two SF characters in one go, there. Apparently Dhalsim will only make his brain into a monster, though, so Bison's other scientists have to inject Charlie with Hi-C to alter his body.
Chris: So for the record: Hadoukens, Dragon Punches, Tiger Uppercuts and Yoga Flames were left out, but they went ahead and put the green jungle monster with electric skin into the movie.
Matt: The movie's rather misguided commitment to cramming every single character from the games into its runtime is admirable, in a way. But any ounce of commitment is gone after that.
Chris: Other than Raul Julia's dedication to chewing scenery, you mean.
Matt: That's true. His readings of "Do not presume so much of my good nature," and "When his brain has become a killing machine" are delightful interpretations of things that make no sense whatsoever.
Chris: The delight is short-lived, however, as we return to Ken and Ryu. For attempting to swindle Sagat, they've been sentenced to fight a Vega cosplayer in a cage, which is kinda, sorta like the games. That's enough for the kids, right?
Matt: But let's not give them too much. Like, say, pronouncing Ryu's name correctly.
Chris: This is another attempt they could've used to do some of the cooler stuff in the game. Vega was always one of my favorites because he had that awesome wall-jump (like Chun-Li!), but instead, we get JCVD crashing through the wall in a tank. It's almost a fun little anticlimax gag, but, you know, when your movie's called "Street Fighter," I'm not sure interrupting a fight is a good way to do things.
Matt: It's bad enough it's not even taking place in the street. Having nothing but a pose-off that never actually turns into a fight seems like intentional trolling of the audience. Speaking of trolling the audience, the next scene gives us our first good look at Guile's famous orange flattop. It's supposed to be orange, right?
Chris: Of all of this movie's strange interpretations, its idea of what "blonde" means is perhaps the weirdest. Also, don't think you can skip over the "Gooooooooood morning Shadaloo!" reference. If I had to know about it, so does everyone else.
Matt: Do you think that's supposed to be the Street Fighter announcer? In this world, instead of saying "Beat 'em up guy!" and "Go for broke!" he just quotes Robin Williams?
Chris: This movie is oddly full of gags done as PA System voice-overs. Like, they clearly went in after it was done and decided they needed to lighten things up without reshooting anything.
Matt: In a meeting of the allied forces, Guile hems and haws about whether to attack Bison by sea, land or air (ultimately, the government of Thailand will decide it's sea because they won't allow planes in their airspace for shooting the movie) when not-Fei-Long attempts and fails to assassinate him.
Chris: This gives us one of Guile's best quotes -- "izzere any uzzer nü bisniss?" -- and also gives him an idea. They clearly need to infiltrate Bison's gang to find out where he's hiding, and Ken and Ryu are elected to do the leg work. This seems like a pretty terrible plan, since Ken and Ryu are currently enjoying an attempted murder at the hands of Vega, who has somehow rebuilt his signature claw out of bamboo and metal spikes while in prison.
Chris: They have been in jail for less than a day. Dude works quick.
Matt: How in the world does Guile know that Ken and Ryu aren't already part of Sagat's gang and are maybe just engaged in some kind of internal fight? It's a pretty wild leap of logic he's making here.
Chris: Guile has K&R brought to the refugee hospital so that he can guilt them into helping him out. Unless these horrible wounds have been created by plastic guns that launch ping pong balls, I'm not sure how this is supposed to work, but it does the job well enough. They end up agreeing to stage a prison break that'll climax with faking Guile's death, taking a homing device to Bison HQ. Also, we get another amazing exchange where Sagat says "I own this city," and Guile responds with "Well I'm the repo man [long pause] and yau're aut of bisniss."
Matt: Ken and Ryu lay it on a little thick with their play-acting, but it all comes together, down to the dramatic slow-motion shooting of Guile in the stomach. I guess it's lucky only Ken, and absolutely no one else, took a shot at him.
Chris: We now cut back to Bisonopolis, and if there was any doubt that Raul Julia was playing Cobra Commander, his assertion that his city-state will be a monument to his own greatness with a food court in which "all the major franchises" will be represented should clear that up. He's mildly upset about Guile being dead, but only because he wanted to kill him himself.
Matt: Can we go back to "dead" Guile for a second? Because there's a part there where Cammy rushes to his side, screams "Medics!" twice, and then GETS RIGHT BACK UP AND BACKS AWAY. She rushed to his side just to shout for the medics like that's the only place they'd hear her.
Chris: Well, she had to be on camera, an argument that actually makes sense, since the AN is counting on Chun-Li's crew -- with, you know, Balrog the Cameraman -- broadcasting this image to Bison so they can con him.
Matt: She's just not really into the role, I guess. Just cashing her paycheck, Cammy. Anyway, Bison seems to mostly be upset that the news is still calling him a madman. He really is like Cobra Commander or Kim Jong Un. He only wants to create an electric monster so he can embrace the world in his "loving grip" and make everyone thank him! It's such a great speech as he's walking through his model city talking about how he's doing everyone a favor, punctuated by a shot of a model building in the shape of a skull. Imagine if this movie was cut down to just the Bison parts.
Chris: YouTube has essentially done just that, and it is amazing. Incidentally, whenever someone asks me why I'm doing something, my first instinct is always to say "Not for power! Not for evil! But for good!"
Matt: Meanwhile, Chun-Li and crew are tracing the tracker they put on Sagat's getaway truck only to find the AN has done the same. Samoan E. Honda is baffled by the notion the AN would want to figure out where Bison's headquarters is.
Chris: In order to get answers, Chun-Li sneaks into AN HQ and goes poking around the morgue (that's where you'd go to find out about a homing beacon, right?), where she finds Guile, who has apparently just been laying here for hours waiting for someone to come in so he can make the dramatic reveal of his squibs.
Matt: Chun-Li does this sneaking around in a full-on ninja dogi, which apparently makes her invisible, because she is anything but proficient at the art of invisibility.
Chris: Guile has her taken into custody, and she says that she's not just covering the story, she's trying to get revenge for Bison killing her father (a shred of backstory that made it through from the games). Guile tells her that this war isn't about her personal vendetta, then in a hyper combo dick move, turns around and says "it's about mine." Seriously, I watched Bison snap two dudes' necks and Guile is still the least likable person in this movie.
Matt: Chun-Li does a flip move to escape from Cammy and T. Hawk (who I just realized is supposed to be T. Hawk) and bursts through a convenient window. "What a screw up!" T. Hawk exclaims. "Wud uh wuhman!" Guile literally slides into frame and retorts. He's like dour, less-clever, orange-headed Groucho Marx, this guy.
Chris: Okay, now this is where things get weird: After stopping to equip themselves with ill-fitting suits and sweater vests, Ken, Ryu and Sagat end up at the Thieves' Market, where Bison is also hanging out so that he can make an arms deal, even though pretty much everyone seems to know how to get there. How do we know this? Because Chun-Li and the Channel 5 Action News Crew are also there, disguised as circus performers for reasons I can't even begin to comprehend.
Matt: They clearly had this plan ready to go quite a while ago -- they've got costumes and well-rehearsed magic tricks and everything. So while Bison's giant headquarters is impeccably hidden, this huge arms sale was advertised in the Shadaloo Shopper.
Chris: My question is this: Was there ever a real Benbelli Bros. Circus? Because they seriously have a truck with an entire magic act in it, complete with props. Did they ambush the real circus that just happened to have clothes that would fit them all, or is Chun-Li's scheme for revenge so elaborate that she created a fake circus and did bookings to get this prime Shadaloo Thieves Market gig?
Matt: Maybe they just worked up an act and got side-jobs? Look, we're dealing with a world where the written language of Shadaloo is seriously nothing but English in a vaguely Asian-looking font. Anything goes here, Chris.
Chris: Okay, my other question: The entire movie up to this point has been predicated on the Good Guys (both Guile and the AN and Chun-Li's news crew) not knowing where Bison was, hence their dueling homing devices. And yet, before she even goes to check on Guile's corpse, Chun-Li is chatting about the Thieves Market. They know exactly where he is, and they have a plan in place to blow him up. A plan that, for some reason, she decides to let Ken and Ryu in on before sending them along their merry way.
Matt: The good guys in this movie are a mess. But at least we've got Bison, who first tries to pay for Sagat's weapons with the promise of some kind of position in his government, then with "Bison dollars," which he says will be worth five British pounds after he kidnaps the U.K.'s queen. Raul Julia is so giddy as he says this I think he almost believes it.
Chris: He really goes for it, and it's great.
Matt: Also, just before Chun-Li reveals her plan to Ken and Ryu, I think so they'll give her up to Bison/Sagat so she can play a video warning them about the coming explosions instead of just letting it kill them LIKE SHE WANTS TO DO, Bison and Honda (who isn't Japanese like the game character or Samoan like the actor, but stated as being Hawaiian for some reason) reveal that Shadaloo went out of its way to ruin their sumo/boxing careers. I assume ruining professional fighters' careers was part of an earlier world domination plan that went awry somehow.
Chris: With as Cobra Commanderish as Bison is in this movie, I wouldn't be surprised at all. "Once we dissssscredit the Ssssssumo Wressstling champion, we will DESSSTROY G.I. JOE!"
Matt: So Ryu and Ken warn Bison and Sagat, who are just about to kill each other anyway, that the news team are spies, Chun-Li's terrible-audio-sync video plays, and all the weapons blow up. Take Ryu and Ken out of the equation and you've got a dead Bison in potentially two different ways! Instead, all the good guys get captured.
Chris: Bison and Sagat go from nearly killing each other to being totally cool bros some time between scenes, presumably because they're both really excited about getting to torture Balrog and Honda. The question of Bison Dollars is never raised again, I guess because Chun-Li blew up all the merchandise anyway?
Matt: Sagat certainly goes from being a guy who only wants his money to loyal Bison ally pretty fast. Maybe he's compelled by Bison's slogan explaining how he got such a cool lair: "While their governments scorned me, their corporations adored me!" Perhaps Bison wanted to discredit boxers so he could become the new Don King.
Chris: Bison announces that he's going to give Chun-Li a "private interview," and Julia plays that line as creepy and sleazy as you expect. This causes a moment of quiet reflection, during which Ken says, out loud, in front of Bison's entire command center, "Those guys are good guys, like us!"
Matt: Bison also is the only person in this movie who says Ryu's name right, when he's telling his men to give he and Ken clean clothes as a reward for ratting out Chun-Li. No one else gets clean clothes!
Chris: On the contrary, Matt. It will only take one Bison Dollar to have your maroon uniform cleaned and pressed. That is the exchange rate that Tide will agree to... once I have kidnapped the Queen of Detergent.
Matt: Corporations love him, Chris. He already has a stranglehold on detergent. It's market tampering!
Chris: Back at Allied Nation HQ, JCVD has suddenly decided that this movie is now Star Wars. See, while Bison is prepared for a large assault, a single, small craft can get close enough to destroy his entire operation, especially if it's the boat from Hulk Hogan's Thunder In Paradise.
Matt: And what kind of crazy daredevil with nothing to lose is going to pilot that boat? The leader of the entire AN operation, who else?
Chris: I'm legitimately surprised that they don't describe their infiltration window as being not much bigger than two meters.
Matt: Or make Guile a fish guy. But no more time for that. It's time for the comedy-torture scene!
Chris: A Shadaloo dungeon-master (the kind with whips and manacles, not the kind with a 20-sided die) is going to town on Honda, who no-sells the entire torture sequence, picking his teeth with the accompaniment of a luau-esque ukelele sting.
Chris: When Balrog asks him how he does it, his response is the blunt and hilarious "I'm sumo, bruddah."
Matt: That's followed by a tasteful prison sex joke. These two are really living it up in the Shadaloo torture dungeon!
Chris: Those crazy kids do have fun.
Matt: They eventually break out of their chains as Ryu and Ken get outfitted in their traditional white and red gi. This is supposed to make them look like Bison troopers, though we haven't seen anyone else in these costumes up to now.
Chris: Zangief actually says "now you look like Bison Troopers," while wearing the maroon uniform that we've seen everyone else in for the entire movie up to this point. I honestly wish he would've said "now you look like you do in the video game!" and then mugged at the camera. It honestly would not have been out of place.
Matt: Zangief also gives them this odd sideways-thumb salute that is what, the third or fourth Bison salute in the movie so far?
Chris: Back at the AN, a cartoonish stuffed shirt with a hoity-toity British accent shows up and declares that they're going to "nego-see-ate" with Bison. Negotiations! The enemy of just and righteous killing!
Matt: This is just as Guile prepares to give a big speech, outside, in the open, to an assemblage of soldiers, any of whom could be spies. Isn't he still supposed to be fake-dead? Is he this terrible at it? Terrible enough that this modern-day Neville Chamberlain could just drive up and find him?
Chris: Guile is understandably upset that he's not going to be allowed to punch Bison to death for America, and when the stuffed-shirt asks "have you lost your mind?" (a question that has no basis in the conversation they're actually having), he's quick to respond with "no, but yew haf lost yör balls." Then, he takes the podium and gives a rousing speech about their new orders alongside T. Hawk and Kylie, all of whom are pulling some amazing gas faces throughout.
Matt: Guile basically declares the AN's military forces -- which are supposed to be like NATO, I suppose, since the UN only has peace officers -- a sovereign entity separate from those sniveling diplomats and says they're going through with the attack anyway. The smirk brigade charges out, ready to defy the wishes of their governments.
Chris: The "But We Can All Go Home" speech is so damn goofy, but not to the point where it actually seems a whole lot goofier than similar moments in, you know, every other action movie that involves the military. Even with the sputtering, prissy diplomat, it's hard to tell whether it's supposed to be campy and over-the-top or if we're genuinely supposed to get behind Guile and his desire to "kick that sonuffabetch's ass so haerd that the nexzt Bison wannabe is going to fill it."
Matt: It feels a little Starship Troopersy, maybe.
Chris: Will they succeed? Will Guile be brought up on war crimes charges? Will Zangief and DJ introduce a fifth Bison Salute? If you wannabe M. Bison, will you have to get with Van Damme? Find out next week, as we enter Round 2 of our battle with Street Fighter!