Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li (2009)

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The kung fu fighting diva of the legendary video game series gets her own film, which makes for a prequel/redux of the Street Fighter legend. However, the result is badly executed.

As a young girl, Chun Li trained in martial arts by her father. However, when her father is forced to work for an evil businessman known as Bison, Chun Li attempts to live her dream of becoming a pianist. When her mother dies of cancer, Chun Li becomes determined to find Bison in Bangkok and learns her father is still alive. She begins to continue her martial arts training under the mysterious Gen, a former associate of Bison’s who has seen the errors of his ways.

As Chun Li gets closer to Bison, she finds herself being wanted by both sides of the law. Bison sends his top men Balrog and Vega to kill Chun Li while Interpol agent Charlie Nash and Thai officer Maya also want to investigate Chun Li.

During the early 1990’s, the video game Street Fighter II became one of the most popular video games to hit the market. Capcom was so impressed that in 1994, they authorized a live-action adaptation of the film marketed at the teen market. However, the film didn’t do so well mainly because of the miscasting of two big stars during that period, martial arts action star Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile and the late Raul Julia as villain M. Bison.

Fast forward fifteen years later. One of the major subplots of the 1994 movie involved the character of Chun Li, who was after M. Bison in an attempt to avenge the death of her parents. Enter newcomer screenwriter Justin Marks, who used that subplot as the basis for this new adaptation. While the script actually was the best thing about the film, it was the resulting execution that made this film pretty bad. In fact, comparing the two adaptations, it is clear that the 1994 version seems to hold its own much better than this.

First, like the 1994 version, there is some pretty bad miscasting, notably in the lead role of Chun Li herself as well as villain Bison. While Kristin Kreuk brings that Asian look to the role, she doesn’t exactly fit in the role in terms of the emotional characterization Chun Li feels in her mission of revenge. Neal McDonough, best known for his villain role in Walking Tall and his role on the television series Desperate Housewives, has the eyes of perhaps a Bison, but like Kreuk, he lacks the action skills necessary to make the role work.

The only casting that makes true sense here is that of Balrog, who unlike the previous adaptation, is seen here as one of Bison’s henchmen. Here, he is played by the hulking Michael Clarke Duncan and his stature mixed in with Balrog’s style of boxing is practically the only good thing. Even Hong Kong actress Josie Ho, who showed herself as an on-screen fighter in House of Fury is wasted here as one of Bison’s thugs who has a brief fight with Chun Li in the women’s restroom at a nightclub.

As a fan of Hong Kong-style action choreography, one can’t help but have a sense of respect for Dion Lam, who has had a formidable career as an actor and action choreographer. However, the problem with this film is very basic. Since Donnie Yen’s recent films have re-evolved Hong Kong action by minimizing wirework and adapting more to the old school of hard knocks plus the recent emergence of mixed martial arts being used in action films, one would think Lam and his team would use a more kickboxing style, less wire effective style. Sadly, that is not the case here. The wirework is too over the top and it poses the basic theory of non-martial artists having to rely on wires to make them formidable screen fighters. It completely falters here and makes the film overall look quite bad.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun LI, much like Dragonball: Evolution is a complete misfire of an adaptation due to miscasting and an overdose of wire-enhanced martial arts action. It is much better seeing the Van Damme film STREET FIGHTER rather than this. Avoid this at all costs.

WFG RATING: F

20th Century Fox presents a Hyde Park Entertainment/Legend Films production in association with Adlabs Film and Capcom. Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak. Producers: Patrick Aiello and Ashok Amritraj. Writer: Justin Marks; based on the video game by Capcom. Cinematography: Geoff Boyle. Editing: Derek Brechin and Niven Howie.

Cast: Kristin Kreuk, Neal McDonough, Chris Klein, Robin Shou, Josie Ho, Moon Bloodgood, Taboo, Michael Clarke Duncan, Cheng Pei-Pei, Tim Man, Edmund Chen.

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