Adapted from the popular 2D fighter competitive video game franchise, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li continues the trend of horrible video games films. The Street Fighter franchise is an odd choice for a film adaptation because the game has no real story. Most of Street Fighter’s appeal is in the complexity of its combat, not narrative.
Ironically, the film’s greatest pitfall is not that it is all spectacle and no plot, but that it has too much plot. The film spends a good deal of screen-time showing a young Chun-Li (Inez Yan) growing up. From her budding skills as a piano prodigy to her interest in her father’s (Edmund Chen) martial arts, the first act is far too long. Therefore, when lord Bison (Neal McDonough) kidnaps her father, it’s almost a relief because at least the film is finally moved beyond the first act.
Years later Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk), now a famous pianist, discovers her father is still alive and held by Bison. Before hunting down Bison, she is first intercepted by Gen (Robin Shou), a former friend of Bison who turned away from his criminal life and now seeks to hunt out crime wherever it is found. He trains her in the mystical art of some unnamed supernatural power and upon completion she begins her hunt for her father’s captor.
Yet even as lengthy as the setup is, the film needs more plot to reach feature length. Two agents, Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) and Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood), are on a special team investigating the deaths of the crime lords in town and their prime suspect in Bison. This subplot is unnecessary exposition that never adds up to anything. The problem is that this subplot wants to explain why Bison is evil. But Bison is a villain in the vein of the Joker. He defies logic and cannot be explained reasonably.
This is unfortunate, for Neal McDonough is the only decent actor in the entire film. He has the passive-aggressive stone-faced, suit-wearing villain down. It’s nothing we haven’t seen done better, but it’s done convincingly. This is more than can be said for the rest of the cast. No one else can deliver a single line without sounding indecisive or on edge. The cast acts as if the camera is a gun that might go off if they give a bad performance. A couple of actors do get shot, but I think that has more to do with the plot than their performance.
Even if they could have pulled off their lines they wouldn’t be able to rectify the flavorless screenwriting. Maybe that’s a little harsh as the film avoids cliché by creating it’s own personal flavor of bland. The dialogue fails to be memorable or funny. It’s not even so bad it’s good material. Most of the dialogue is either poor one-liners, useless exposition or something that could be better expressed visually.
This leads into the most truly horrific part of the film, the voice-overs. Instead of using situations and dialogue with layered meanings, screenwriter Justin Marks simply tells us what Chun-Li is feeling or thinking at any given moment. It should be Kristin Kreuk’s performance that conveys the emotion, not amateur and obtrusive voice-overs.
Leaving aside the screenplay and acting issues one would hope for at least a fair number of good fight sequences. It’s even got the word “fighter” in the title. But for every five minutes of action there are around ten minutes of dull plot and horrible acting to wade through.
But here’s the kicker, the fights are caught up in the latest Hollywood trend of shooting brawls up close and personal. All the action is shot in close-ups where the elegance and fluidity of the Orient fighting styles are lost. There are countless instances where it’s hard to tell who is hitting whom. The camera should have given the players some space. Medium shots would have allowed us to see and enjoy the action. Instead, the film creates disorienting action sequences that cannot be enjoyed.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li started off on the wrong foot by adapting a video game series that has no story worth speaking of into a film that has too much bland story. From there the film trips over unconvincing acting and flat dialogue. The final tumble is that the film cannot even create fun, over the top action sequences. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is a film without anything memorable, interesting or entertaining.
© 2009 James Blake Ewing