A film review by Craig J. Koban
STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI
2009, PG-13, 97mins.
2009, PG-13, 97mins.
Chun-Li: Kristin Kreuk / Balrog: Michael Clarke Duncan / Bison: Neal McDonough / Charlie Nash: Chris Klein / Moon Bloodgood: Maya Sunee / Vega: Taboo / Cantana: Josie Ho
Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak / Written by Justin Marks
was one burning and prevailing thought that was etched in my mind after
seeing STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI:
I never, ever wish to
enter a cinema with the words “street” and “fighter”
on the marquee.
Okay, the obvious warning signs should have be evident right from the get-go: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI is based, of course, on the indisputably popular Capcon video game that I will confess to missing many an afternoon-high school class for playing either in an arcade or later on a home consol. As much as I was obsessed (as much as a 16-year-old in the early 90’s could be) with the then-gritty and realistic gameplay – which pitted colorful and flamboyant fighters from around the world in a winner-take-all slugfest tournament – I never once saw film possibilities for such a limited franchise.
I mean…the story of the
STREET FIGHTER game was …well…two people fighting on a street…with
only a scant bit of time reserved for back-story and character
development. Not only that,
but the gameplay essentially revolved around different types of kicks and
punches, with the optional and sometimes difficult to pull off special
move or power. I mean…how
the hell does one drag this out to a 90-plus-minute feature film?
Well, Hollywood did just that
with the cartoonishly insipid and laughably campy 1994 Jean-Claude Van
Damme led live action STREET FIGHTER film, which marked one of the
earliest – and regrettably, not the last – attempt made to
harness a video game for silver screen cinsumption.
15 years of hindsight has still not been overly kind to that
venture, but I guess it still has some type of pathetic replay value for
the inane levels of cornball action heroics it contains.
Nonetheless, the film was a box office and critical bomb.
Now, any sane person would try
to learn from the past and not attempt any more STREET FIGHTER films.
director Andrzej Bartkowiak, who has taken it upon himself to make a
STREET FIGHTER film that will be one big “I’m sorry” to gamers that
felt that the ’94 entry was sacrilegious.
Unfortunately, his film resume offers up little, if any, hope: His “achievements” (I use the term ever-so-loosely)
are DOOM, EXIT WOUNDS, ROMEO MUST DIE, and CRADLE TO THE GRAVE. Knowledge of this dubious list of shame should have also been
a clear-cut warning sign.
On one positive, THE LEGEND OF
CHUN LI fancies itself as a “reboot” as it has nothing to do with the
lame ’94 version and has opted for – at least it thinks it has
– a more gritty and gnarly tone by focusing on the life-long revenge
scenario of its title character for the wrongs that were committed against
her and her family by the main nemesis.
However, it is here where the accolades stop, because THE LEGEND OF
CHUN LI is anything but progress for this terrible idea for a film:
Even though it abstains from affiliating itself with the cheese of Van
Damme’s lowbrow and largely forgettable action feature, this new STREET
FIGHTER is chalk full of horrendous production values, brutally generic
and ill conceived chop socky action, and some of the most mindlessly banal
dialogue and jarringly horrible performances this side of a porn film.
As for the aforementioned insult levied on the film, I engage in no
hyperbole whatsoever by stating that one supporting actor is
irreproachably miscast and gives one of the single most wrongheaded
performances that I have seen in years.
The plot to the film – ha!
– involves Chun Li (Kristin Kreuk, a ravishingly beautiful on screen
presence that apparently left her decent gig on TV’s SMALLVILLE for this
trivial junk) grew up idolizing her father, somewhat because he taught her
how to become a concert pianist, but more because he taught her to defend
herself and kick some serious tail. Anyhoo’,
one day her father is brutally kidnapped by Bison (Neal McDonough, given
his worst performance ever) and his associate Balrog (Michael Clarke
Duncan, whom never once seems the slightest bit interested in the scenes
he’s involved in). While Li prepares herself for the journey to save her father
she uncovers a strange and mysterious scroll that leads her to – where
else? – Bangkok. Now, it is
here where the film’s incredulous disassociation from logic becomes
apparent: Li is a rich and
well off girl, but when she travels to the crime-laden streets of Bangkok,
she lives on the streets and sleeps in allies.
At one point she also looks close to begging for food and then
curiously gives the vender some money in exchange for the fruit.
The explanation for this inane behaviour (as presented in the
film’s brain-haemorrhagingly bad voice over narration) is that she must
rid herself of her “past life” in search of the secret of the scrolls.
The voiceover is also the source of some of the film’s most aggressively lame bits of dialogue, such as when Li utters, “Everywhere I look there’s crime and punishment. Yet, who oppresses these people?” I also howled at “Everyday is new to me. Life on these streets is hard. Each new meal to this people is a feast.”
Even more head shaking is when
Li meets up with the dexterous and powerful Gen (Robin Shou, given a
performance so utterly bland and flavourless that he's practically begging
not to work again) who is a member of a secret society called “The Order
of the Web”, which is designed to help those that cannot fend for
themselves. Granted, the “those” that are referred to are never
made clear. Perhaps what’s
most confusing is the section of the film which focuses on Li’s new
training under Gen. Now,
wouldn’t Li want to find and save her father as quickly as possible
and not make any detours? Well, not in this film, as Gen’s
validation for not letting Li save her dear ol’ papa is that she “must
remove all anger from herself” before she starts her quest.
confounded is when Gen shows Li how to conjure up fire balls, which is
never satisfyingly explained, other than – if I follow Gen’s
Miyagi-like instructions – Li is able to harness her bad energy
into good fireball energy…or some sort of New Age mystical hooey.
Don’t worry…the plot gets
even more preposterously confusing.
It seems that while Li is learning how to become a happy-go-lucky
purveyor of death, Bison has purchased up prime real estate in Bangkok at
extra low prices. His rationales seem painfully vague, other than it has
something to do with subjugating the city’s slums even more. Thankfully, Li’s quest for vengeance is assisted by two
Interpol officers, Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) and Maya Sunee (Moon
Bloodgood) that wish to bring Bison’s criminal empire down once and for
all. All of their efforts
culminate to the film’s climatic showdown, which never once feels
climatic, nor a worthwhile culmination of every tired and monotonously
dull plot point that lead up to it.
THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI is so
unattainably bad in so many mystifying ways that I almost lost count while
watching it. On a story
level, this one as D.O.A. as they come: For a film that spans 90 minutes,
there is very little interest in the overall story and nothing
particularly appealing happens. The
script is trite, meandering, and is downright permeated with endless
martial arts action sequences that look more like stunt men rehearsing
than a viable finished product. The
editing is choppy and haphazard and the stunt set pieces look sluggish and
repetitive. The production
values as well look curiously muted and embarrassingly low rent: scenes
set in Hong Kong are so obviously the product of dreadful CGI that the
film never once makes you feel like your immersed in its world (it seems
abundantly clear that these sequences where shot in Vancouver, which is on
the credit list).
Other moments in the film’s
story make no sense whatsoever. Like,
for instance, how in the world does Chun Li precisely know where
the Interpol safe house is – despite having never visiting it in the
past, nor receiving instructions as to its whereabouts – so that she can
safely rendezvous with Nash and Sunee?
I dunno. Then
there is a latently – okay, maybe downright – homoerotic dance-off
between Li and another female character at a nightclub that has to be one
of the most unintentionally hysterical sequences in a long time.
And…my “WTF” meter hit eleven when we are shown a back-story
which shows what Bison’s “only weakness” is:
In the past he apparently takes his pregnant wife into a dark cave
and stabs her belly with his bare hands and yanks his daughter right out
of her womb. Why?
Because the v.o. instructs us that Bison transferred his "goodness
of soul" into his unborn daughter, hence making him totally evil and
therefore making his daughter a “good” girl that ultimately is his
The final dagger to this film’s heart is its dialogue and performances, which segue from mediocre to appallingly dreadful faster than you can say, “Shoryuken!” The individual cookie cutter lines that most of the cast have to utter made my ears hurt and bleed: A few of the most egregious examples occur with Klein’s Interpol agent pondering his next move against the elusive Bison: “I’ve tracked this guy through eleven major cities on four continents and have never come close. This guy walks through the raindrops.” Equally traumatizing is when he looks at some pics of the baddies and ominously states, “You got ghosts. Let’s see ‘em.” However brainless those lines are, they are nothing compared to the mother of all horrible one-liners, which comes form Bison himself after he has killed a key character:
"He has been the milk of
my business, but even milk has an expiration date.”
Few films also have such
ubiquitously horrible performances as this one.
Kristin Kreuk – who is a decent and fetching actress – is in
pure career killer mode here. Despite
his massive girth and imposing vocals, Michael Clarke Duncan is barely an
entity here. Even worse is
Neal McDonough attempting one of the worst Irish accents in movie history
playing Bison (and, why in the world would an Irish orphan that grew up in
Bangkok still have an Irish accent?!).
He never once comes across as a believably menacing antagonist.
And speaking of stretching
credibility, how about Chris Klein in what has to be the most improper
casting of an actor...ever. Has
there ever been a less plausible Interpol agent in a movie?
Klein’s Charlie Nash looks like a gay prostitute, swaggers around
and postures for the camera like a bumbling Derek Zoolander, and tries the
feeblest Clint Eastwood impersonation I’ve ever seen while stumbling to
play a tough as nails cop. I
have rarely had such a dishonorable opportunity to see an actor
over-telegraph every line rereading, every physical gesture, every minute
glance, et al with such a level of absolute obliviousness.
Every scene that Klein populates feels like an Ed Wood production: he
is terminally awful. This
is a professional actor that was paid for his services? I've seen
people phone in performances, but this guy does not even pick up
You know what?
I’m done with this wholeheartedly redemption-free movie. STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI will certainly be legendary
and epic for its stunning ineptitude.
It’s an unsophisticated, mindless, and instantly forgettable
entertainment which attains badness so easily that it actually holds the
’94 STREET FIGHTER film up to a higher level of hero worship.
Do yourself a favor: Save yourself ten bucks and plant yourself
down on your couch at home and stare into a TV screen filled with static
for an hour and a half. That
would be more enjoyable than enduring another STREET FIGHTER flick.