A film review by Craig J. Koban




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

There 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.  Wrong.  Enter 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.  Huh?  Equally 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 kryptonite.   


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 the receiver.

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.

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