Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is not only a compelling contender for the worst film of 2009, but it’s also a contender for the worst film of all time! This second attempt at a screen adaptation of the revered Capcom video game series is unbelievably awful in every aspect. Generic action sequences, atrocious acting, cringe-inducing dialogue and lackluster filmmaking are all combined, resulting in an hour and a half of pure cinematic torture. The first time the Street Fighter video game empire was adapted for the big screen, it concerned (a cartoonishly costumed) Jean-Claude Van Damme and Kylie Minogue trying to rescue the world from the evil clutches of (an infirmed) Raul Julia . . . and the film tanked! Now in 2009, fifteen years later, we’ve been given Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li — a production armed with a few clumsy television actors, Chris Klein, and a member of the Black Eyed Peas. This is not progress! With Andrzej Bartkowiak at the helm (who also directed the awful film adaptation of Doom), this feature is incredibly inept, and even that’s putting it lightly. Most disheartening is that this dreck is unable to deliver the barest of bare-knuckle guilty pleasures promised by the genre. So what’s left? Absolutely nothing.
At least 20th Century Fox were aware of the dud they had on their hands — they didn’t screen the movie for the critics, and apparently most of the theatres showing this reel of used toilet paper only screened it once or twice a day. Why does this movie even exist, anyway? The Street Fighter video game series peaked in the ’90s, which justifies the Van Damme movie. This latest rendition, however, is unjustifiable.
The plot concerns Chun-Li (Kreuk) who travels to Bangkok after receiving an enigmatic scroll (oddly enough, this scroll literally looks like a piece of paper that has been shoddily glued onto a piece of cheap cardboard). The streets of Bangkok are ruled by a crime syndicate called Shadaloo, headed by criminal mastermind Bison (McDonough) and his right hand man Balrog (Duncan). It seems Chun-Li battles this crime syndicate to save the city and because they kidnapped her father when she was a kid. Meanwhile, Interpol Agent Charlie Nash (Klein) is equally passionate to stop Bison and take down Shadaloo.
The story does not make much sense. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li simply limps along from one poorly-staged set-piece to the next, climaxing with a whimper rather than a bang. It lacks both coherence and flow. This 2009 picture is distinctly different to the catastrophic 1994 movie failure, exchanging the cartoon atmosphere for a grittier tone that concentrates on revenge scenarios rather than a world domination plot. Justin Marks’ script is surprisingly straight-faced and far too serious for its own good. It’s also just really badly written. When a character seeks information on Shadaloo, they simply use the internet. No secret is safe from the internet, after all. When Chun-Li needs to know about a secret shipment, she finds a random guy on the wharf and breaks his arm to extract the relevant information. With the help of a guy named Gen, Chun-Li is trained to become a supreme master of kung-fu. This transformation from naïve fighter to highly skilled warrior takes all of five minutes, and mostly involves marbles being pelted at her.
Here’s the big problem: Both Street Fighter films have next to nothing to do with the actual video game. The basic concept behind Street Fighter is gloriously simple: Two fighters face off in the ring, attacking each other with a variety of kicks, punches and special moves until one is beaten into submission. A serviceable film adaptation could be derived from the same formula (maybe a tournament movie like Bloodsport?), but both attempts so far work from a needlessly complicated and ridiculously silly story (in this case a meandering crime syndicate tale which takes forever to unfold). This is only a Street Fighter movie by name, and that’s only because a few classic characters have cameos — Chun-Li at one stage fights Vega (one of the video game’s coolest characters), but he gets a minute or two of screen-time and just seems like a poor imitation of Wolverine with his giant metal claws.
At its core, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is a martial arts demonstration reel, but it’s an extremely unimpressive one. For a big studio release, the technical accomplishments are extremely subpar. The strictly ordinary choreography during the fight sequences is captured with scarcely a modicum of skill — some clumsy cinematography which is amplified by the choppy editing. It’s impossible to lighten up and embrace the violence when it’s just a blur occasionally punctuated by a famous Street Fighter finishing move. These are just silly wire-work sequences during which no-one ever seems to get hurt, and one is unable to get any sense of a character’s brute force or skill. The gun battles are just routine, PG-13 filler. In fact, so is the entire movie as it lamely lurches from conflict to conflict in a programmed manner. Some of the gun battles do look mildly cool, but these are unfortunately few and far between. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li cannot be considered a movie — it’s a God forsaken tragedy! It reels in some of the most pathetic actors in the industry who are aching for their existence to be acknowledged, and gives them a vastly stupid script to regurgitate.
Which brings us to Chris Klein. He delivers one of the most laughably awful screen performances of the decade, making Van Damme seem Oscar-worthy in comparison. His portrayal of Nash is beyond awful — not only can he not act, but he was probably drunk during filming. The performer (calling him an actor would be a questionable compliment) assumes a strange mix of Clint Eastwood and metrosexual pedophile as he desperately tries to come across as a tough guy. It’s frankly hilarious to observe his cheese, especially in the presence of the other actors who seriously look as if they’re holding back giggles. His character also favors a pistol over hand-to-hand fighting, so why is he even included in the film?! Throughout this cinematic abomination, I was actually missing the acting skills of Jean-Claude Van Damme . . . As for the rest of the cast, well, Neal McDonough might’ve fared better had he not used such a goofy Irish accent (Bison is a quintessential Irish surname, after all). One-time Oscar nominee Michael Clarke Duncan is reduced to playing the character Balrog, while a host of other actors (Robin Shou, Josie Ho and the attractive Moon Bloodgood) are unfathomably woeful as the one-dimensional stock characters. Kristin Kreuk is hot, but it seems she was deceased throughout the filming period as she boasts just one expression and one tone of voice. She also does a thoroughly awful job of faking martial arts moves before her stunt double steps in.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is tiresome, brain-dead and ill-considered. It’d be impossible for anyone to have a legitimately enjoyable time watching this awful motion picture which delivers nothing apart from an inconsistent crime plot. Not even morbidly curious film-goers should give this one a shot unless they also have masochistic tendencies.