The original Street Fighter from 1994 was an unwatchable travesty of a film that would, in any sane society, be banned by the Geneva Conventions. The series should have been consigned to areas that best utilize the outlandish vapidness of its source material: the video games from which the movie was spawned, a comic book or two, and the occasional anime-style DVD by some obscure Japanese animation studio.
Leave it to Hollywood to not know when to let a bad idea go. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li roams the streets even as you read this (unless by an act of a merciful God it has already been pulled from theaters), another celluloid Frankenstein’s monster damning its creators for the crime of its birth even as it commits atrocities against its audience (and in all likelihood the careers of its actors).
Like the upcoming X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Legend of Chun Li is a single-character reboot. It focuses on Street Fighter’s leggy half-Asian protagonist, Chun Li (Smallville’s Kristen Kreuk), who faces all the stereotypical trials of a young girl growing up in Hong Kong: college entrance exams, a mile-long list of suitors, jealousy from the other girls, the kidnapping of her father by gang lord M. Bison (Neal McDonough).
When a mysterious missive summons her from her somewhat sheltered life, Li finds herself on a simple rescue mission that quickly spirals into a one-woman crusade against organized crime in East Asia, thanks to the meddling of a team of Interpol agents led by Charlie Nash (Chris Klein, whose acting directions apparently went something like, “You’re the American everyone hates”).
Yes, it’s that stereotypical, and yes, the results are predictably bad. McDonough’s mustache-twisting performance as Bison, in particular, looked like it was at least as painful to deliver as it was to watch. The Legend of Chun Li is ultimately forgettable, the latest cookie-cutter attempt to milk unsuspecting fans of a venerable franchise.
The movie attempts to extrapolate a feature film’s worth of plot from a one-minute ending sequence from Street Fighter II. It fails, of course—Kreuk’s Chun Li swings between locales, motivations, and wooden supporting characters on strings of plot thinner and less visible than the ones used in the movie’s half-baked wire-fu sequences.
Those aforementioned comics and anime series notwithstanding, Chun Li is a girl who wears silly outfits and kicks people. That’s what the audience knows, and that’s what the audience expects. Trying to draw further blood from Street Fighter’s stone without a miracle of a screenplay or enough brilliantly choreographed fight scenes to distract viewers from Chun Li’s lack of substance is a fool’s gambit, and the resultant work is a waste of time.
The journey from her pampered youth in Hong Kong to her anticlimactic role as a homeless Batman wannabe on the streets of Bangkok plays like a piece that would alienate moviegoers unfamiliar with the franchise’s backstory, if this franchise had any backstory worth speaking of. While Street Fighter fanboys might have the necessary “wealth” of “knowledge,” expecting the average attendee to know enough to counteract your inability to produce a workable script is bad filmmaking.
Unfortunately, Hollywood can’t seem to grasp the central concept behind the impossibility of making adaptations like these work. Series like Street Fighter are popular because of the entertainment value inherent in assuming the role of a flying kung-fu hero and beating the snot out of stretchy yoga guys and overgrown Karate Kids, not because of some deep and engaging storytelling value. All those cutscenes and video intros inept screenwriters constantly go to for story ideas because they can’t be bothered to write their own material? Nobody cares about those. Nobody.