Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Street Fighter: The Movie - Part One

Video game movies.

I really don't need to say much more than that.  We just had another movie based on the Hitman franchise come out, and it's currently pulling a score on Rottentomatoes on par with the new Fantastic Four movie.  You'd think making a movie about a bald guy who goes around shooting people would be pretty easy to make, but apparently they just can't find a way to make it work.

I think it's telling that the highest-rated video game movie on Rottentomatoes is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.  Granted, I liked that movie, but I know I'm in the not very vocal minority there.  Next up is the Prince of Persia movie and then you know what's in third?  Here's a hint, I took two days to review it.

That's right, that movie came out ahead of both Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil.

But there are certain video game movies people talk about when they talk about video game movies.  Super Mario Bros.  Mortal Kombat (and the awful sequel).  Tomb Raider.

And then there's this one.  This one always gets a bit of a pass because it was the last film Raul Julia ever worked on, but I remember enjoying it slightly even before I really knew to appreciate his work.  There was just something about it that I thought was pretty great when I was fourteen years old.

I'm sure I'll think of it.

So let's start watching.

The movie opens with news reports about a civil war happening in "Shadaloo," a country that, according to maps, is located somewhere in the middle of China.

I mean, I think it's supposed to be China.  The movie map first is showing us Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, but then it just casually pans up to that giant pink star in the midst of China, making me think the action is taking place there.

It doesn't help when Chinese reporter Chun-Li Zang (sigh) reports from "Shadaloo City" talking about the troops fighting "General M. Bison's forces."  Bison is also watching Chun-Li from a hovering platform that he clearly stole from Dr. Wily.

Bison's favorite room has approximately one hundred televisions in it (this is before they invented the giant flat screen, you see) and a large pit for tossing hostages into.  Bison's apparently demanding twenty billion dollars for their return.  M. Bison clearly went to one of those Dr. Evil "how to be evil" seminars.

Can I just complain for a moment about Chun-Li?  She's played by Ming-Na Wen, who I (again) liked in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Agents of SHIELD, and Stargate: Universe.  She's a fine actress, but I think she does better doing roles where she doesn't need to yell everything into a microphone.  Watching her reporting (instead of going around beating up people as an Interpol agent with hair buns and deadly thighs) and yelling everything into a camera just really takes away from her obvious capabilities as an actress.  Chun-Li's appears as well-trained a wartime correspondent as Al Roker.

Back in Bison's base, we get the first great Raul Julia line as he confronts a captured soldier: "You came all the way across the world to fight me, soldier.  Now's your chance."  Sadly, instead of this being the premiere appearance of Charlie Nash, friend of Guile and reason for him to take this whole thing personally, he's just a nameless shlub who gets his neck snapped after one really poorly done swing at Bison's face.

This is followed by another quick neck-snapping of a second soldier while Chun-Li attempts to get an interview with Colonel Guile, played by you know darn well who.

Can we ignore Jean-Claude Van Damme for a moment and talk about that guy behind him?  First off, when we see his arm, we see he's a Sergeant First Class, he's not happy about anything going on around him, and he apparently is nursing a pretty severe head wound considering the bandage is stained both above and below that bandanna holding the bandage on.

Second, why is Dennis Rodman trying to get away with driving that truck?  We see you behind the shades, Rodman.  You're not fooling anybody.

Guile attempts to trash talk Bison through the TV by doing two things that show he's clearly not sure how "trash talk" works.  First, he points the microphone away from him while he's talking.  Second, he attempts to intimidate him with a weird sort-of athletic "smack my arm while punching up sorta" motion.

I can only imagine this is French American for "Up Yours."
Bison commands one of his underlings, Dee Jay (who, in the games, NEVER WORKED FOR BISON), to use a satellite to take over every video displaying device in the area, including the monitors in the news van being monitored by Chun-Li's coworker E. Honda (sigh) and even the screen on the NEWS CAMERA being held by Chun-Li's other coworker, Balrog.

So, hold on.  The movie took Dee Jay, a fun-loving musician and kick boxer who rejects M. Bison in the games and turns him into a computer-operating villain, then takes Balrog, one of Bison's actual lieutenants in the game and turns him into a good guy cameraman for a news reporter?

Bison's expression here matches mine right now.

As Bison speaks to Guile through ... I dunno, is there a TV nearby or does Balrog's camera also transmit sound?  Anyway, Guile speaks to one of his subordinates to "track the signal" since Bison apparently "took the bait."  He says this directly into the microphone he's still holding.

Guile then does the dumbest thing ever and actually tries to speak to one of the hostages, personally letting his friend "Charlie" know that they're coming.  So, okay, they did decide to introduce Charlie Nash here to make Guile's fight personal.  That's good.  What happens later...not so much.

But anyway, this is stupid because it lets Bison know that one of his hostages (conveniently, the one soldier he hasn't killed yet) is actually important to someone, and just imagine how embarrassed he'd feel if it turned out Charlie was one of the two guys he already killed.  This gives Bison another bargaining chip.

So anyway, Bison rips off that dog tags of the last surviving soldier and finds that his name is indeed Carlos Blanka, an- wait.  WHAT?

I've just stared at the screen for three minutes trying to put into words how mind-bogglingly daffy this is.  You have a character established IN CANON as Guile's friend Charlie (granted, we didn't really meet him until Street Fighter Alpha in 1995), but considering Guile regularly refers to him as deceased and Blanka meets his mother at the end of at least one version of Street Fighter II, I'm not sure why you felt the need to blend the characters.

Though, if they were like me and only ever saw Blanka's ending in the Game Boy version, they might have assumed that the smaller figure was actually Blanka's son and that Blanka was actually a mother.  It would have been a daring direction to take.

Reporting back to Guile are Sergeant First Class Headwound (who, I'll point out, is now bleeding through the bandanna), and my personal favorite reason for this movie existing, Cammy.

This is, uh, exactly where the movie just randomly paused it when I tried to get a screenshot.  Seriously.
Cammy informs Guile that the trace didn't complete, and Guile, being the strong charismatic leader he is with all sorts of people skills, blames the civilian media, telling Chun-Li she was "almost useful."

But you can't have a movie based on Street Fighter II without bringing in Ken and Ryu.

Or, as I like to call them, "We Couldn't Get Ernie Reyes, Jr. Despite The Fact His Father Is Doing Stunts In This Movie" and "Johnny Cage."

Alternatively, you can refer to them as "Hey, Are We Somehow Ripping Off Double Dragon Which Was Somehow Ripping Us Off By Making One Brother Asian?"

They're hanging out in an underground fight den where the current entertainment is watching a guy with one big knife fight a guy with three smaller knives strapped to his hand.  The claw guy is Vega, and at least he's, so far, portrayed somewhat close to the game.  This is immediately ruined, however, when we meet the guy running the underground fight ring, Sagat, a man from Thailand who is now played by famous character actor Wes Studi.  You've seen him before, he's been in every single story featuring Native Americans being oppressed by white people: Dances With Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, Geronimo: An American Legend, and Avatar.

There's an extremely puzzling bit of dialogue that happens here, where the good guys ask Sagat, "Didn't anyone tell you there's a curfew?"  Sagat responds with "In Shadaloo City, no one tells me anything."  I'm not 100% sure if this is supposed to mean that nobody tells him what to do in Shadaloo City or if he's genuinely upset that he's constantly left ignorant of major developments in his home town.

Either way, this immediately ruined by a helicopter flying overhead with a spotlight and a speaker announcing that there's a curfew, so, just go here and click the button.

Sagat offers the young men a drink or perhaps some friendly company during their stay, and- wait a minute.

Is that Alyssa Milano?

Wait, hold on.  Is this an actual slam on Double Dragon by getting a lookalike to their lead actress to play a prostitute in Street Fighter?  I mean, maybe it's just coincidence that Double Dragon came out in November of 1994 and Street Fighter came out in December and that I've already pointed out that Double Dragon ripped off Street Fighter by turning the Lee brothers into Ken and Ryu rip-offs.  I mean, there must be lots of Caucasian prostitutes in China Shadaloo, right?

It couldn't possibly be a dig at the competition.  ...or, could it?

Have I mentioned I've typed this much text and I'm only nine minutes in to this movie?

Ken and Ryu apparently are attempting to swindle Sagat of a suitcase full of money by promising him toy guns, leading to our first genuine fight scene in the movie (but not, I'll point out, in a street).  They're captured, and...then we jump back to Shadaloo headquarters.

Dr. Dhalsim (seriously?  Have I made my point clear about changing characters?) is complaining about his scientific works being used for evil instead of good, and we get another great M. Bison line where he says, "Tell you what, after I've crushed my enemies, we'll see about getting you published.  That should cheer you up, hmm?"

Dhalsim is apparently running experiments on Carlos (I refuse to call him Charlie or Blanka), doing a crude Clockwork Orange on him with disturbing video to try to turn him into a killing machine.  Once this programming is complete, Bison's "loyal scientists" (read: ones he doesn't keep in chains) will work on transforming Carlos' body.

What the heck is "anabolic plasma?"

Meanwhile, Ryu is having to fight Vega for Sagat's amusement, and I find myself disbelieving just how loyal the movie is being to Vega's character considering how they've butchered everybody else.  He gets a huge show as the enters the arena, he gets to wear his mask and keep his long braid, and they even play a Spanish song for when he comes into the arena.

Sagat makes a comment about how Vega is the greatest cage fighter since "Iron Fist" but since he's actually talking about himself and not Danny Rand, I'm not interested.

The women in the cage help the fighters prepare, but when they try to give Ryu a sword, he tosses it into a wooden beam near Vega's head.  Vega starts to put on his claw (you know, his entire schtick) but then refuses it when he hears the crowd chanting "no weapons!"

So, before we can get an actually decent fight scene, an armored vehicle with two giant missiles plows through the wall, with Guile climbing out and trying his best to say "you're all under arrest" without an accent.

The next morning, we get a Good Morning, Vietnam! homage as a guy on speakers says "Goooooood morning, Shadaloo!" but then fails to do anything entertaining to follow up.  In a meeting between military personnel, a waiter serving water attempts to kill Guile but is foiled by another brief fight scene that involves one (1) kick and one (1) punch.  Clearly, this was a Shadaloo plot to get rid of the man leading the fighting forces, but of course this can't be confirmed until Cammy investigates the guy and discovers a Shadaloo tattoo on his chest.

Meanwhile, out in the prison yard (right next to the military meeting, apparently), Sagat and Vega attempt to take out Ken and Ryu with a small gang, but fail miserably.  It's just as well, because the guards carrying automatic machine guns and positioned in strategic areas around the yard apparently aren't allowed to do anything more than blow their whistles at problems and wait for other guards to storm the grounds.

Meanwhile, Carlos is being mutated and programmed to kill everyone while Dhalsim can only look around meaningfully.

Guile takes Ken and Ryu on a short tour of Shadaloo City's refugee areas while trying to find out if they're "the same as Bison and Sagat" or if he's right and they're "different."  See, Ken and Ryu apparently regularly run cons and scams on criminal organizations, because that's EXACTLY how I expect a wandering fighter determined to be the best and his American friend who becomes a big time Hollywood star to act in a movie like this.

Guile indicates to the two that he has a plan, and the next day as the prisoners are being transported, Ken and Ryu pick a fight, causing the guards to need to break them up.  However, it appears Ryu was able to pick a guard's pocket for the keys, and after forming a temporary alliance with Sagat, the bad guys (and Ken and Ryu?) are able to stage a jail break that culminates with Ken hanging off the side of a truck shooting Guile to death.

No, seriously.  Instead of a neat fight scene or explosions or anything, we get two fighters who never use guns in the games (though, one presumably is trained in them) shooting at each other until one falls down.

At M. Bison's headquarters, he gets to see a news article from Chun-Li (who helpfully points out her location as "Shadaloo City, Shadaloo, Southeast Asia") talking about Guile's death.  I find it interesting that, considering hostages are at stake and they only had three days (one of which is gone), the new leader of the allied forces "first order of business" is "burying General Guile."

They're not even going to send his body home?  Really?  You think he wants to be buried in this dump?

Anyway, Bison gives a pretty interesting speech here.

See, that's actually a pretty great speech, even if Raul Julia apparently forgot one of his lines until a half second too late ("...in the world...").  A mark of a truly great villain is that he doesn't actually see himself as being a villain.  Some of the most sympathetic villains are ones that don't see their actions as "evil" by any means, and honestly believe that things would be better if people would just "wise up" and let them seize control.

Bison, who was originally just "that guy who throws a fighting tournament and has a move called "psycho crusher"" actually gets some needed characterization here.  He's planning hugely elaborate cities and building complexes (bringing back jobs?) and working out business arrangements (spending time figuring out how big the food court needs to be so that all the big franchises can build there).

Another site pointed out that M. Bison is, for all intents and purposes, playing a hammier version of Cobra Commander from the G.I. Joe cartoon, but I don't think that's quite right.  If anything, he somehow manages to come across as a combination of Cobra Commander and Dr. Doom.  He could almost convince people that he'd be a benevolent dictator...if it weren't for the hostages, killing people with his bare hands, and forcibly mutating soldiers into unstoppable killing machines.

Anyway, back at the base, with Guile dead, it apparently falls upon Chun-Li and her Action News Team to figure out where Bison is and take the fight to him.  Fortunately, they apparently put a tracking device on the truck, but they realize there's another signal coming from the same truck (?) that's apparently beaming right back to the allied forces headquarters (??).

Hoping to get more answers before they go to the Thieves Market (more on this later), Chun-Li dons a black ninja costume (in the back of the van, with Balrog undoubtedly watching because, well, it's Ming-Na Wen, and why wouldn't you).  She sneaks out of the van and infiltrates the base hoping to find.... something?

Her search (using a small box that goes "beep" when it senses ... something) leads her into the morgue and to the corpse of Colonel Guile.  Guile suddenly sits up, revealing that the whole thing had been a trick (SURPRISE!) to get Ryu and Ken into Bison's gang and have Sagat lead them to Bison's headquarters.

This begs the question, "Was Guile just hanging out in the morgue waiting to freak out the first person that came along?"  Alternatively, "what would have happened if Chun-Li had actually been a Shadaloo assassin, sent in to make sure he was really dead and who was supposed to report in with his findings?"

Sergeant Headwound shows up and Guile directs him to take Chun-Li into custody, but she stalls them by telling them her story.  It turns out she's actually out for revenge, and it has taken her twenty years to get this close to enacting it on Bison.  Guile, however, firmly states that this war is not about Chun-Li's personal vendetta.

Actual line following that noble sentiment: "It's about mine."
Guile, you ass.  First you butcher Guile's classic yellow spiked hair by making it orange, then you say stuff like that.

Also, nice goose egg.  Have you had that through the whole movie, or did you get konked in the head at some point through shooting?

Chun-Li manages to get away from Cammy and C- hold on.  Wait.

According to the captioning that just mysteriously turned itself on, the guy sporting the massive head wound this whole time is none other than T. Hawk, one of my favorite characters.  I just- I- no.  We're moving on, I'm not even going to dignify this affront.

Let's focus more on the fact that after Guile pokes his head out a window to watch Chun-Li run away (revealing himself to anybody who happens to be looking at that window at the time), he comments, "What a woman!"

At the Thieves Market, we get a sample of the classic Shadalooian written language, showing just what a fantastic culture this "southeast Asian" country has had for who knows how many centuries.

What a beautiful language.  I just wish I could read it.

At the market, it appears Chun-Li, Honda, and Balrog have managed to infiltrate the area by impersonating a group of performers doing magic acts.

I want to point out that Bison is here enjoying the show with Sagat, so somehow Chun-Li and her people already knew where Bison was going to be, meaning there was absolutely no point in that huge production Guile and his people held if a group of plucky news reporters knew where to find Bison the whole time.

Ken and Ryu are there as well, naturally, though they don't seem to recognize the reporter who has been the face of the "WAR IN SHADALOO" up to this point.  Once their act is complete, they exit the back of the performing area, and for some reason the movie really, really wants us to get to see Dee Jay's face when a group of dancing girls comes on next.

Thanks for that, movie.

While Sagat and Bison start to do a business deal, Chun-Li uses her womanly wiles (a phrase not often used outside of that short-lived Malibu Comics series that everybody agrees, and correctly so, was terrible) to lure Ken out of the primary tent and into another tent for an ambush.  Ryu follows along, and also gets caught up in the reporters dealings.  Chun-Li attempts to stop the start of a fight between Ryu and Honda by smacking him a few times in the back with the flat side of a knife, letting you know this scene was clearly shot in one take.

Bison, meanwhile, is having a hard time closing the deal for Sagat's weapons.  He first offers Sagat power, which Sagat turns down until they get to see how much of the country will be left once the war is over.  Bison then attempts to pay him with "Bison Bucks," a currency that has M. Bison's face printed on it.  Bison guarantees that his version of the dollar will be worth five British pounds "once I kidnap their Queen."

You have to give it to the guy, he doesn't think small.  ...okay, maybe he is a bit more Cobra Commander than Dr. Doom, but at least he isn't trying to take over the world through fast food restaurants.

While tensions mount between Bison and Sagat, Ryu talks Honda and Balrog into giving up some back story.  See, it appears both were actually athletes (sumo and boxing, naturally) who almost made it to the top until "Shadaloo ruined their reputations."

Okay, maybe this is dumber than fast food restaurants.  But it's not dumber than stealing devices that make women pretty by stealing beauty from other women.

Ken and Ryu are released with a warning from Chun-Li that they need to get out, but they get caught up in the power struggle between the two criminals.  Fortunately, Chun-Li then puts her plan into action, proudly announcing through video that doesn't sync up to mouth movements that their performance truck is packed with explosives and is being sent out of control to plow into the weapons supplies.

This scene has the one really funny joke that we all know and love, where Zangief, trying to think fast as they realize the truck on the screen is the same as the one rolling down the hill towards them, exclaims, "Quick, change the channel!"

A spy satellite overhead is able to capture footage of the three reporters/circus performers being captured after their stunt fails to kill anybody of real importance,   Plus, there's the fact that if they had succeeded, the hostages would have probably all died, so...yay good guys?

At Bison's headquarters, Ryu and Ken are to be given "clean clothes" for their work in warning Bison of the attack, Sagat and Vega are invited to stay as guests, Honda and Balrog are to be taken to the interrogation room, and Chun-Li is to be taken to Bison's private quarters for a "private interview."

Raul Julia hams up this entire scene to wonderful levels, to the point that he makes casual asides while being threatening and even licks his lips in front of Chun-Li before he says "private interview."  The man is a first-class scoundrel and villain.

Ken, showing his usual brilliance, has the sense to talk about the Action News Team in a room filled with bad guys.  He in fact says, "this sucks, they're good guys, like us."  Strangely, nobody hears him.

So with most of the good guys who we bothered to learn the names of either behind enemy lines or captured, it looks like it's going to be up to Guile, Cammy, and Not T.Hawk No Matter What The Movie Says to stage an elaborate rescue.

Will Ken and/or Ryu ever throw a fireball?  Will characters be butchered in even more racist or bizarre ways?  Will we get a great final battle between an actor who was probably dying of cancer at the time and a genuinely skilled martial artist?

The answer to one of those questions is "yes!"   You'll have to wait to see which one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The gesture van Damme does is Brazilian for what you said - "up yours". It's not made up but I do think it was a poor choice as it's not really obvious if you're not familiar with international slang.