Monday, January 11, 2016

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

Not too long ago, I took a close look at the Street Fighter movie starring Jean-Claud Van Damme, Raul Julia, and Kylie Minogue.  It was awful.  It butchered what little story the video game had, twisted characters into unrecognizable versions of themselves, and had writing so incomprehensible that I'm still not sure some of the facial reactions weren't from people hearing the lines read out loud for the first time.

But you know what movie it's apparently significantly better than?

For the record, I was going to post a picture of the DVD cover of Bloodrayne here, but I assume you all read the title to this post, so it didn't seem worth it.

For the first time ever, I'm actually going to take a moment to point out something about some of the promotional material for this movie.  First up, we have a mind-boggling cover to a DVD.

Do you know why that's mind-boggling?  Because originally Chun-Li wasn't anywhere on that image to the right.  This was the original image:

So let's break this down.  Someone designed a movie poster where the star of the movie is only shown inside the silhouette of one of the villains from the movie.  Said villain is being punched in the face, and based on the hair of the person up top, I'm having a really hard time imagining that being a woman.  So neither silhouette is our female lead, so someone figured it was worth taking THAT image and Photoshopping the lead character in over half of the fight, so now it looks like a nameless silhouette guy is punching her in the breasts.

You know what was actually a really cool promotional image?

That's actually pretty great right there.  Strong ties to Chinese culture in the paper-like background and the symbols, the font of the title is actually pretty neat, and the whole thing looks like it's going to take a strong mystic/mystery angle, an actual martial arts "legend" is about to be told with lots of fancy combat.

Of course, that's all a total lie, but we're not there yet.  My point is, they had better artwork to choose from than that weird silhouette image.

But the longer I avoid talking about it, the longer it's going to take to review it.  So here goes nothing.

The movie opens in San Francisco, with Chun-Li narrating an explanation that her father wanted her to grow up to be a concert pianist.  We're shown a very, VERY young Chun-Li here playing at what's probably already a professional level, which for some reason reminds me more of The Karate Kid, specifically Meiying, the potential "girlfriend" whose parents were extremely strict.

Chun-Li's family needs to move to Hong Kong for unexplained reasons ("My father was an important businessman.  I never knew what he did for a living..."), and little Chun-Li starts to learn wushu from her father, a martial art that (from my limited knowledge) is half combat training, half performance.  This, of course, clearly differs from the video game version of Chun-Li.  In the games, Chun-Li uses a combination of kempo and kung-fu.

But all things considered, I suspect your average person on the street wouldn't be able to tell you the difference between the various styles, much less differentiate, say, the various martial arts found in Avatar.

Chun-Li gets older, her training continues, and it's when she's still not quite an adult that disaster strikes.  After her father gets home late one evening, the house is suddenly attacked, and we get our first real look at a Street Fighter character: Balrog.

You know what?  Michael Clarke Duncan as the giant immovable wall of muscle that is Balrog might actually the best casting I've seen in a video game movie ever.  EVER.

A fight breaks out between Chun-Li's father, Balrog, and a few more goons, and I'll put this out here right now, this fight scene is pretty amazing.  Chun-Li's father is truly outnumbered, but he's able to use lots of tricks (making the bottom of a bottle explode at someone's face, lighting his hand on fire to fight people without feeling the heat) to keep the action tense.

When young Chun-Li wanders down the stairs to find out what all the noise is, she's grabbed by Balrog.  Sadly, Michael Clarke Duncan isn't the best actor, so his speech here seems...stilted?  Anyway, it's off as he tries to sound intimidating, but fortunately his size makes up for a lot.

This is when Bison finally shows up, states that he knows Chun-Li's father from way back, and essentially ends the fight by telling Balrog to let Chun-Li go and saying, quite calmly and professionally, "It's okay, my sweet.  A gentleman would never harm a schoolgirl."  There's a rough edge to the corner of it, and I think they inserted the sound of a tiger or lion growling softly into the sound mix, so it hints at a lot of possible danger if Bison decides to stop being "a gentleman."

It's a great scene that establishes the villain for the movie.  It's intimidating, but it also shows that Bison is a man who can be reasoned with.  He knows he has all the power, but he's still willing to be kind (even if it's all show for Chun-Li's father, in a "I can destroy this thing you love any time I want" way).  There's just one teeny, tiny problem.

His tie?
That's not M. Bison.  M. Bison is a dark-haired monarch who flaunts his "psycho power" and desires nothing more than even MORE power.  He rules a giant terrorist network, wears a hat and cape, and I'm sorry, but if you're making me miss how Raul Julia dressed in the first Street Fighter movie, you've messed up somewhere.  Even just tinting his suit red a bit would have been a huge step closer to getting Neal Macdonough closer to being the villain we expected to see.

Bison and his men force Chun-Li's father into a car (Balrog even seems to punch out Chun-Li's mother off-screen during a cut), and he's taken off to...who knows where, really.  Chun-Li lies on her bed, and notices a necklace her father gave her.  We get a flashback within a flashback (boo!) where he gives it to her as a gift, explaining it was a necklace he received years ago "in India."  It has a small medallion that spins featuring a bird in flight, and is called the "spinning bird."

I...I honestly think they CGed the disc into the necklace, because it doesn't seem connected to any other part of the medallion and always spins at just the right speed so we see what looks like a two-frame animation clip of a bird flapping its wings.  I've tried building things like that before, they aren't easy!

We jump to the future, where Chun-Li, now played by- okay, I was holding this off for as long as I could, but now I have to address the thing most people think is the largest problem with this movie.  Chun-Li as an adult is played by Kristin Kreuk, and if you look around online you'll find a lot of people who say that this casting was the nail in the coffin for this film.  I...will address my thoughts involving this casting at the end of this review.

Chun-Li is still doing massive recitals on the piano at large concert halls (having gone to Juliard), and after one big performance she learns that a gift was left for her in her dressing room.  Unrolling what appears to be a leather-bound bundle, she finds it's an extremely old-looking scroll written in a language she doesn't immediately recognize (why a young woman who lives in Hong Kong would be able to recognize Chinese is beyond me).

After leaving the concert hall, Chun-Li comes upon a fight happening in the subway station.  Nobody around does anything to help the man getting his butt handed to him, but Chun-Li is able to sternly walk towards the bad guys as they're already walking away.  She doesn't yell "hey!" or run, she just walks forward with a determined look on her face.

However, examine the fashions of subway thugs in Hong Kong.  They're pretty remarkable.

As impressed as I am with the guy in the middle who stole all of his clothes from the 1992 Fresh Prince and the emo kid with the wallet chain to his left, I'm a bit puzzled by the guy who felt the need to bring a cardigan sweater along to beat up people in subways.

Chun-Li tries to find out if the guy is all right and shouts for help, not really noticing the peculiar tattoo on the man's hand.

I'm sure it won't mean anything.

We get a scene where Chun-Li gets home and tends to her mother who is dying of...well, she has an IV bag, but her head is wrapped in bandages, so I think they're aiming for cancer (did she get cancer from being punched by Balrog?), but I'm going to chalk it up to "makingdramaitis."  They talk a bit about rising crime in the city, but it doesn't mean much, so we're going to skip ahead.

Meanwhile, in Shadaloo headquarters (Bangkok, Thailand), Bison is dealing with the rest of the leadership of the "Shadaloo Investment Corporation" by staging a corporate takeover via "assassination by Vega."

Again, it's the exact opposite of M. Bison.  There's no grandiose posturing, there's no overly dramatic speeches, there's just a simple speech given while everyone else in the room gets extremely upset, and then after everybody else storms out, Bison is still standing there holding the same wine glass up in the air before he sits down and starts to have his meal while Vega deals with the other Shadaloo leaders.

I- I like that.  Again, it gives the impression that he's so in control of the whole situation that nothing can bother him.  It's a fine performance, it's's not Bison.

Now, we get into my least favorite part, a side story featuring a detective played by Moon Bloodgood and an Interpol agent played by Chris Klein.  Now, I had a lot of annoyance at the first Street Fighter movie when they started swapping character roles around (see: Balrog and Dee Jay).  In this one, they take Chun-Li (martial artist and Interpol agent) and turn her into a concert pianist.  Instead, they assign cop duties to Crimson Viper ("Maya") and Charlie Nash ("Nash").  Now, eagle-eyed viewers and readers might remember that Charlie was also a soldier in the first Street Fighter movie who (sigh) got turned into Blanka.  Here, he's slick-haired jerk who tries to channel his inner Nicholas Cage and only manages a few weird inflections on his speech.

They start investigating a storage unit down by the docks that contains the heads of all of the former leaders of Shadaloo.  Charlie seems to know what's going on, but insists on dragging it out for Maya.

We learn that Bison still has Chun-Li's father alive, and is apparently using him for his keep business sense.  Meanwhile, Chun-Li's mother dies, and if I'm going to point out one part of Kristin Kreuk's acting here, it's that I really can't believe she's able to cry.  She's trying to look like she's crying, but it's just not happening.

Chun-Li finally starts investigating that weird scroll, and winds up being half-guided half-actually swept up with a broom (by a guy with a spider web tattoo on his hand, purely by coincidence) into a small shop where a woman tells her about a man named "Gen" who can help her.  He just happens to live in Bangkok.  Oh, and he has a spider web tattoo on his hand.

This scene also contains the phrase "This is not a letter, this is a light shining only on you."  I really don't like the dialogue in this movie.

At police headquarters, Nash talks about Bison being extremely dangerous and Maya flashes her cleavage at him to let her take part in the case.

I'm putting this here because I like Moon Bloodgood, and I won't apologize for this.
Chun-Li abandons her life in Hong Kong, bundling up a bag of things and leaving behind her servants and mansion.  She starts living on the streets, attempting to locate a man she knows nothing about, and the movie wants you to think she's struggling to survive out on the streets and in constant danger from the high crime rates of Bangkok (after all, you never know when you'll bump into guys trying to kidnap random girls),'s just not believable.

First off, they do have her be a bit "dirty" from being on the streets, but it's "Hollywood dirty."  You never see her cleaning herself up anywhere with water, but her hair is pretty much fine, the dirt is just slightly smudged, and her clothes (of which she apparently has multiple outfits in one small bag) stay relatively clean.

"Wow, you must have just gotten back from a two hour hike!"

Bison and Balrog talk about a package that need to be brought out to him and Balrog reports that Chun-Li's gone missing.   That's really about it.

That evening, Chun-Li's sleeping in an alley when she's awakened by a group of street punks beating up an old man.  She decides enough is enough and fights them, and it's not really a fair fight.  See, a couple of the thugs look like they might actually know some martial arts and be able to choreograph a fight scene.  Chun-Li, on the other hand, has magic wires that lift her up for "fancy" kicks and Kristin Kreuk's inability to really act out the movements of a scene.

Chun-Li passes out at the end of the fight, and is carried off by a guy with a spider web tattooed on his hand.

The next day she wakes up and discovers that she's actually in one of the few video game crossover movies to ever exist, because Gen is actually Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat!

No seriously, it's the same actor.

Gen explains that Chun-Li's father is still alive and being held by Bison (see, Gen used to work for Shadaloo but I'm not going into that back story), and offers to train her so she can rescue him if she joins his "Order of the Web."

This leads to a training montage where Gen starts to teach Chun-Li by first cleaning her clock in hand-to-hand combat, and then they jump straight to "how to make fireballs."  I- I think they skipped a few steps there.  Chun-Li is also able to pull up some information on Bison on "the Internet," including the name of the CFO of Bison's public company that's buying up a lot of the slums: "Esperanto Corp."  I- I'd be lying if I said I didn't love the name of that corporation.  It's a quasi-Spanish name for a company run by an Irishman (did I mention Bison's Irish?  Oops) in Bangkok.  It's perfect in every wrong way.

There's some boring stuff involving board meetings, deals being signed, and the cops attempting to figure out their next move while Bison's own private military force moves into the slums of Bangkok and start evicting everybody.

Next- no, you know what?  The next scene is so mind-bogglingly dumb, I need a break before I tackle it, so we're going to pause for now.  This might become a three-parter depending on how well I can take the filler in this movie and the shoddy plot movement.

So everything seems to be coming up "Bison" right now.  He owns the slums and is ready to bulldoze them in order to make way for "affordable housing."  He has his entire gang, Chun-Li's father, and whatever the mysterious "package" is that's on its way.  The police haven't done anything since we met them, and Chun-Li is utterly failing at being trained by Gen to "let go of her anger."

Things look bleak for the bad guys and for me, because I have to keep watching this.  Let's see if it gets any better next time.

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