I’d never be so contrary as to argue that Street Fighter (1994) is a good film… but, as critically-derided white elephants go, it’s far less irritating and offensive than Dungeons & Dragons, at least. It doesn’t try to set up some convoluted “chosen one” mythology, or sell itself as anything more than a silly, cartoony shambles, and there’s something endearing about that… even though the intended “jokes” are uniformly groan-worthy, and the fun is further spoiled by the knowledge that the sickly Raúl Juliá was slowly ebbing away throughout the shoot, and would die two months before the movie’s official release. Frankly, after reading a recent article about some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans and tensions, I’m impressed that they managed to produce anything as polished as this! I mean, yes, the story and dialogue are dumb, but at least they’re dumb in a coherent and consistent way… the costumes are great, even if the make-up work on ‘Blanka’ is laughably bad… and the action sequences are kinda cool too. What I’m trying to say is that there are legitimate reasons why this flick made its budget back three times over at the box office, while D&D bombed hard.
Chief among those reasons, I’d like to believe, is the goodly amount of screentime that Ming-Na Wen gets, playing fan favourite ‘Chun-Li’. As far as I can make out from the article I linked to above, Kylie Minogue’s ‘Cammy’ was originally intended to be the female lead of the flick, until game publisher Capcom insisted that Chun-Li be added to the mix… at which point Cammy was demoted to little more than a cute, chirpy supporting player. Hurrah! Not that I have anything against The Blessed Kylie, of course*… it’s just that I’d rather see Ming-Na getting a shot at the spotlight, to reflect the diversity of the original game’s stable of characters. Sad fact: The availability of promo photos of the two characters is inversely proportional to their prominence in the movie itself. Meh.
We first meet Chun-Li posing as a news reporter, conveniently bringing viewers up to speed on ‘General M. Bison’s’ evil plans to extort a $20 billion ransom from the Allied Nations, before trying to grab an on-camera interview with the movie’s lunk-headed hero, ‘Colonel William F. Guile’ (who takes the opportunity to name-check a close friend who’s been taken hostage by Bison, thus endangering the poor guy’s life/sanity! D’oh!) Thankfully, she drops the “reporter” act soon after that, revealing herself to be an accomplished ninja hell-bent on revenge, sneaking into the A.N. compound to gather vital intel, and dressing as a bellydancer as part of a cunning attempt to assassinate Bison (who killed her father… the dastard!) After her plan is thwarted, she’s captured and taken back to the villain’s secret lair, where she can reel off her backstory, while Bison casually changes outfits and carelessly attempts to seduce her. She kinda recedes into the background after that, as Guile infiltrates the base and takes Bison down mano-a-mano… but up to that point it’s a great showcase for Ming-Na’s athleticism and acting chops… not to mention how foxy she looks in that red “qipao” dress! Her opening monologue also taught me that “skirmish” can be used as a verb as well as a noun… so I can honestly say I learned something from this movie!
Fun fact: 2009’s Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li was intended to be a more serious and gritty take on the character… but the critics hated it just as much, and it only managed to claw in a world-wide gross of $12.7 million, against an (estimated) budget of $50 million, compared to the $99.4 million that this turkey brought home!
* Although the revelations about her having an affair with cover-star Jean-Claude Van Damme behind his pregnant wife’s back don’t exactly do her any favours!