[Contains a scale-model city and SPOILERS!!!]
Last week my DVD player died (after 12 years of loyal service), so I decided to upgrade to a Blu-Ray player and see what all the fuss was about… I’ve already used it to watch both parts of Mesrine with swanky “upscaling”, but the first actual BR disc I plopped in its tray was Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009) (because it was super-cheap, and I’m slightly masochistic).
There’s probably a lot of potential in the idea of taking a grittier, grounded, Batman Begins-style approach to the Street Fighter characters… which is clearly what they were edging towards here, until they undermined it with ludicrous “fan service” fight moves, and the ability to conjure up poorly-animated energy balls, without any attempts to explain the magick or “science” behind them. Still, a more serious stumbling block is the shoddily constructed story and painfully trite dialogue, which I can only assume was generated by some sort of cheap computer programme (Cliché-Crime-Drama-O-Matic 2000). There’s even a deleted scene between ‘Chun-Li’ (Kristin Kreuk) and ‘Nash’ (Chris Klein) that plays like an old Fry & Laurie skit, except that the nonsense they spouted was meant to be intentionally silly. Sigh…
I admit I was a little biased against Kreuk to begin with, because of how much I hated ‘Lana’ on Smallville, but by the end I’d come around to thinking she made a pretty decent action heroine. It’s hard to judge, of course, because the words she was being asked to emote were so poorly written, and the fight manoeuvres got very cartoon-y at times, but overall I didn’t hate her. With a better script, she might have done the eponymous icon justice… but it was hard to take this incarnation seriously because her backstory was so convoluted. In the opening flashback, Chun-Li informs us that her father dearly wanted her to be a concert pianist… then in the very next scene, he’s teaching her Wushu moves, via an extended training montage… but then, somehow, she becomes an accomplished concert pianist anyway. I know the two disciplines aren’t mutually exclusive, but it was still totally superfluous to the story. It would have made more sense to have her learning ballet, which is more complimentary to martial arts and could also have set her up as a slightly delicate high-brow girly, for a greater contrast with the later scenes of her roughing it on the streets and learning how to scrap.
Meanwhile, Klein and Moon Bloodgood play a pair of inept, odd-couple cops (he’s from Interpol, she works for Bangkok’s “Gang Homicide” division), who are always at least two steps behind the bad guys, and only show up for the final battle as Chun-Li’s “back-up”, because she specifically tells them where and when the villain’s cronies are likely to show. If she hadn’t tipped them off, they’d have been quite happy to sit at home twiddling their thumbs, or making lame passes at each other that never actually lead anywhere. So, they don’t serve any function as investigators or love interests or comic relief… all they do is pad out the running time while Chun-Li does all the detective work for them! I don’t consider Klein a particularly charismatic actor, and I don’t really buy him as a cocky cowboy-type, but even Chris Evans would have had a hard time making Nash into anything more than an annoying, inane distraction. I guess the two of them do provide a little idle eye-candy, but that’s nothing to be proud of either…
Neal McDonough makes a fantastically creepy villain, and I enjoyed his performance here as ‘M. Bison’… but that doesn’t compensate for the fact that his character’s masterplan was so muddled. Raising the crime rate in a rundown dockland area so he can buy it up cheap and build luxury condos there is a fairly solid scheme… but it’s never really explained why he needed to keep kidnapping the families of high-ranking officials and straight-up blackmailing/threatening them to speed this process along. Seems like an unnecessarily crude and incriminating way of getting things done, really. It’s also stated that he’s imprisoned Chun-Li’s father because he’s a well-connected business-man and Bison wants to exploit his network of contacts… but again, why did he need to go to such criminal extremes to do that? And why did he need to be there in person while his thugs were breaking into the house and grabbing the guy? Doesn’t he understand how delegation and “plausible deniability” work?
Less laughable was the sickening way the film-makers treated Bison’s assistant ‘Cantana’ (Josie Ho)… exploiting her for lipstick-lesbian titillation in the club scene, then disposing of her in a sick little sight-gag, with Bison beating her to death as a punchbag. Feh.