Anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the glorious maelstrom of chaos that could described as the making of Street Fighter must know that the bizarre behind the scenes stories would make far more entertaining film than the actual movie we got. Wild tales of Jean Claude Van Damme spending the entire shoot in a cocaine haze while engaging in an affair with co-star Kylie Minogue compete with the sobering knowledge that Raul Julia was slowly succumbing to stomach cancer while being hurled around on a flying rig to become the most outlandish thing about a video game adaptation that hilariously bore little to no resemblance to its source material.
As a fan of the Capcom game (Street Fighter 2, just so we’re clear), back in 1994 I sat in a cinema with an eyebrow quizzically raised for the entire duration of the movie as my brain struggled to process the garbled mess I was witnessing – but how does this legendary piece of crap fare these days? Only one way to find out. ROUND ONE. FIGHT!
The deranged ex-drug lord/warlord General Bison has caused civil war to erupt in the Southeast nation of Shadaloo as his forces clash with the soldiers of the Allied Nations – think the UN but with cool spy boats and shit. Led by the tenacious Colonel Guile – a man so American he has a stars and stripes tattoo to go with his near-inpenitrable Belgium-French accent – the troops have had to hold back storming his fortress due to the maniacal madman taking hostages, but while the battle is on hold, other things are occuring in and around the AN camp.
Hustlers Ryu and Ken inadvertently start a beef with cyploptic crime boss Sagat and his clawed cage fighter Vega when they try and sell him them weapons which inadvertently leave the pair in the temporary employ of Guile as undercover operatives. Elsewhere, intrepid reporter Chung-Li, her cameraman Balrog and her tech guy Honda have something else in mind other than reporting the news; they’re all on a revenge mission to get even on Bison for destroying their respective lives – Chung-Li’s father was killed while Balrog and Honda had *checks notes* their boxing and sumo careers ruined? Really? Ok then…
Anyway, as all these disparate and desperate characters gradually start to affect each others missions, Bison continues his experiments to genetically create an ultimate soldier and is forcing Professor Dhalsim to experiment on Guile’s best buddy Carlos Blanka in order to turn him into a violent freak. Unable to wait any longer and with Ryu, Ken, Chung-Li and her crew stuck deep behind enemy lines, Guile finally launches an attack on the stronghold of his sworn enemy in what could the most campest military campaign of all time. As all these gaudily coloured weirdos choose to punch each other while everyone else uses guns (who the fuck laces up boxing gloves for a firefight?), who will win and who will fall before the ultimate K.O.?
Just so we’re all clear, Street Fighter is undeniably a complete piece of shit. The action is unfocused, the acting is pantomime level and the script is unfeasibly bad which is particularly stunning considering that screenwriter turned director Steven E. de Souza had a hand in penning such movies as Die Hard, Commando and 48 Hours. But then if you take certain other, madcap stories into account – primarily E. de Souza reportedly ripping out a random eleven pages out of the script in order to get the schedule instantly back on track – I guess maybe it’s not that surprising at all.
However, while the movie is positively screaming for a one star review, the thing is so awful it’s actually a huge amount of fun to watch in a raucous, so-bad-it’s-good kind of way much like its malformed brother in arms, fellow video game turkey Super Mario Bros..
Its frankly inconceivable that actual adults made this film up and is a prime example of what happens when filmmakers don’t have the faintest idea about the product they’re trying to adapt which ultimately leads us to hilariously having a film called Street Fighter that actually has no fucking street fights in it.
According to the script, it never actually occurs to anyone that the characters should be street fighters and maybe the filmmakers shouldn’t be worrying too much about giving them all day jobs that fail to match the classic characters in the slightest. Ryu a faux arms dealer? Chung-Li a reporter? DeeJay a computer geek? That’s like making Scorpion from Mortal Kombat a cashier in fucking Wal-Mart (“My till’s free so GET OVER HERE!”). Still, as awkward as it all is, at least everyone fares better than Dhalsim and Blanka who possibly have two of the worst transitions to live action of any two characters ever who look like a pair of cos-players on a tight budget.
Adding to the awful charm of the piece are two very extreme performances from the two leads who between them consumed both large amounts of the set, not to mention the budget. At the time a walking advertisement for better living through chemistry, Van Damme got cool 8 mil to portray Guile and it fucking shows as he basically wanders around the set looking like a man who’s just won the lottery. Forget the fight scenes, JCVD looks like his pulse must have been off the scale during filming the dialogue and his wired demeanor really adds to the whole pantomime feel. However, king of making the best out of a real bad deal is Raul Julia who rises from his own ashes to deliver an epitaph for his own career that probably could have been heard from Mars. Not letting a little thing like cancer stop him from delivering a performance that portrays Bison as somewhere between Adolf Hitler and Liberace, Julia owns every scene he’s in by bellowing dopey monologues that result in some sort of perverted genius. His infamous speech to Chung-Li about her father’s death could honestly be one of the most underrated villain rants in history and the line “For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday.” is pure art born from hideous chaos.
Elsewhere, the cast simply just tries to make sense of the chaos. The sight of Ming-Na Weng clad in Chung-Li’s distinctive outfit no doubt raised the spirits of many and Andrew Bryniarski’s dunder-headed wrestler-turned-henchman Zangief scores some killer one liners, but everyone mostly just tries to hang on for dear life and simply get paid.
While admittedly ground zero for flamboyant video game train wrecks (the final shot may one of the most cringe inducing things I’veever seen in my life), Street Fighter is nevertheless fascinating in it’s own right, its awfulness making you feel like a fly under the glowing thrall of a bug zapper, you know it’s no good for you, but you just can’t look away no matter how much you try. Rational moviegoers will know enough to stay away, but for trash connoisseurs this is a spicey mess that demands that you press “Play Again” despite all common sense demanding that you do otherwise.