Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009) Movie Review

You may have noticed that there is a new trend in Hollywood: reviving franchises that the public didn’t care for the first time around. Or “reboots”, as they like to call it. The latest franchiseable series to be given a second stab at cinematic glory is “Street Fighter”, based on the 2-D fighting game that you might have seen kids gathering around at your local corner store back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Hollywood tried to cash in on the craze once already in 1994 with “Street Fighter”, which really should have worked as it starred one of the biggest action stars of the time. It didn’t, mostly because it sucked. The latest attempt is “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li”, which as the name implies, centers on female fighter Chun-Li (Smallville’s Kristin Kreuk), and once again attempts to bring the fighting game to life. So is the second time the charm? Er, not so much.

Curiously, “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” flew under the radar during much of its production. The film actually got more press overseas, in particular Japan, home of the “Street Fighter” game while remaining ominously absent Stateside until just a few weeks ahead of the film’s February release date. There was a semi-official production blog that quickly fizzled out and you would be hardpressed to see the stars invading TV sets and late-night couches promoting their wares. Budgeted at an estimated $50 million, the film seems to have been dumped into theaters with little warning, which is never a good sign for a movie that costs as much as “Street Fighter” did. The studio might have even wanted to put this thing out straight to DVD, but given the budget probably wanted to try their luck. They needn’t have bothered.

“Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” stars Smallville’s Lana Lang, Kristin Kreuk, here finally embracing her Chinese half, though you would never know it from her stilted Cantonese line deliveries. Chun-Li grew up in a loving home, practicing Wushu with dear old dad on the front lawn as mom gazes lovingly at their perfect family, until one night a big mean Caucasian named Bison (Neal McDonough) busts up Chun-Li’s house with the help of his underling Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan) and snatches away Chun-Li’s father. Our heroine grows up without a dad, and soon, without a mother. After a mysterious Chinese scroll lands in her possession, Chun-Li decides to set out for Bangkok, Thailand where she meets the mysterious Gen (Robin Shou), a former member of Bison’s criminal empire who has gone straight and means to teach Chun-Li the skills necessary to bring down Bison. Meanwhile, Interpol bad boy Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) also arrives in Bangkok, teaming up with local bad girl Detective Maya (Moon Bloodgood) to take on the bad guys. Okay, they mostly just sit around and flirt. Basically they’re pretty useless, but at least Moon Bloodgood is really attractive.

Without a doubt, “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” should have gone straight to DVD. It is that bad. Perhaps the best thing that can come out of “Street Fighter” stinking up the joint (and truthfully, folks, there ain’t a whole lot of good that can come out of this thing) is that Hollywood will stop giving jobs to writer Justin Mark, the only credited screenwriter on the movie. In just a few short years, Marks has become something of a go-to guy for geek-friendly genre movies that David Goyer (the other, more proven go-to guy for geek-friendly genre movies) has passed on. Some of the notable titles that Marks has been attached to include McG’s “Captain Nemo”, the “He-Man” movie, and the long-gestating “Voltron” film, to name just a few. After watching “Street Fighter” and cringing my way through its clunky dialogue, droll voiceover narration and silly narrative plotting, you wonder how Marks ever managed to get a job in the first place, much less become one of the few go-to guys in Hollywood. Is the town really that desperate for talent? There is absolutely nothing about Marks’ script for “Street Fighter” that convinces me this guy knows how to write dialogue, much less plot a logical narrative.

Okay, so this is a movie based on a videogame, and it happens to have a terrible script. That’s not too much of a surprise, I suppose. So what about the action? No luck there either I’m afraid. The only person in the entire movie who can actually fight is Robin Shou (from the “Mortal Kombat” films), and most of his screentime is ruined by Godawful Chinese pseudo-proverbs that Marks forces him to recite. Star Kristin Kreuk is no martial artists, but luckily she’s athletic enough and give her credit, she makes an effort. Alas, Kreuk doesn’t so much fight as she’s jerked around by clumsy wireworks. Bad wireworks in a Hollywood movie isn’t a new thing, but director Andrzej Bartkowiak (“Exit Wounds”, “Cradle 2 the Grave”) offers no hints whatsoever that he’s actually directed action movies before. At times it looks like Kreuk is flying around the screen for no particular reason.

If “Street Fighter” was supposed to be Kristin Kreuk’s graduation from network TV to feature films, it’s not going to happen. Kreuk is easy enough on the eyes, but there’s just not … look, folks, let me come right out and say it without any sugarcoating: there’s just not a whole lot there. When Kreuk is required to do more than stand around in her shorts showing off her legs, the film turns unintentionally hilarious. The movie’s best moment has to be a scene where Kreuk’s Chun-Li follows Cantana (Josie Ho), one of Bison’s underlings to a nightclub and seduces her with a sexy dance. The whole thing was so awkward and embarrassing that I felt bad for Kreuk. In the right roles, like as the lovelorn Lana Lang on Smallville, Kreuk’s pretty but very dour face actually works. In “Street Fighter”, she’s entirely out of her comfort zone.

With the exception of Neil McDonough doing his usual slimy bad guy role (with an Irish accent, natch) and star Kristin Kreuk, who at times just looks baffled by what’s going on around her, the rest of the cast seem to be treating the movie as an exercise in camp. Michael Clarke Duncan is guilty as charge and so is Chris Klein, whose every mannerism is so affected as to be obnoxious. But for all the knock on Klein, at least he seems to be having a blast with the role. The same for Duncan, whose character is so grossly underdeveloped I’m not even sure what it is he does for Bison, since whenever Bison needs someone dead he just sends for freelance killer Vega (Taboo). Fortunately, Moon Bloodgood provides some additional eye candy, even if her Thai is pretty much gibberish. At one point I’m pretty sure the filmmakers even dubbed her voice.

For a movie based on a very popular videogame, there is surprisingly very little tie-in between the movie and the games. There are some minor nods to the arcade fighter, like Chun-Li going upside down to take on some thugs, and Gen teaches Chun-Li how to harness her chi ala one of those energy balls. Even if you were to accept that “Street Fighter” is a lost cause when it comes to storytelling, acting, and direction, and went into the film purely for the martial arts action, I would be lying if I said you’d get your money’s worth. The film is actually quite thrifty with its action scenes, and it goes without saying that it’s up to Chun-Li to take out Bison, who amusingly takes out Gen without breaking a sweat. Apparently in just a few short days the student has surpassed the master. In fact, Chun-Li’s training under Gen goes so swimmingly that our heroine even has time to run around Bangkok doing some sleuthing. Girl’s got mad skills. Too bad no one else involved in “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” does.

Andrzej Bartkowiak (director) / Justin Marks (screenplay)
CAST: Kristin Kreuk … Chun-Li
Chris Klein … Charlie Nash
Neal McDonough … Bison
Robin Shou … Gen
Moon Bloodgood … Det. Maya Sunee
Josie Ho … Cantana
Taboo … Vega
Michael Clarke Duncan … Balrog

Buy Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li on DVD