BEVERLY HILLS, California — Imagine that you’re a professional thespian, challenged with the opportunity to portray a tiny, pixilated video game character who rarely speaks. Backstory? The character looks like a badass and can throw fireballs. Your motivation? Apparently it’s to rip your opponent’s spine out and accumulate extra lives.
“The advantage, I think, is that there’s already something there — like a platform to grow from,” observed 26-year-old “Smallville” star Kristin Kreuk, who plays the title character in the new video-game-to-movie “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.” “The disadvantage? There are a lot of individual viewpoints on how that person should be, because all of these people have a really wonderful, personal experience with that character. Just like anything that is pre-existed, it is a challenge to find your own way through that when there are so many pre-existing ideas.”
And, ultimately, portraying one of the iconic characters from the “Street Fighter” franchise (first introduced in 1987) is a matter of capturing the same mix of toughness, eccentricity and affinity that has made millions of gamers fall in love with Vega, Dhalism, M. Bison and all the rest.
“Dion Lam, the way he choreographed everything was incredible,” explained Neal McDonough, who plays the evil Bison in the film and gives significant credit of “character development” to the movie’s action director. “We put it all up on the screen — we worked so hard and so many hours to get in shape and do the right stuff. And we’re very proud of it.”
But ultimately, the Street Fighters are tough. And to get into the right mind-set to portray them, you can’t be calling in your stuntman every time things get sweaty.
“We didn’t have stunt doubles,” revealed Michael Clarke Duncan, who plays Balrog in the film. “I wish I had a stunt double, but I didn’t.”
“I had a stand-in,” grinned Taboo, the Black Eyed Peas hitmaker who plays the deadly assassin Vega in his film debut. “But he just stood there.”
“I loved my stand-in; he was my size,” remembered McDonough, a Massachusetts-born actor who traveled to Thailand to shoot the film. “I walk on the set, I see a guy in a suit, blond hair. I’m like, ‘Wow, they found a guy that looks like me!’ He turned around and it was this Asian cat. He was 6-3, 130 pounds. I was like, ‘Well, it looks like I’ll be doing all my own stunts for this movie!’ ”
At the end of the day, however, there’s only one true stunt that the “Street Fighter” actors needed to get right: their signature move. Much like “Mortal Kombat,” the “Street Fighter” games raised an entire generation of kids who know that, for instance, you can perform Vega’s wall leap in “Street Fighter II” by pressing down for two seconds, then pressing up and any kick button, then waiting until you’re in mid-air and pushing the D-pad up, along with any punch button.
“Me and Kristen had a scene where we’re fighting on a fence,” Taboo said proudly. “Do you remember that part where I slashed the fence? That was a tribute to the game!”
In the real world, however, the actors’ signature moves wouldn’t be nearly as exciting as Bison’s Flying Psycho Fist or Zangief’s Siberian Bear Crusher.
“In real life, if I’m on the street?” Kreuk said of her method to taking down an opponent. “Can negotiation count? Conversation. A very nice conversation and we’re all good.”
“I’d do something subtle like a sleeper hold,” reasoned Clarke Duncan. “Not to hurt them, just to subdue them.”
“I’d just hug it out,” grinned McDonough, the film’s villain. “I’m a lover; that’s what I do. I’m Bison the hugger.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.”
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