"A cheerfully stupid endeavor."
You don't need to have seen 1994's Street Fighter movie, which starred Raul Julia and Jean-Claude Van Damme, in order to appreciate the new Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, which doesn't star anyone. In fact, you don't need to have seen the 1994 Street Fighter at all, for any reason, under any circumstances, least of all as preparation for Legend of Chun-Li.
This is a reboot, you see, not a sequel, a complete starting-from-scratch attempt at turning the venerable video game franchise into a viable cinematic product. And I don't know about viable, but there's no question they have made a cinematic product. No doubt about it, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is definitely a movie. They dug up low-rent action veteran Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 the Grave, Doom) to direct it and paid a first-time feature writer named Justin Marks a couple bucks to slap together a hokey, ridiculous script. They built some cheap sets and put some actors who could sort of fight on them. They put cameras in front of the actors and turned the cameras to the "on" position. Yep -- this is a movie, all right.
It's a cheerfully stupid endeavor, enlivened by some gnarly fights and endullened by all the talky stuff in between. Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) is a half-Chinese concert pianist whose father (Edmund Chen) was abducted years ago by the evil Bison (Neal McDonough), a businessman who now controls all the organized crime in Bangkok through his company, the Shadaloo Investment Corporation. ("Shadaloo" is from the video game, but to make it sound less silly everyone in this movie pronounces it so the last syllable rhymes with "how," not "who.") Now Chun-Li has received a mysterious scroll that leads her to Bangkok in search of a guy named Gen (Robin Shou), who will teach her the Order of the Web, which is a group dedicated to justice and goodness and stuff, which means they oppose Bison.
Bison is the type of high-class movie villain who drinks fine wine and eats caviar while his enemies are being slaughtered by the henchmen in his foyer. (That's not a made-up example: He really does that.) Every time he does something mean we hear what sounds like a tiger's growl on the soundtrack. I'm not terribly familiar with the bison that once roamed the Western American plains in great numbers, but I'm pretty sure they didn't sound like tigers. (Please note that "Bison makes a tiger sound in the video game" is not an acceptable explanation for its presence in the film.) Bison has just killed all of his crime-syndicate competitors and put their heads on a table, drawing the attention of a local cop named Maya (Moon Bloodgood) and a dopey Interpol agent named Nash (Chris Klein). Klein delivers every piece of Nash's dialogue as if he were in a parody of cheesy cop shows, while somehow remaining so wooden that he makes Keanu Reeves seem like Don Knotts.
The film assumes we are stupid (which might be a safe bet, considering what we just paid money to see). Before she learns about the Order of the Web, Chun-Li twice sees a man with a spiderweb tattoo on his hand. The movie draws attention to it both times, clearly wanting us to remember it. Then, when an enigmatic old lady tells Chun-Li about the Order and shows her their symbol -- a spiderweb -- the movie re-shows us those two moments, just in case we're complete idiots who wouldn't have understood the connection otherwise.
Bison has an associate named Cantana (Josie Ho) who goes to a trendy nightclub one evening, followed by Chun-Li, who's doing some reconnaissance. They eye each other warily on the dance floor and then get into a dance-off before having a fistfight in the bathroom. It's like the filmmakers went through my prom scrapbook!
Also: Michael Clarke Duncan is in this movie. He plays Bison's top henchman, a beefy fellow named Balrog. I do not have anything else to say about him.
I don't know (or care) how faithful the film is to the video game's backstory, but I can tell you it doesn't have nearly as much fighting as it ought to. It's all skullduggery and revenge and you-killed-my-father. Some actors take it seriously (too much so), while others, like the delightful Neal McDonough, ham it up, resulting in an uneven tone that's hard to stay interested in when the fists stop flying.
At the end of the film, Chun-Li finds a flier advertising an underground tournament for street fighters. Some fellow out of Japan named Ryu (fans will recognize the name) is rumored to be joining! They're obviously setting up for a sequel that will never happen, but all I could think was that a street-fighting tournament would have been a good idea for THIS movie.
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Eric D. Snider (website) would not mess with a guy named Balrog.