Dir Andrzej Bartkowiak. US. 2009. 96 mins
Even avid fans of the classic video game on which it is based are likely to give a thumbs down to Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Coming 15 years after the first big-screen Street Fighter -1994’s $99m-grossing Jean-Claude Van Damme outing - this Hyde Park production could possibly have tapped into a second generation of followers of the Capcom game series, and maybe a broader cinema audience too. But with its low star power, cartoonish characters and pedestrian martial arts fight scenes this new version of the long-running game looks set to do most of its business as a DVD shelf-filler.
Opening ten days after the launch of the game’s fourth edition, the PG-13 film got a 1,000-print North American release through 20th Century Fox last weekend (just a week before the launch of the similarly-targeted Watchmen). Opening at 8th place on just $4.7m over the weekend suggests a cool response from young male game fans and limited interest from other demographics.
In the international marketplace, where independent distributors have licensed the film from Hyde Park, theatrical performances might be a little better (as they have been for other recent game adaptations such as the Resident Evil movies). Asian results could be strongest, thanks to the Bangkok setting and the presence of a couple of Hong Kong names in the supporting cast.
In his first produced screenplay, writer Justin Marks gives the title character a substantial back story, showing the half-Caucasian, half-Asian Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) growing up as a piano protege with a side interest in kung fu. Years after her father is kidnapped by brutal strangers, Chun-Li is mysteriously summoned to Thailand, where she becomes a pupil of kung fu master Gen (martial arts movie veteran Robin Shou).
Chun-Li is being groomed to take on her father’s abductor, creepy crime boss Bison (Neal McDonough), who is planning to make a fortune by booting Bangkok’s poor out of their homes.
Marks’ attempt to add some dramatic interest to the game scenario results only in a silly plot and some very broadly drawn characters. Besides Chung-Li, Gen and Bison, there’s the sexy cop duo of Nash (Chris Klein) and Maya (Moon Bloodgood), pumped up henchman Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan), and martial arts assassin Vega (Black-Eyed Peas rapper Taboo).
Cinematographer-turned-director Andrzej Bartkowiak, who made 2005 game adaptation Doom, tells the story with a heavy hand, larding the early scenes with sentiment and later resorting to cliched set-ups with evil mastermind Bison and kung fu philosopher Gen.
The fight scenes, choreographed by Dion Lam (Doom and Spider-Man 2), are spread rather thinly through the story and are mostly uninspired Hong Kong-style wire work with occasional CG enhancements.
The lithe, boyish Kreuk makes her title character fairly believable, but most of the other actors struggle to do much with Marks’ wooden dialogue. Klein, in particular, goes way over the top as Nash, the story’s one American character.
While the production values are decent the Bangkok locations are not used to any great effect.
Hyde Park Entertainment
20th Century Fox
Hyde Park Entertainment
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Michael Z Hanan
Michael Clarke Duncan