Universal // 1994 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // February 10th, 2009
Fact 1: Capcom's Street Fighter II, and its numerous sequels/prequels, stands as the king of the beat-em-up genre. Right through to the recent Street Fighter IV, and by way of the peerless Street Fighter III: Third Strike, the games offer the most balanced and finely honed fighting series available to man.
Fact 2: Ken Masters is the greatest combatant in the history of videogames, with only Iori Yagami from SNK's The King of Fighters series coming close.
Fact 3: Street Fighter, the live-action adaptation of Street Fighter II, blows, and no "Extreme Edition" is going to change that.
When world peace is threatened by the maniacal General M. Bison (Raul Julia, Kiss of the Spider Woman), Colonel William Guile (Jean Claude Van Damme, JCVD) leads an A.N. (Allied Nations) task force to destroy the dictators power base.
However, when Bison takes a group of aid workers hostage and threatens to kill them in seventy-two hours unless his demands are met, Guile finds himself relieved of his duties as the allied nations agree to pay off Bison. Unhappy with the decision, especially after so vehemently promising to "kick Bison's ass," Guile recruits a pair of street fighters, Ryu Hoshi (Byron Mann) and Ken Masters (Damian Chapa), to infiltrate Bison's organization by way of arms dealer Victor Sagat (Wes Studi, The Last of the Mohicans). Joined by intrepid reporter Chun-Li Zang (Ming-Na, The Joy Luck Club), who has personal reasons for wanting Bison's downfall, Guile launches a final assault on Bison's base.
During my school days Street Fighter II was the cause of more arguments and punch-ups than just about anything else I can remember. Arguments would usually revolve around which character was best; whether the SNES or Megadrive provided the best version of the game, and if claims as to the existence of the legendary character Sheng Long were true. Ah, they were a simpler, more peaceful time. One thing that united all of us, and by all I mean me and my videogaming friends, was that Street Fighter II was the greatest thing in the world; of that there was no dispute.
Sometime during 1993, when the announcement was made that a live-action movie was being developed, everyone who played Street Fighter II was elated; it was as if we had been given manna from heaven. Immediately my friends and I began casting the movie. I seem to remember deciding that Tom Cruise would play Ryu; sure he wasn't Japanese, but our limited knowledge of Eastern cinema at the time meant we were forced into some difficult casting decisions.
Come the film's release, our elation turned to deflation as our hopes were dashed so cruelly. Sure we were young, but we weren't stupid. This wasn't the Street Fighter we knew and loved. Hell, they couldn't even get the haircuts right. Indeed, the highlight of that particular visit to the cinema was seeing the trailer for the far superior Mortal Kombat.
Re-released on DVD in an "Extreme Edition" to coincide with the release of Street Fighter IV for home consoles, Street Fighter is still a massive disappointment. Even Van Damme looks embarrassed at being cast in this camp hodgepodge of a movie.
What has always confused me about Street Fighter is the decision to translate the characters into a fairly generic action movie, when the more successful route would surely have been to make an Enter the Dragon clone, albeit with fighters gifted with supernatural powers. The film seems uncertain as to whether or not it should embrace the game's more fantastical elements, leaving us with lame attempts at a fireball (Hadouken), Dragon Punch (Shoryuken), and the hundred hand slap. Even M. Bison's Psycho Power is explained away as being the result of superconductor electromagnetism, rather than the evil energy that empowers him in the videogames. Though the film crams in pretty much the entire character roster, the onscreen personas share few traits with their pixilated counterparts.
For a film based on a one-on-one fighting game it also lacks anything resembling a decent punch up, instead reducing what should be epic grudge matches to pathetic slapping sessions. The fight between Eddie Honda and the Russian behemoth Zangief best demonstrates the filmmakers' lack of respect for the source material, setting their battle above a miniature model city and throwing in Godzilla noises in a poor attempt at humor.
While Van Damme seems fully aware of just how bad the film is, he does little to help matters. With a performance that's passionless, by the numbers, and often looking plain bored, Jean Claude really doesn't look like he wants to be here. On the other hand, Raul Julia commands the screen as uber-villain Bison. Sure, he has none of the menace the character should have, but Julia ensures that what would be his final role on the big screen is one he attacks with enthusiasm. Being a seasoned actor, Julia knows that both the role and the film in general are trash, but he brings so much to it as to almost make the film worthwhile.
The film itself may not be up to much, but the DVD itself is actually pretty decent. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is surprisingly strong, and offers a decent upgrade from the previous DVD release. Colors in particular are bold, adding to the film's cartoon feel. There is an occasional layer of grain, which is never distracting and a decent level of detail. The 5.1 soundtrack makes good use of the rear speakers, particularly during Guile's attack on Bison's base. Explosions pack a nice punch and dialogue is always clear, which considering how risible it is might be considered a double edged sword.
Initially there is the feeling that this release is timed purely to cash in on the forthcoming Street Fighter IV, something that isn't helped by the presence of trailers for the game and upcoming anime adaptation. Thankfully things improve with the feature commentary track, where writer/director Steven de Souza discusses the problems in adapting a videogame. It's a shame de Souza's fell foul of so many of the problems himself. A collection of storyboards and outtakes join a collection of promotional materials.
If you don't know a Shoryuken from a Shoryureppa, or have no idea what a TatsuMakiSenPuKyaku is, then it's possible you'll enjoy Street Fighter. The film's campy nature, along with a succession of unintentionally bad dialogue, nearly puts it into the so-bad-it's-good bracket.
Unlike the far superior anime adaptation, Hollywood's take on the Street Fighter legend does nothing to enrich the franchise and seems to completely miss the point on what made the games so great in the first place.
The special features on this release are a massive improvement over the original DVD, however, so if you do feel the urge to revisit a piece of your childhood, this is the way to go.
The film gets a guilty verdict and a Tiger Knee to the face.
Review content copyright © 2009 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Storyboard Sequences
* Videogame Sequences
* Street Fighter IV Preview