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Saturday 22 March 2014

Terrible Films I Love, Volume III : Street Fighter

I've fallen WAY behind in my terrible film reviewing recently, but not long ago I saw two more from the list.

Before I continue however, here's a bit of a recap for those joining late or with fading memories (like me):

Introduction and definition of 'Terrible Films I Love'

Volume I: The Room

Volume II: Dungeons & Dragons

& Before the film review, what was Street Fighter anyway?

Street Fighter II : The Game

When I was growing up Street Fighter 2 was my favourite computer game, more so than Mario Brothers, Sonic, Zelda, Doom, or any other iconic 90s computer game franchise that I played.

Before I was gifted a SNES for my birthday from my loving parents, the sole reason for getting one was so that I could play Street Fighter 2, I'd travel to the arcades at least once a week to play. Now this anecdote might lend the false belief that I was an accomplished gameplayer, or perhaps even a grand master undefeated in over 1000 games, but actually due to the fact that I'd have to try an hold a 50p all week and that 50p only got you three games. I wasn't really that expert, but that's not the point. The point is, I was pretty obsessed about the game and by the time I got the SNES I was quite willing to devote far more hours than was healthy to playing the game. Anyway, enough of the misspent youth story...

The game is fairly simple with no real storyline and the basic premise is so (ironically) two-dimensional that you'd have thought it impossible to turn into a film with a coherent story (you'd be right) but then that was all before it made in $1.5 billion revenue in arcade cabinet sales worldwide (indeed, only Pacman and Space Invaders have made more money). Now, that's good enough reason to make a film!

The initial player select screen from Street Fighter 2
The gameplay is: you pick one of eight characters and fight eleven other street fighters (the seven other pickable characters and four computer controlled 'bosses')  in a 'best of three rounds' fighting competition to determine who is the 'World Warrior'. Each character has their own fighting style and special moves (except Ken and Ryu who are basically the same), which further individualises them, well, that and the sometimes outrageous cultural stereotyping. The format of special moves via certain controller movements and button presses was, as a computer game, revolutionary and set the stall for dozens of similar games (the most well-known of which is probably Mortal Kombat). The only changes really came about with improving technology, better 3D graphics, otherwise it was just more complex maneuvers and more characters.

Any personal storyline is only made clear once you've beaten the final boss and are rewarded with a short animated sequence. Some of which were hilarious, f.e. Zangief's involved Gorbachev being flown in via helicopter to congratulate him and then joining in with some Cossack dancing. Again, very basic stuff and although later games spun-out the storylines, there wasn't really anything very deep about any of the characters, but they were loved by players of the game. And most importantly it made a shed-load of money!

Street Fighter : The Movie

First point: I broke my own rule. No one should watch alone. This was a mistake.

I hadn't seen the film for quite a while and I'd thought I'd refresh my memory before writing this. Also, as it was short notice, no one was about and I wasn't in the mood to wait.

Watching the film I wondered had the writer (who is also the director, always a good sign for a terrible film) Steven E. de Souza even seen the game? However, that couldn't be the case as they include some fairly niche character points. So, why include some and blatantly ignore or rewrite other characters? It is because you know best, eh Steve? Well, quite frankly, you don't.

Rather than detail ALL the character problems and differences/outrageous changes from the game-world (always a difficulty itself with Terrible Films) I'll list a few of the major ones that change the entire basis of the game to film dynamic, such that one hardly resembles the other at all.

1. Main Character(s)
In the Street Fighter series the main character is always Ryu (and Ken). Now, this makes sense for a number of reasons the most obvious of which is that it's a Japanese game, he's Japanese, and fulfills the standard Japanese silent hero role. Also he has Ken as his friend/double/comic relief, the main reason for Ken was that there would now be two basic characters, as in the game's early development the same character couldn't be selected in a versus battle. As the game has gone through further sequels Ken as become totally different in style to Ryu. Anyway, they have always been a double-act, both disciples of Shotokan Karate, and it seems odd that they should have the most significant character re-write for the film.

The movie has Ryu and Ken as bumbling well-intentioned smugglers and Guile as the lead. This makes sense too, because I assume the thinking was; American movie = American Hero and it can't be Ken because he's always been lesser to Ryu. Well, it's a shame they picked Guile (although he was my favourite character to play) because now we get a military based story rather than a martial arts one. Also his back story is really crap, some pseudo-Vietnam vet story that somehow ties up with M.Bison (the game's Big Bad End Boss). So, who to cast as you archetypal American soldier-hero? Why it's Belgium's very own "Muscles from Brussels" JCVD of course! Curiously, this basis is kept for the children's cartoon of the series that was produced a year or two after the film. So, maybe de Souza was onto something...


2. It's only a game
If you're going to make a move adaptation, be it of a novel or a video game, the first question is always going to be, "how faithful will we remain to the original?" Now, obviously, lots of adaptations have been less than faithful to their originals but have gone on to be so much better ('The Shining' is an immediate and unfair example). However, faithfulness to the original aside there is most often (in good films) a level of respect to the source material that even if they are unfaithful there are still some things that will not be changed. Street Fighter: The Movie has no such respect or faithfulness to its source, the general opinion of which seems to be "f*** it, it's only a computer game, who cares what the geeks think!"

This attitude seems particular of the 1980s and outdated even in 1994, nowadays such an attitude would be box-office suicide especially with several films being made recently to appeal to the 'geek fanboy' market, 'The Avengers' and 'Pacific Rim' being two of the biggest box offices successes especially tailored for fan appeal.

Of course, this attitude probably wasn't helped by the release of the spectacularly bad 'Super Mario Bros.' film the previous year, which is probably over-the-line of good-bad and straight into agonising fail. Although the comments the cast later made about the film are hilarious in and of themself. (see here)

3. Missing the obvious
A martial arts fighting game that translates to... a military action film. Why? Isn't Jean-Claude most famous for martial arts type movies? I suppose, see above, for the answers to that stupid decision.

Also, a coherent plot would have been nice, if this were a good movie, or even an attempt at one if it were a good-bad movie, but then what is this?

So, by this point of watching on my own I'd got thoroughly bored. I quit.

Time passes...

& I find myself watching Street Fighter: The Movie with a group of friends in high spirits, watching the film via Netflix.

4. Any more fun with a group of friends?
Well, yes, but then only just. It helps that a number of us are old-skool-gaming-geeks whose rage at the liberties de Souza takes with (the very limited) characters, plot, dialogue, action & effects made for an amusing game of "call out the bullsh*t".

5. Saved by acting
What finally makes this a terrible film I love and not just schlock nonsense is some of the performances in this film. Jean-Claude gives a memorably awful motivation speech and is generally ham-fisted hammy ham ham (you get the idea). Kylie Minogue is just dreadful as Cammy. Poor old Raul Julia gets one final paycheck and overacts to near Irons level. Indeed, as terrible as everyone is in this film (only Raul Julia escapes this because he's obviously just really going for one last laugh, one great scene with Ming-Na as Chun-Li proves this) they are eclipsed by an actor so painfully terrible that even his wordless presence seems to destroy the film around him like a sort of industrial movie acid. I speak thereof Kenya Sawada. The story behind his involvement is quite special.

He really hasn't

Sawada plays a character called Captain Sawada, one can assume this is due to the actor's lack of English and any discernible acting talent. Indeed, his few lines are apparently dubbed, but if this is the case they only succeeded in making them appear even worse. The story I've read is that Capcom (the original game designers) themselves forced the inclusion of the character and actor, telling the studio and director that he was "the new face of Capcom." Is Kenya Sawada related to the owners of Capcom? I honestly can't think of another reason why he'd be in this film, albeit so very briefly, which as it turns out is a damn shame. His artless line delivery (not even his own), his gormless appearance (perhaps he was nervous?) and his wooden stilted actions make every moment solid gold s***. 
Such beautiful terribleness.

6. Final Reckoning

This film is possibly more painful to watch than Dungeons & Dragons (another piece of my childhood destroyed) and can only be recommended to hardcore good-bad film enthusiasts. That said, even myself needed a human shield of laughter to make my way through the film in it's entirety.

Requirements: Hardcore addiction to awfully funny good-bad movies, love of camp acting, desire to see how bad a thing can be, ability to endure mind-numbingly stupid plot holes and dialogue, a soft spot for the delightful Raul Julia, the largest group of friends possible.

Captain Sawada, second from the left. Why?