If a movie is released just a year after its production is announced. If there is virtually no publicity aside from target audience advertising. If, consequentially, most people are unaware the movie exists, nonetheless is already released. If practically the entire film production crew is unknown. If the lead character plays an ethnicity they don’t clearly resemble. If any role is held by a popular musician trying his or her hand at acting. These are just a few of many portents that a film will be a catastrophe. “Street Fighter: The Story of Chun Li” manages to fit all the aforementioned categories, and then some. In fact, it is one of the worst videogame-to-movie disasters to date and a damaging “hadouken” to both industries.
To call “Chun Li” anything less than abysmal would be an outright lie. Paling in comparison to even borderline mediocre videogame adaptation films such as “Tomb Raider” and the first “Resident Evil,” the latest “Street Fighter” film delivers 96 minutes of consistently astonishing disappointment.
The entirely self-serving and contrived plot unsurprisingly revolves around the young Chinese-American girl, Chun Li (Kristen Kreuk, TVs “Smallville”), who must rescue her kidnapped father by the videogame series badass, M. Bison, kingpin of a circuit that holds families hostage to obtain the deeds to their property. How entirely un-sinister. What vile crime will he do next — charge them transaction fees? Force them into high-interest mortgages on their new property? “Chun Li” is further rounded out with a laughable theme of family importance (even to the bad guys!) that’s as thin and unpalatable as Campbell’s soup. Worst of all is that the movie bastardizes the characters’ back-story given through the videogame series.
Since the film is just that unworthy of anyone’s time, I’ll disclose that it ends with the defeat of M. Bison, who actually continues to be the villain throughout the game series, which makes his death in what’s technically a prequel all the more nonsensical. Smells like a “not-really-dead-yet” trick and a sequel, further hinted at by the last scene’s introduction of the “Street Fighter” tournament. Although, given the hilarious reception of “Chun Li,” this thankfully seems unlikely.
Humorless, lifeless screenplay aside, the film hosts a slew of other problems. In general, the fight scenes are uninspired, underwhelming and shortchange the viewer. It’s a wonder the fight choreographer manages to choreograph himself out of bed and to work each day without some major injury.
Similarly underwhelming is the rag-tag assortment of poorly cast, chemistry-lacking actors. Neal McDonough is about as menacing a villain as Hello Kitty, and Robin Shou is about two generations younger than the character he’s portraying. It’s also been a long, sad fall from grace for Michael Clarke Duncan, who won’t be receiving any nominations for this testosterone laden, juggernaut role. Big shocker — the casting director had never casted before. He had probably never played a “Street Fighter” game either, or even knew what set he was working on.
Yet the casting of Kreuk is most problematic for many reasons. Although half-Asian by descent, Kreuk does not even vaguely resemble the incredibly Chinese looking Chun-Li from the video game series. Where are the ridiculously beribboned hair buns and the traditional Chinese fighting garb? Even worse, though, is the absurd makeup that attempts to slenderize her eyes in order to make her look more Asian. Semblance issues aside, it’s uncertain whether the droopy-eyed Kreuk is awake, or even alive for most of the movie, or instead if she’s in a persistent vegetative state with strings attached, like a Terri Schiavo marionette minus the feeding tube.
Redeeming qualities are scarce and of little benefit. The lively Bangkok locale of most of the movie infuses the screen with some life, but no amount of bright bustling streets or high power explosives fully distract the viewer from how shoddy the rest of the production is. For fans of the “Street Fighter” series, it’s momentarily exhilarating and nostalgic to see each character fleshed out into live-action, but the veneer of enchantment vanishes as quickly as it arose once they realize how little resemblance there is and how poorly acted the roles are.
Essentially the problem is that from pre-production the studio never took this movie seriously. Every set of hands that touched this movie, from director to cinematography, was low-end amateur — the film wasn’t given a chance, or a budget, from the start. Further, “Chun Li” was a very rushed effort, no doubt to piggyback on the wave of hype generated by the recently released “Street Fighter IV” videogame. “Chun Li” isn’t even successfully campy like the 1994 “Street Fighter” and “Mortal Kombat” flicks. Even “Dead or Alive” was mildly campy, and at least had the comic relief of absurdly bountiful boobs. While this is not to say “Chun Li” ever had potential to be a stellar cinematic venture, it could have at least been mindless entertainment. Instead it proves just to be mindless, verging on comatose.
1/2 star out of 5.