[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]
In 1987, video game company Capcom released an arcade fighting game entitled Street Fighter. Its basic story is that you're a guy named Ryu who has entered a martial arts tournament (or, if you're in 2-player mode, you can also be Ryu's former partner, Ken). You go through ten different fighters from different nations, leading up to the final boss, Sagat. The game got a generally warm reception. Nothing great, but nothing too bad. Though at least one place said it was a game that would never last.
So in 1991, they decided to release a sequel, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, for the arcades (and eventually ported to the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive systems). The biggest offering this game had was the fact it gave players multiple characters to choose from, all with their own personal attacks and fighting styles (the first fighting game to do so). These characters included Ryu and Ken, as well as a stretchy yoga master named Dhalsim; a sumo wrestler named E. Honda; an electrified green creature named Blanka; a U.S. special forces op named Guile; a female policewoman seeking revenge named Chun-Li; and a Russian wrestler named Zangief.
Of course, the game needed some villains, and they came up with three. The primary villain was to be an African American boxer (an homage to Mike Tyson) named Mike Bison, shortened to M. Bison. But in order to avoid legal problems, Capcom shifted the names around. M. Bison was now the leader of an evil corporation called Shadaloo (and/or Shadowlaw) and has a "Psycho Power"; this character was originally named Vega. Vega had now become a Spanish cage fighter who uses ninjitsu and blades; this character was originally named Balrog. And Balrog, who had become the African-American boxer. Sagat also returned, now scarred from his previous fighter against Ryu.
Street Fighter II gained an immense popularity that led to a massive push in fighting games in the early 90s. This game was so good, a regular sequel wasn't enough. The game itself needed to be updated first... and multiple times, each adding something a little new (combos, graphics, etc.). The most important of which (at least to talk about here) was Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers. This game, which was released in 1993, introduced other important characters to the series such as T. Hawk, Cammy, Fei Long, and Dee Jay. And positive reception was inevitable.
Also inevitable was a film version... of which there were two. But before the one you all know came a Japanese anime film called Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (which actually inspired one of the game sequel series', Alpha, taking many elements from the movie into the games). Although widely considered the most superior Street Fighter movie, it isn't without controversy. All U.S. versions, at least upon initial release, were toned down on both language and an explicit shower scene involving Chun-Li. However, in 2008, Netflix made the fully uncensored version readily available through its services, making it the first service to have the completely uncut version available on demand. So let's review this bad boy.
I played Street Fighter II in the arcade when I was younger, but not a whole lot. But I do have a basic knowledge of the characters and their attacks. This film picks up at essentially the end of the first game, with Ryu defeating Sagat. Then it skips ahead in time where the Shadowlaw, led by M. Bison, have created android scouters to travel the globe watching the best street fighters out there, gaining their stats, so they can find the toughest and brainwash them into becoming terrorists. Bison brings in some help in the form of Balrog, Vega, and Sagat, as well, in his search to find the greatest fighter out there--Ryu. And they're not the only one, as Ryu's old friend, Ken, is also looking for him. Meanwhile, Interpol agent Chun-Li teams up with U.S. special forces op, Guile, to find M. Bison and bring him down.
They actually gave the film a good story that is mostly executed well... but it's not without its faults. A lot of the film seems like fan service (and I don't mean Chun-Li nudity... though there is that, too). We're treated to a lot of random street fights where the scouter androids are watching them, taking their information. It was a way to bring in all of the game's characters, but with maybe one or two exceptions, it meant absolutely nothing in the overall film. The only one that actually comes back into the story with a purpose is E. Honda. But the likes of Dhalsim, Blanka, Zangief, T. Hawk, Cammy, Fei Long, and Dee Jay were nothing more than glorified cameos. (OK, Cammy has a little more purpose, setting up the brainwashing plot, but then disappears from the film altogether.) Balrog doesn't get all that much, either.
The American translation and/or voice acting was both a positive and a negative. The voice actors were good, particularly M. Bison, whose voice reminded me a lot of James Earl Jones and was pretty good casting. However, where the film slipped was in some of its dubbed dialogue. There are maybe three or so moments throughout the movie that are essentially just small talk... and they are so awkward. It's just like they put in random conversations just to match the lip movement, but it comes out as stilted with strange pauses and... just weird.
The animation is rather excellent. Sometimes it's weird to see that they stuck to the video game appearances a little too closely, making for some strange clothing choices or hair styles, but eventually you just let that go. Anyway, there are a few scenes that really showcase both the animation and the violence. The first is the opening scene, actually, which is a good five minutes long that culminates into a great title card shot. Another is the climax battle against M. Bison. This scene was a mix of good animation, action, and storytelling. It was just overall well done.
But the best scene in the film, hands down, is the one that begins with Chun-Li in the shower. Now before you roll your eyes, let me explain. The animation of her in the shower does this slow fade in and out with the surrounding location, showing her apartment building and the apartment itself. It slowly builds tension as Guile tries to contact her... and we realize someone is there to kill her. She comes out and starts fixing her hair... then BAM, Vega attacks. It's a fantastic slow build of suspense followed by what I feel is the greatest action scene in the film. The fight between Chun-Li and Vega is outstanding both in style and in animation. It doesn't shy away from anything, whether that means brutality, blood, or shots of her bra and panties from underneath her night-shirt. This is an R-Rated battle, intense and sometimes disturbing, and it's a heck of a lot of fun.
So yes, I would have to say that I'm in agreement with most others. Of the three Street Fighter films available, this is definitely the best. It's not perfect, but it provides everything a Street Fighter movie should have. There's good action, plenty of familiar faces and attacks, and a good story with a little emotion behind it. And the best part is that it doesn't try to dumb itself down. There's blood, cussing, and nudity, and it's not ashamed of any of that.
(P.S. For the longest time, I always thought this was an animated sequel to the live action film. Of course, I eventually realized it was just a film version of the game Street Fighter II. But still... it's weird putting the II in the title when it's not a sequel in and of itself.)