The Street Fighter Films: How to And How Not to Adapt a Video Game
Adapting a videogame into a movie has always been a challenge. While some good videogame movies exist, they’re just drops in a sea of faulty adaptations that either try so hard to please the general audience that they end up disappointing the fans, or focus too much on the fans and lose the general audience. The Street Fighter series has had its share of movies with varying degrees of quality. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li(2009) has been endlessly criticized for being extremely unfaithful to its source material and having a general lack of quality that drove away casual moviegoers. On the other hand, Street Fighter: Assassins Fist(2014) has been praised not only for being true to the games, but also for being accessible to a more general audience. But how do two movies based on the same source material have such drastically different reception? Where does Assassins fist succeed where Chun-Li fails?
The first point where The Legend of Chun-li fails is in its choice of main character. No one will deny that Chun-li is one of the most recognizable characters in the Street Fighter series, but at the same time, her backstory isn’t the most compelling. It’s enough for a brief arcade mode ending yes, but nowhere near enough for a movie with an hour and a half run time. Her backstory basically boils down to a generic police drama. When Chun-Li was a child her father was kidnapped, she joins the ICPO (or Interpol) at age 18 to aid in the investigation. Eventually she learns that criminal organization called Shadaloo was directly involved with her father’s disappearance and dedicates herself to taking them down (Taylor). Adapting such a basic story into a feature length film, while not impossible, would be extremely difficult due to not having much at all to work with. There was also the challenge of trying to add something new for fans of the series so it didn’t feel like a retread of the game’s story, doing things like adding characters such as Charlie from the Street Fighter: Alpha series, touching on Chun-Li’s training with her master Gen, and changing the abilities and backstory of the main villain M.Bison. While the intent of these decisions were good, it just made the movie seem more like Capcom trying to alter the lore of the series rather than expand upon it. The big problem with choosing this character was that her story was too basic to work with and had very little that could be added on. On top of this, the few things they do add seem to just be thrown in with no real cohesion or build up. Bison’s origin is mostly withheld throughout the whole movie, but then it’s given to us all at once in an exposition dump right before the final scene. A better way to go about this would’ve been to use a different character. If they were dead set on using a female character, then they could’ve gone with Cammy, a woman who was kidnapped by M.Bison and turned into a Bison Doll, a brainwashed soldier that fights for Shadaloo. She was able to break free and now fights for an anti-terrorism force called Delta Red. This story would’ve given a more insider perspective of Shadaloo, and having to fight other Bison Dolls would be an interesting dilemma. Of course, there was also the option of using the series’ main characters.
Assassin’s fist knew what story to adapt. Not only are Ryu and Ken the most known characters in the game, but their training with Gouken and the struggles that come from it also allow for a more interesting story. This mainly comes from the fact that so many different stories tie into this one. The backstory of Gouken and Gouki, the development of Ryu and Ken’s bond, and the origins of Akuma are all subplots that stem from this story. These subplots are also very well implemented into the main story, everything happens very naturally. For example, Gouken doesn’t just suddenly decide to tell us why and how Gouki became Akuma, many things have to happen before he’s willing to actually do it. Ryu and Ken question the history of the techniques they’re being taught and that prompts Gouken to give them his backstory, they find a wall with previous students that underwent the same training as them with one saying “Gouki” turned around and this causes Gouken to tell them about Gouki, Ken struggles with some of the training so he tries a technique he learned from a book in a sealed off room and this causes Gouken to tell them about the dark power that consumed Gouki. The big thing here is that everything is introduced in bits rather than in one big scene in the middle of the movie that will be forgotten about when they get back to the main event. Another thing to note about the story is that it manages to stay very accurate to the source material while also allowing even long-time fans to get something new out of it simply by taking elements from multiple different places such as the Street Fighter comics, and the animated TV series and movies. The movie’s director Joey Ansah even said that even the most hardcore fans of the series would likely learn something they didn’t know from this (Ansah). But getting the story right isn’t all that goes into the good adaptation, the appearance of the characters is also extremely important.
The Legend of Chun-Li fails to accurately capture the appearance of its characters. It’s understandable that some things would get lost in the adaptation, such as Chun-Li’s oversized legs or Charlie’s ridiculous hair and the movie realizes this, but instead of making them more believable while still recognizable, it decides to make every character as different as possible. For a majority of the movie, Chun-Li doesn’t have her hair in her trademark Ox-horn style and never once does she wear any of the outfits she’s worn in any of the games. Some might say that this was done because her original outfits were too outlandish for this slightly more serious movie, but let’s think about Captain America: The First Avenger(2011) for a moment. In that movie, before Captain America gets a more updated suit, he wears something that resembles the costume he wore in the original comics. This not only gives him a reason to stay with the star spangled outfit, but it also shows that the people making the movie cared enough to acknowledge the character’s past costume while improving on it. The Legend of Chun Li could have done something similar. Have a brief scene where Chun-Li is looking for clothes to wear for her training and she comes across an outfit that resembles her costume from the Alpha series. This wouldn’t solve the problem completely, but it would’ve been nice to have something that resembled something from the games. No one expected them to get every detail right, but there are ways to make it accurate and realistic.
Assassin’s Fist realizes that the characters are designed unrealistically; this will always be the case in fighting games as a mechanical necessity. Arms, legs, feet, and hands are often oversized to make them more in line with their hitboxes. It’s something that works well in a highly stylized game but makes creating an accurate adaptation difficult. Assassin’s Fist does it’s best to make its characters more believable while keeping it accurate to the source material. This is most evident with Gouken. In the games, Gouken is more muscular than even most body builders. In the movie, he’s severely toned down, but is still extremely close to his counterpart. He looks like what Gouken would look like if he were younger and designed more realistically. Of course, appearance isn’t all that matters in regards to the characters. The crew’s knowledge of the source material is also very important.
The cast and crew’s knowledge of the games differs greatly between the two movies. While Assassin’s Fist shows a great amount of knowledge of not only the story it tells, but the Street Fighter universe as a whole, Legend of Chun-Li shows very little to no knowledge of either. Assassin’s Fist nails the relationship between Ryu and Ken, showing how their friendship turned into a friendly rivalry. Not only this, but it’s also littered with small touches like Ken’s flaming uppercut, hinting at Evil Ryu, mentioning characters like Dan, potential hints towards Balrog, references to other Capcom games, Ken giving Ryu his hairband as a memento of their training, and even a cameo by the creator of Street Fighter Yoshinori Ono that show just how dedicated the crew was to the series. There was so much dedication that their Kickstarter campaign got the attention of two backers that gave them the over $670000 they still needed to meet their goal, and even got the attention of Capcom themselves (Ansah). This knowledge and dedication to the series is the main reason this movie succeeds as an adaptation.
The Legend of Chun-Li on the other hand, shows a lack of knowledge of the series. As mentioned before, the characters hardly resemble their video game counter parts, but it goes beyond that. How the characters act and fight, the most important part of a movie like this, is changed beyond recognition as well. For example, Balrog in the games is known for being a boxer, but the way he fights makes him seem more like a grappler. Because of this, combined with the drastic change in design, He shares practically nothing with Balrog other than his name. Vega, while fairly accurate in terms of design, is still very misunderstood by his actor. When talking to IGN about his character, Taboo talked about how Vega was a mysterious character that people didn’t know much about(IGN, 2:05). This is despite the fact that Vega has always had an established backstory and personality. He’s vain, arrogant, and obsessed with beauty, but he’s never been seen or portrayed as mysterious. But what about Chun-Li herself? Surely they’d understand their main character right? Well, no. In a behind the scenes interview, Kristin Kreurk, who plays Chun-Li, said that her fighting style was about power and gracefulness(Bartkowiak). While gracefulness does play big part, Chun-Li has never been about power. She’s about speed and landing a lot of weak hits that add up over time. There’s even an extreme misunderstanding of the main villain’s motivations and methods. M.Bison has always been a dictator that uses brute force to get his way. He’ll send his henchmen if he can, but has no problem taking matters into his own hands. He’s evil and he’s proud of it. However, in an interview with Fox All Access, Neil McDonough who plays Bison said, “He never thinks he’s doing anything evil, he just has goals he’s trying to achieve.(Fox All Access,00:58).” Taking all of this into account, the movie winds up feeling more like a cop drama with a few Street Fighter names stuck on it.
Overall, Assassin’s fist proves that when done right video game adaptations can appeal to both fans of the source material and casual moviegoers. In addition to this, many more companies are allowing their games to be made into movies. Warcraft, Ratchet & Clank, and the upcoming Assassin’s Creed, and Sly Cooper movies show how much more accepting to the idea of video game movies. Even Nintendo, who is known for having an extremely tight hold on their IPs, has allowed Legendary Pictures to start production on a live action Pokémon movie with the writers from movies like Guardians of the Galaxy. I believe this is important because, as someone who enjoys video games, I want to see these kinds of movies succeed. I also think it can be a good way to tell the stories of these games to a new audience by eliminating the barrier of execution. I strongly believe that video game movies can succeed given the right crew and a good amount of passion for the project.
Ansah, Joey. “’Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist’ Kickstarter Campaign” KickStarter (April 7, 2013): https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1689785997/street-fighter-assassins-fist-kickstarter-campaign/posts/457062
Captain America: The First Avenger (USA, Johnston, Joe, 2011)
“Interview with Joey Ansah.” Making of documentary Street Fighter Assassins Fist (2014)
“Interview with Kristin Kreurk.” Becoming a Street Fighter featurette (2014)
Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist(USA, Ansash, Joey, 2014)
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li(USA, Bartkowaik, Andrzej, 2009)
Taylor, Nicholas. “Chun-Li stopped at nothing to bring down Shadaloo to avenge her father - Latest SF5 profile details the first lady of fighting games” EventHubs (July 23,2016): http://www.eventhubs.com/news/2016/jul/23/chun-li-stopped-nothing-bring-down-shadaloo-avenge-her-father-latest-sf5-profile-details-first-lady-fighting-games