Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li (2009) – Film Review

Directed By Andrej Bartkowiak
Starring Kristen Kreuk, Neal McDonough, Chris Klein and Michael Clarke Duncan.

There’s a throwaway line that I like from Friends (I know, sue me) that critiques Joey Tribiani’s acting prowess, in which he gets a review claiming he’s “not believable as a human being”. Chris Klein’s performance in Street Fighter is that sentiment personified; with frighteningly inhuman unfocused bug-eyed stares, awkward and otherworldly line delivery and a body language that defies description all permeating his being like rats wriggling around in a potato sack, I fully expected Klein’s skin to burst open at any moment and reveal that he was a giant mollusc all along. Klein’s Charlie Nash is an utterly hypnotic character, and every moment he graces the screen, two warring sides of your brain will fight for dominance. One half will thank god for every gloriously stupid instant you’re witnessing. The other half will try to escape your skull and flee to the relative safety of Mexico.

Unfortunately, though these scenes are truly transcendent in their majestic and enthralling awfulness, they only constitute a fraction of the film’s runtime, and for the rest, The Legend of Chun Li is content to bask in mediocrity. The plot, such as it is, follows Chun Li as she trains Daniel Laruso-style with an elusive martial arts master, in order to take on crime boss Bison, who – stealing his tactics from the Lex Luthor land scam playbook – is buying up all of Bangkok, apparently so he can level it, build waterparks and shopping malls, then run around having his very own Pretty Woman shopping montage, or so we assume. Meanwhile, Interpol agent Charlie Nash – a hilarious mess of macho posturing and brash cop clichés channelled through the acting style of a convulsing gecko – is tracking Bison’s crime syndicate with local cop Maya. Bison’s also keeping Chun Li’s kidnapped dad chained up at a computer in his hi-tech basement, seemingly to fill out his tax returns, defrag his hard drive and spend eternity playing Solitaire; we’re never given an adequate explanation as to why he’s there or what he does – that’d require coherent writing, which is a foreign concept here.

Though based on the Street Fighter games, the filmmakers admirably veer from adhering to any pre-established “plot” or “character” – personally I have no emotional ties to the beat-em-up games, and gladly welcome any deviation from the wafer-thin plot they offer, though others may shriek with cries of “Chun Li doesn’t wear her hair tassels! Boycott everything!”. Aside from a name or two here and there, and an eye-rolling final scene that rings like a 7th rate rehash of Batman Begins’ Joker tease, there’s nary a trace of resemblance to the games. Shamefully, however, they replace it with little more than a bland, generic ‘master teaches grasshopper the way of the inner asskicker’ movie with occasional spots of mind-boggling strangeness. Mystifyingly random plotlines appear only to veer into nothingness, like Bison’s origins, which involve using a magic cave to imprint his conscience onto his unborn daughter so he’s free to be the Master of Evil™ without burden of guilt. Nope, it doesn’t make any more sense in the film either.

It’s a movie whose logic deems that – science and genetics be damned – a person’s race alters with age or sheer force of will; Chun Li is born the most Chinese girl in the history of the world, becomes the whitest girl outside a country club in the Hamptons two years later, becomes Asian again within a year, then finally morphs into Lana Lang. Similarly, Bison is orphaned as a newborn and raised in Thailand by Asians, yet speaks like Father Dougal for much of the film, until he becomes Russian, then speaks almost exclusively in tiger growls, all for reasons that are never made clear.

Kristen Kreuk, though undeniably adorable, is too bland to be watchable during the majority of the film, and too petite and dainty to offer any gravity to her fight scenes. The action in the film is so over-reliant on wirework that there’s no sense of weight to anything, and the whole thing feels much like that spoof ninja movie-within-a-movie at the end of Bowfinger, with actors flying off into orbit at the merest touch from a pinkie finger. The rest of the acting is across-the-board awful, and regrettably without the joyously terrible magnificence that Chris Klein can offer in his sparse scenes.

Street Fighter’s biggest crime isn’t that it’s wretchedly written. What’s more criminal is that a film containing such colossal weirdness as a baby delivery by stomach punch has no right being this damn boring.

And yes, it happens. All that’s missing is a “Yoink!” in an Irish accent as Shamus O’Bison yanks his unborn child from the womb.


Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li hits DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 5th October 2009.

(Review cross-posted from WRAW Reviews)