Film Review: Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

'Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li' joins the long list of videogame-based movies with little replay value.

Here's how little confidence 20th Century Fox had in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, the second live-action film based on the wildly successful Street Fighter videogame franchise: Not only did the studio decline to screen the film in advance for critics, it also didn't bother placing any print ads in the weekend papers informing the public of the movie's release. Theatre owners seemed equally ashamed of the picture; the multiplex where I saw the film booked it on a single screen that was tucked away on the very top floor, as if they were afraid its mere presence would drive away customers.

That The Legend of Chun-Li still managed to gross almost $5 million under these conditions (a pitiful sum to be sure, but enough to allow the film to crack the top ten) is either a testament to the strength of the Street Fighter brand name or just another indication that there's an audience out there for even the dumbest movies. And The Legend of Chun-Li is about as dumb as they come. If you thought they couldn't possibly make a Street Fighter movie that was worse than the 1994 Jean-Claude Van Damme camp-fest, you'll be unpleasantly surprised.

The problem with both films that have used the Street Fighter name is that they have next to nothing to do with the actual game itself. The basic concept behind Street Fighter is beautifully simple: Two fighters square off in the ring and whale on each other with a variety of kicks, punches and special moves until one is finally beaten into submission. That's been the premise of countless direct-to-video martial-arts movies made over the years, many of which starred Van Damme himself. A serviceable Street Fighter movie could be derived from the same formula, but the 1994 movie and this one go out of their way to concoct a story that's at once more needlessly complicated and ridiculously silly than anything in the game.

The Van Damme version found the Muscles from Brussels playing a soldier for a United Nations-style organization that leads a squad of brawlers into battle against a tyrannical warlord with dreams of world domination. The Legend of Chun-Li casts ex-"Smallville" star Kristin Kreuk as Chun-Li, a privileged pianist who comes into possession of an ancient scroll that orders her to become a homeless vagrant on the streets of Bangkok if she ever hopes to find her missing father, kidnapped many years ago by a tyrannical crimelord named Bison (Neal McDonough) with dreams of citywide domination. Rather than throw the scroll away, Chun-Li follows its monumentally terrible advice and, after spending a few weeks in the Bangkok slums begging for food, she becomes a disciple of a Thai martial-arts master who, as luck would have it, is a former colleague of the aforementioned crimelord. Every now and then the movie cuts away from Chun-Li to follow the exploits of the world's worst police officers, Nash (Chris Klein) and Maya (Moon Bloodgood), both of whom are also on Bison's trail but never do any actual detective work that might lead to his arrest.

If The Legend of Chun-Li were just a stupid movie, it might still hold some entertainment value. But it's difficult to enjoy something that's so shoddily made. Everyone involved in the production, from director Andrzej Bartkowiak to screenwriter Justin Marks to the entire ensemble (including talented performers like McDonough and Michael Clarke Duncan, who was once nominated for an Oscar, for crying out loud!) contributes less than the bare minimum of effort. Continuity errors abound (one character is even introduced twice, as if the editors simply forget we had already met him earlier in the movie), the action sequences are choppy and chaotic, and hastily written narration is dubbed in to explain away the substantial narrative gaps.

It's almost as if the filmmakers never intended for The Legend of Chun-Li to be a good movie, and that's probably not far from the truth. The primary reason the movie exists at all is to advertise the release of the latest Street Fighter game, which debuted to strong sales earlier this year. So in a way, the filmmakers did accomplish their's just a shame that their goal wasn't making a decent film.