Monday, March 30, 2015

Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist

Being that I’m a huge video gamer (check out my retro gaming vlog on YouTube, The Old Ass Retro Gamer) I never pass up watching a flick based on one of my favorite properties. A little over a year ago I came across a series of promo videos on YouTube advertising an independently produced Street Fighter mini-series that would be shown on Machinima’s channel and was fully endorsed by Capcom. I immediately became excited because not only are the Street Fighter games some of my favorite brawlers, but it looked like it was going to be taking a very serious approach to the material. This is a drastic contrast to the Jean-Cleaude Van Damme cheesefest from the early 90s.

Unfortunately I completely forgot about this series until it recently popped up on Hulu in movie form. A very, very long movie. We’re talking 2 ½ hours long. I thought to myself “this had better be good”.
Martial artists Ryu (Mike Moh) and Ken Masters (Christian Howard) live a traditional warrior’s life in secluded Japan learning the ancient fighting style of “Ansatsuken” (Assassin’s Fist) from their master, Gôken (Akira Koieyama). As their skills are honed over the years they also learn about the tragic past that this way of life has brought upon their teacher, and that history may repeat itself if they cannot find a way to change their destiny.

For starters I was immensely pleased that this miniseries decided to go simple and focus on just two of the characters from the long running video game’s huge roster of fighters. Ken and Ryu have always been the main stars of the series and I was happy that they were front and center, especially after how they were mistreated in the aforementioned Van Damme cinematic abortion. I was also happy that there was some nice drama, character moments and pleasant throwbacks to the source material. There was also a clever bit about Gôken buying Ken and Ryu a copy of Mega Man 2 to play on their Nintendo to relax while not training.
However, this miniseries is basically one overlong, drawn out and pretty damned boring take on the material. It took me two days to make it through the whole film because I kept falling asleep. There’s no real plot to the games so the writers had to come up with something that not only would be worth watching for the fans, but would also appeal to those not familiar with the material. This double-edged sword rarely works and in this case I’m pretty sad to say that it failed on both sides. As a fan I’m torn…

Here’s what I liked about the film:

-       The actors really commit to their parts. Not only do they look like their respective characters, but they do all their own fighting as well.
-       The remote locations featured within are breathtakingly beautiful and some remind me of the arenas from the games.
-       The game is accurately represented for the first time and the script stays true to what the spirit of the games felt like.
-       The fight scenes are short, but well choreographed and exciting.
-       Seeing Ken and Ryu’s special moves, like the Hadoken and Shoryuken attacks, performed with some outstanding special effects and stunt work put a smile on my face.
-       The origin of Akuma was kind of rad.
-       There are plenty of throwbacks to the source material, from musical cues to lines of dialogue.
-       Seeing Ken and Ryu developing their special attacks was cool as hell.
-       The cinematography, special effects and costumes are tops for a low budget internet miniseries.
Here’s what I didn’t like about the film:

-       The acting is a mixed bag. The two leads, Mike Moh and Christian Howard, turn in decent and likable performances as Ryu and Ken respectively. Akira Koieyama is fantastic as Gôken. But the rest of the cast, especially Joey Ansah as Akuma is a total blight on this flick. He’s downright horrible and reminded me of the acting seen in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.
-       The plot is so drawn out that it is tiresome in the extreme. There’s only so many times that you can see someone wandering the countryside in silence while contemplating their destiny before it loses its meaning and becomes frustratingly annoying.
-       The flashback structure works at the beginning, but it too loses its focus and in the end becomes a series of redundant scenes that serve no purpose but to pad the runtime.
-       The subplot about old man Gôtetsu (Togo Igawa) is lame and predictable.
-       The writing, while very fanboyish, meanders and doesn’t really have a point to make until the final 30 minutes or so. It is very one note.
-       While I like the idea of the film being a prequel to the games, it would have been nice to have a character or two from the series make an appearance instead of being about just Ken and Ryu. Plenty of other characters from the games trained with Gôken too, so why couldn’t they have popped up in the script to liven things up?
-       The film ends with a cliffhanger that could have easily been resolved within this film’s runtime if some of the pointless filler was excised and the narrative sped up to a tolerable level.
-       The make-up for Akuma is dreadful. Borderline racist. The character starts off as Gôki, played by Asian actor Gaku Space, and when he becomes Akuma the role is taken over by African actor Joey Ansah who is given faux-Asian features and a really bad wig. It’s insulting.
I liked aspects of this film and found the rest to be a waste of time. Sure there’s lots of fanboy love flowing freely throughout the entire production, but it felt more like a high budgeted fan film than an actual film. I understand that the direction of the script was most likely due to budget constraints, but why bother making a Street Fighter film if there’s hardly any “fighting”? It kind of defeats the purpose.

If you’re a fan of the video games I recommend you check it out just on general principal. Everyone else should just stay away and play Street Fighter IV on their iPhone or watch the superior Mortal Kombat: Legacy.

2 out of 5

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