Monday, January 17, 2011

Street Fighter (1994)

The war-torn and completely real country of Shadaloo is beset with violence and despair from an egomaniacal despot set at world domination. No, you did not accidentally turn on BBC World Service (thank God!), this is the opening to 1994's tale of epic international struggle Street Fighter, a film that, despite its title, contains a surprising lack of street fighting. The MPAA rated it PG-13 for "Non-stop martial arts and action violence," which is such a glowing review it should have been included in the press materials.

Swimming in Cold War Reaganesque bravado, Street Fighter established a decisive showdown between Allied Nations Colonel William F. Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a warm-blooded red meat apple pie American soldier whose international escapades have resulted in a flawless Belgian accent, and General M. Bison, portrayed by the amazing Raul Julia in his final role. Bison kidnaps a group of Allied Nations soldiers (a UN substitute), challenging a few to mortal combat before snapping their necks and chucking their lifeless bodies into a pit. I should hope more despots offer such an opportunity. Imagine Kim Jong Il tossing you a set of nunchucks before subjecting you to endless imprisonment and torture. It seems only fair.

Guile is predictably perturbed by Bison's shenanigans, and thus implements a cunning plan to rescue the hostages.

Step one of Operation Sonovabeechbison: say potty words on television.

"Yer muver wuz a hammstur, an yer fadder smelt ov elderburries!."
Step two: Break up the only street fight in the movie by crashing your tank into an impromptu cage match and arresting everyone involved.

A practical use of Allied Nations resources.
Step three: seek the help of two unreliable drug smugglers Ken (Damien Chapa) and Ryu (Byron Mann), who are also martial arts experts. Through an elaborate prison escape they will ingratiate themselves to weapons dealer and also skilled fighter Victor Sagat (Wes Studi), wherein Guile will fake his own death and trick plucky female reporter and also martial artist Chun-li (Ming Na) by lying motionless under a sheet in the morgue, presumably to wait for Chun-li to break in ninja-style and uncover the ruse.

"Braaaaiiinnnss-ahhhhh I'm just keeding!"
Step four: Ken and Ryu's infiltration will allow Guile to discover Bison's secret ancient temple hideout, wherein he will lead a force of bluebereted AN soldiers with a stealth boat, which is 100% effective until you look at it.

What's that boat-shaped object on the water? Probably nothing.
Step five: Guile will singlehandedly roundhouse kick Bison and all of his henchmen thus saving the hostages and the world. At this point the AN will declare him Best Dude in the History of Everything and Lieutenant Cammy (Kylie Minogue) will make love to him on top of Bison's corpse. Ken and Ryu engage in a double fist pump and Mardi Gras beads fall from out of nowhere.

Are you confused by the torrent of names and characters? If you played any of the original Street Fighter video games you wouldn't be, as they are all playable characters. The film's fighters vaguely resemble their source material, though after thrown into a multicultural tumble dry to emerge a mishmash of their original selves. Sumo wrestler E. Honda is now inexplicably Hawaiian, despite a clearly Japanese name. How these people happened to find themselves in a fictitious country in Southeast Asia (I think) is inadequately explained but ultimately moot. Considering writer and director Steven E. de Souza's mad effort to fit all 320 characters into a 102 minute movie, he succeeds in making all except Guile and Bison blend conveniently into the background.

Their conspicuousness has nothing to do with the writing, but the strength/hilarity of Jean-Claude and Raul's performances. Julia is wonderfully over-the-top as the power-hungry Bison, who creates a character with a combination of camp manic delivery and moral indifference. The John Wayne Gacy inspired clown self-portrait in his chambers perfectly encapsulates Bison's internal sadness and outward insanity. Julia knew this would be his last film, and pulls out all the stops to actually have fun with the character, rather than attempt some misguided sincerity where there clearly is none.

Crying on the inside, neck-snapping on the outside.
Van Damme's delivery is appropriately mush-mouthed and hilarious. Guile is probably the closest to Van Damme's actual personality as anyone he's played to date. His level of smirking bravado is at its maximum.

Belgian-accented, beret-wearing AMERICAN!
Given its reputation, it's surprising how fun Street Fighter really is. Most view it as a sincere effort to replicate the video game on the silver screen and failing completely. Those who say this were probably 8 years old when the movie was released, so their opinion may not be entirely reliable or devoid of bias. It is actually a work of delicious camp and playfulness. Even given its silly plot and dozens of characters, the film should be praised for its over-the-top performances and masterful costume design. How could you not be terrified of a man with a winged skull on his hat?

I think... the fangs today.
Also make sure to stay for the credits. After a kickin' song with MC Hammer and Deion Sanders (what decade is this again?), you're treated to a bonus scene that posits the return of Bison. Hey, should we keep this scene where the dead villain played by the actually dead Raul Julia might come back to life in a possible sequel? Is that a little tacky?

Arbitrary rating system:

Eight playable characters out of a possible twelve.
Quotable quotes:

Bison: Tell you what! After I crush my enemies, we'll see about getting you published. That should cheer you up, hm?

Guile: Ahm da ripomun, an yer outta buzness!

Bison: The temple above us was the wonder of the ancient world. Bisonopolis shall be the wonder of my world. But I think the food court should be larger.

Bison: But why? Why do they still call me a warlord? And mad? All I want to do is to create the perfect genetic soldier. Not for power, not for evil, but for good. Carlos Blanka will be the first of thousands. They will march out of my laboratory and crush every adversary, every creed, every nation! Until the world is in the loving grip of the Pax Bisonica. And peace will reign and all humanity will bow to me in humble gratitude.

Spineless AN Rep: Colonel, have you lost your mind?
Guile: No, yoov lost yur balls!

Guile: Cumback frum behind da curtain, wizart! Less see how pure yur combat rilly is!
Video Clips: 
Deion Sanders and MC Hammer try to out-Tupac each other in "Straight to My Feet."

Guile's inspirational "Troopers" speech. I'm sorry for the ebaum's link it was the only place I could find it.


  1. Does it show my lack of culture that I only know Raul Julia from this movie, The Addams Family, and Overdrawn at the Memory Bank?

  2. I have a free DVD of Kiss of the Spider Woman, meaning that I crush your culture quotient beneath the mighty heel of my oppressive jackboot of filmage, Nate.

    I have never watched it, but do not let that distract me from my gloating.

    That Overdrawn at the Memory Bank though, eh? Classic.