In a lot of ways the 1994 Live Action Street Fighter movie has gone on become one of the more “forgotten” video game feature films. No one forgets that it happened, but often it seems that the film is overshadowed by both the (relative) successes and also much more, the far worse failures of other video game feature films than itself.
Game Over #12: Street Fighter
Dir: Stephen E. de Souza
Box Office: $99,423,521 Worldwide
Indeed it never seems to bring the sort of the same amount of level comments thrown at movies like Super Mario Bros. or anything by Uwe Boll at the lower end, or anything like - I guess - films like Silent Hill at the other.
What can I say about Street Fighter’s success? It was and still is for a lot of people, the quintessential fighting video game. It’s arcade versions made lots of money for Capcom, and it’s console home ports sold multi-millions (it was it’s biggest selling title overall right up until 2013, when the Resident Evil franchise took the top spot. Street Fighter II on the SNES is still their biggest selling game on a single platform to date, with more than 6 million units). To describe Street Fighter to any gamer seems almost pointless.
Fighting games to me seem on the surface one of the harder things to adapt because of the way the story worked, and so I remember before the film arriving I kinda didn’t know what to expect. I played a lot of Street Fighter at the arcades in the early 90's but I wasn’t as hardcore a fan as some friends of mine, so when we went as a big group for a friends birthday to see this when it released - most of them walked out fairly disappointed that the film wasn’t what they expected even though they thought it was entertaining enough. However I don’t remember being impressed either way, failing for it to make much of a memory for me at the time.
This same trend seems to still apply to the film now more than 20 years on. Is this because that it is seemingly bland in comparison to worse films and not as good as better films? These days it’s more often seen seemingly referred to in just pure nostalgia throwbacks and various other crazy stories coming out years after the fact about during it’s production (like Van Damme talking up his bedding of Kylie Minogue during it’s production in Thailand but ignoring discussion of his problematic cocaine habit at the same time).
It supposedly hardly tops the worst gaming films made when listed often and is also hardly often discussed otherwise in much depth compared to others films that have.
The movie itself was Capcom’s first - and currently only - direct leap into live action films (before people start yelling “wrong!” at me - the other Capcom brand made into live films it has licenced and not been directly in funding production like this one. The company has funded some animated features however.). In pure numbers it reads as a success, almost tripling it’s budget, but the efforts and costs actually seemingly crippled the gaming company and supposedly nearly led to its bankruptcy - according to staff working at the company at the time.
Indeed it seems only the release of so many ports of Street Fighter 2, sequels like the Street Fighter Alpha series, and the seemingly somewhat unexpected smash success of the original Resident Evil game on the PlayStation in 1996 saved the company from the possible brink of complete collapse in the years after the films release.
But what about the film itself? Is it justly ignored in all but throwbacks for a good reason? Let’s find out.
(As always, if you wish to skip the coverage of the film itself to the final thoughts - pass by to the next page break near the bottom).
Street Fighter gets off to a fairly strong start I have to admit. The story is well setup through coverage of news events, cross cut with the actual current situation going on in the fictitious location of Shadaloo in “Somewhere” South-East Asia. It also brings together a large number of what is the main cast of characters quickly, if somewhat highly conveniently, for the situation... and sets up some of the more potentially risky characters quite briskly.
General M. Bison (the wonderful Raúl Juliá, in what would be his last film performance) has taken a bunch of relief workers and
U.N.... sorry A.N. soldiers hostage as he tries to take over the nation. His efforts has so far erupted in a several month long civil war, with the support of his own army - assisted mostly by his main right hands, Russian buffoon Zangief (Andrew Bryniarski) and wise cracking Dee Jay (Miguel A. Núñez, Jr.)
He’s holding the workers for a $20 Billion Dollar ransom and eventually gives the A.N. a 72 hour time limit to meet his demands. The money is to be used to fund his own region and city - Bisonopolis, as well as a plan to create super soldiers which will blanket the planet under his command - a new world order called “Pax Bisonica.”
Chun-Li (Ming-Na Wen) is a reporter, with her crew Balrog (camera guy, played by Grand L. Bush) and E. Honda (tech, played by Peter Tuiasosopo), which outlays all this via a live report. “A.N. Colonel Guile” (Jean-Claude Van Damme) turns up during the live cross, when when questioned by Chun-Li to make a statement he basically hijacks the cross to threaten Bison over the airwaves.
This however is all a plan of his to get Bison to hack the channel and give away his location which Guile - assisted by Cammy (Kylie Minogue) and often also T. Hawk (Gregg Rainwater) - have planned, and which almost works - except it seems Bison was aware of this tracking and cuts it short. But before he does Guile gives away his friend Charlie (Robert Mammone) in the group Bison has, which singles him out for Bison’s plans. “Take him to the laboratory” he says.
We’re introduced to Vega (Jay Tavare) in a shady den and cage fight, as well as “local crime boss” Sagat (Wes Studi) who is dealing in some sort of gun trade with Ryu (Byron Mann) & Ken (Damian Chapa) for some unknown reason. The guns they were selling was a con, and were toys. But Sagat was onto them - managing to stop their attempts to fight their way out, and capture them. I’m fairly certain while making Chun-Li, Balrog, and Honda all TV crew might have passed somewhat, I’m not sure if the fans were down with Ryu and Ken being best-buddy-con-artists.
Back with Bison, “Doctor Dhalsim” (Roshan Seth) is introduced as well, being held against his wishes to do Bison’s mad experiments, which shows what happening to our friend Charlie - turning him into a mad mutated killing machine with a combo of violence goggles and various mutant growth agents.
Later Ryu and Vega prepare to fight in the cage we saw earlier. Vega’s a bit of a showboat - and a hit with the ladies - the two end up ready to fight without weapons- however Guile busts through the wall in with a tank and A.N. soldiers, stopping the fight before it can begin and arresting everyone.
The plot moves along at a reasonable clip... an attempt is later made on Guile’s life as they plan their attack on Bison, revealing the attempted killer was a member of the Shadaloo Tong, which we see Sagat was a part of. He and Vega are stuck in prison, along with Ryu and Ken, who end up in a fight with a bunch of prisoners and Vega, as part of Sagat’s doing.
Guile’s plan is to get someone on the side of the A.N. into Sagat’s gang, and via the weapons Sagat is providing for Bison - hoping they’ll lead them directly to Bison’s hideout. The fighting Ryu and Ken do draws their attention to Guile, who believes they’ll be able to do this for them - and they eventually do, breaking everyone out of a transport across the city they, Vega, and Sagat are in, and faking Guile’s death being shot by the hands of Ken to help earn Sagat’s trust.
After we get a bunch of Bison backstory, Chun-Li goes all James Bond in a catsuit and starts sneaking around the A.N. Headquarters for info on Bison. She finds the A.N. are tracking the truck that was stolen, and that Guile is indeed not dead. She reveals that she has a personal vendetta against Bison, but Guile decides to have her locked up anyway. Of course she escapes however before this can happen and runs away.
We come across a war sale Bison is having of old US military supplies... which seems to be one part Arabian compound, one part circus, one part food market, and one part weapons sale.
Chun-Li, Honda, and Balrog preform magic for Bison and his guests, before the dancing girls come out and weapons business begins, where Bison attempts to trade Sagat’s weapons for land and power, and when that’s refused - with Bison dollars - which Sagat isn’t too pleased about, causing a massive confrontation between the two sides which comes off like a bad school-yard fight rather than war lords fighting each other.
Chun-Li grabs Ken’s attention away from the main tent and attacks him, but Ryu comes looking - also to be attacked by Honda and Balrog. They reveal they’re allies, knowing those two are working for Guile. After explaining their plan, they release the two who return to the main tent only to walk right into the stand-off taking place.
They’re interrupted by the first really really cheesy/bad moment of the film, where Chun-Li announces via a video device and speaker they’re currently blowing up all of their weapons, before triggering a countdown on a bomb in a truck and rolling down a hill into the rest of the weapons. Which just leads to their capture. It’s really weird. And pointless. Wouldn’t it have been better to have escaped and done this from a distance?
Following some lazy transitioning by horrific graphics overlays showing where these events were and where Bison is located... while being tracked by the A.N., we’re now back in Bison’s lair. Everyone is here; Ken and Ryu, Sagat, Vega, and Bison’s prisoners - Chun-Li, Honda, and Balrog.
Honda and Balrog are to be tortured/interrogated but Chun-Li is to be sent to Bison’s personal chambers for a “private interview” - much like Super Mario. Bros. released the year before, creepy powerful dictators becoming leering creeps seems to be still the trend.
We see the remaining prisoners, and that Bison’s clock is now down to less than 12 hours for his demands. Guile’s plan is chewing up a lot of time, but he’s planning a water based assault force, being lead by a stealth boat - imagine a Stealth Bomber mated with a Speed Boat (so very 90's) - with him in command.
After a “funny” scene of attempted torture on E. Honda, he and Balrog break out while Ken and Ryu get their Red and White fighting gear from Zangief. We then head back to the A.N. headquarters where Guile is confronted with the decisions that the Security Council wants to pay Bison if he’ll give them more time, putting the brakes on Guile’s planned invasion.
After telling the A.N. rep that he’s lost his balls, Guile is ordered to give some paper orders to his troops and then stand down from his post. Instead Guile gives his troops a rally call in the best English Van Damme could muster (which is not great). A scene that can and must be seen in video form.
So they all get in their boats, while Guile, Cammy, and T. Hawk are in the stealth boat, and take off to fight Bison head on against orders.
Back in Bison’s chambers, Chun-Li has been dressed up (to something that meets closer to her gaming outfit) and is explaining to Bison - for some unexplained reason - why she seeks direct revenge on him. Bison killed her father 20 years earlier in a botched raid on their village when he was just a low level drug lord.
But Bison has a killer response to her complaint, which is by far the best line - not only in this movie, but perhaps one of the most underrated cutdown comebacks in cinema. Again a video is going to do it better justice than I ever could, and unsurprisingly this became a meme that has obviously surpassed the film itself.
Ryu and Ken try to help Honda and Balrog escape, but instead get attacked instead with the two others thinking their still on Bison’s side until they explain their not.
Later Chun-Li continues her sob story even after Bison’s cutdown earlier, while Bison turns into a smooth player, putting on mood music, lowering the lights, and making the moves on her while she announces her intent to kill him. Its pure cheese but it works well, mostly riding on the shoulders of Julia’s acting. Then... Chun-Li kicks his ass, but before she can kill him she is interrupted by Honda, Balrog, Ryu and Ken allowing Bison to quickly escape into a panic room. Gas is released and they are all trapped and knocked out.
Back on the “Stealth Boat”orders his team into position led under Captain Sawada (Kenya Sawada) while he takes out the radar in the boat. But before hand we get some sort of odd music scene, complete where Guile decides being on the boat is the best time to watch some old tape of him and his buddy Charlie having lunch with random women.
We now return to Charlie transforming, but Dr Dhalsim stops his violence brainwashing at 49% complete, and replaces the video with happier items - to try turning Bison’s potential super solider into a super softie. Meanwhile Bison drags his prisoners into his war room and berates their attempts at stopping him. Guile takes out the radar with his stealth boat, but fails to see why a stealth boat isn’t exactly the most “stealthy” thing you could have.
With their cover blown, Bison orders and attack and fires at Guile - who, stupidly blowing the great cover he had, reveals himself to Bison. Bison of course isn’t surprised and correctly guesses why he faked his death, making a second brilliant cutting remark to Sagat.
Bison gets his command platform ready, it’s some sort of floating pod, which lifts him up above his war room - ready to attack Guile, and his troops. He readies it by pushing a start button.... on an arcade control panel...? This movie just got meta people.
Sea mines appear ahead of Guile’s boat, which Bison releases by jamming the arcade buttons, and somehow controlled via the stick? I dunno, it’s crazy but we’ll go with it. Guile somehow avoids almost all the sea mines, proving to be a better player at first, but eventually Bison blows the ship up.
Back in the Lab, the guard in charge of looking after the Doctor works out that something is up with the soldiers programming and tries to call for help. However he is attacked by the Doctor and returns the attack, knocking the doctor into the chemicals, getting it all over him. The fighting between them also knocks out the power and releases Blanka from his container. Seeing the guard attacking the Doctor, he picks the guard up and smashes him onto the ground, probably killing him.
Outside Bison’s lair Guile and his team from the Stealth Boat are still alive, having jumped ship - and now kick the asses of some of Bison’s army stationed outside, before sneaking inside - well almost. They break into the temple above and Guile almost get himself killed in some sort of trap - while the others setup the landing zone for the rest of the A.N. team.
Meanwhile Bison’s 72 hour countdown comes to an end, and Dee Jay checks Bison’s Swiss bank account to find zero funds (complete with comical game show style buzzer sound effect).
Guile has finally gotten into the facility, climbing up into the Lab and finding the guard Blanka took out, before shortly after being attacked by Blanka himself. Guile recognizes him, somehow, as Charlie and manages to talk him down from attacking him. In a bleak turn of events Guile prepares to shoot Blanka in the head due to what he’s been turned into, only to be stopped by Dhalsim.
Bison opens the hostage pit, preparing to do something drastic, and readies to bring Blanka up to kill the hostages - of course he’s not in the chamber, and instead.... well Guile comes flying out somehow with a giant kick directly at Bison, surprising everyone.
Then the fire fight starts. Guile closes the hostage pit to protect everyone, the rest of the good guys captured break free, and Guile - somehow avoiding being shot by like a hundred guys with guns - kills a guy with a knife trying to stop him putting the red alert out... only to die landing on top of it, putting the red alert out. Good going Guile.
With seemingly hundreds more armed men... the following scenes play out in chaos, as good guys try to win, and bad guys try to also win. Gunfire, punches, kicks.... Honda sumo slams Zangief after smashing through a wall, and Ryu and Ken attempt to save the hostages... attracting the attention of Sagat and Vega. Meanwhile outside T. Hawk and Cammy are in a gun fight with more soldiers as the A.N. army finally makes its way to shore. Bison finds out Blanka is killing his own men, and realizes the programming hasn’t worked, all the while Dee Jay runs off leaving Bison by himself.
Ken also turns into a wuss, and leaves Ryu behind when the fighting gets too intense, while Guile continues his absolutely silly one man no guns army routine against Bison’s armed men. This only works out when the A.N. crew led by Cammy arrive to save his ass. Bison arrives to take on Guile, one on one in hand to hand while their respective armies go to fight elsewhere.
In the next very cheesy moment, Sawada and his Japanese assistant hack into the security feed at the base to see Honda and Zangief fighting in the model of Bisonopolis, complete with Godzilla sound effects. The others head to rescue the hostages while Bison and Guile continue their surprisingly decent hand-to-hand fight.
Guile pulls out some cartwheel “Flash” kicks and seemingly eventually defeats Bison by eventually knocking him into a control panel which electrocutes him. But Bison has a secret built into his suit which resuscitates him and he attacks once more when Guile isn’t expecting it.
The fleeing Dee Jay steals something in a large chest from Bison’s vaults, with Ken not far behind him, taking a gold statue. Checking the security feed for an escape, he see Ryu is about to be ambushed by Sagat and Vega, who both attack him.
We cut back and forth between the two fights. Ryu is joined by Ken eventually, and the two of them take out Sagat and Vega. Back fighting Bison, Guile gets schooled in Electromagnets, while Bison floats and flys through the air and attacks him. Later he drops another killer cutdown on Guile. But Guile sees his attack coming, and kicks him across the room into his monitor wall.... which somehow explodes in a fireball.
With a countdown now on before the facility is going to explode, the hostages are rescued and Honda quits his battle with Zangief.... Which then Dee Jay explains to Zangief what the real deal was (in possibly one of the two actual funniest parts of the movie). Dee Jay goes to use an escape with the chest he took from the vault, but is confronted by Sagat. Knowing the truth now Zangief helps Ryu and Ken to get the hostages outside, while Guile attempts to save Blanka from the lab.
But Dhalsim, now missing his hair for reasons unexplained, and Blanka intend to stay and perish in the explosion - giving Guile seemingly little to no time to escape. The place explodes, with Guile seemingly still inside.
Bison’s remaining troops are rounded up and arrested, Dee Jay and Sagat have escaped and Sagat breaks open the chest without us seeing whats inside, while the rest of the “good guys” are saddened by Guile’s demise.
But then, of course, out of the smoke comes Guile - still very much alive - ruining everyone’s pity party.
Dee Jay and Sagat are left with the chest... filled with worthless Bison dollars.
The temple explodes a second time, everyone poses, and the title finished the movie in the cheesiest way possible.
In a post credits sequence, in the remains of Bison’s facilty a battery charges, and Bison returns from the dead... selecting World Domination “Replay” from the screen, setting up a sequel never to happen.
Street Fighter’s faults come from the same problems lots of high concept films suffer through. Budget, time, some casting, producing interference; etc. But it also suffered through cast with drug issues, production location issues, and the failing health of what would call the film’s best asset. What’s great about this is that it has all been tracked in much detail in a great verbal history on the film by Chris Plante over at Polygon back in 2014 which is certainly also worth reading.
So what can I say that the amazing coverage above hasn’t already? I have to take the production on it’s face value. There was a valiant attempt to make the character interactions work without having to resort to some sort of actual fighting tournament. While fans might have focused some displeasure on this, the justification that it would basically turn this film into a take on something like Enter The Dragon seems entirely apt. Especially when about one year later the movie take on Mortal Kombat would basically do just that.
It’s a hard ask especially when in a lot of ways the longer Street Fighter has existed as a game, often the idea that it’s title suggests - fights happening in a tournament by street fighters - went further by the wayside itself. It’s all basic justification for having people fighting each other, and films obviously need more than a basic setup to get people to invest in them when they’re not in control of the characters on the screen.
While it’s easy to point at simple flaws like it’s slightly overlong state, or sometimes shonky (but also sometimes awesome) production values, the movie gets a lot of attack on it’s cast outside of the work done by Julia as Bison. I think it might be overstated, they aren’t all that bad.
The whole thing is a such a bright and vivid movie, with absurd production details (such as Bison’s skull crest making up things like chairs, building plans, and everything) and cheesy sense of humor that it’s almost all suitable just how over the top a lot of it is consistently and the acting doesn’t feel out of place, except for perhaps Van Damme’s sometimes mangled English. It’s a complete camp classic which almost makes up for it’s faults.
The movie might have failed to Capcom, to a lot of the fans, but certainly it all adds up as an attempt to do something different and unique with the idea to try make it stand out as an adaption. It might have failed for a lot of reasons but it defiantly didn’t not try.
This here though is where the rub on “adaption” comes for movies based on fighting games. While most have a setup, it’s the individual characters themselves each having their own unique story and ending which don’t cross over with each other. Likewise, for something like Street Fighter you have to explain why some more generic styled martial artists end up fighting people who glow green and spark electricity. This makes it quite a hard thing to tackle.
Is there any real way to make this work as a narrative and feel like it’s adapted? Probably not. So the fact the movie has to find convenient ways to bring these characters together and have them fighting is actually reasonable. In this case I have to drop the expectation that a fighting film has to be so specifically adapted in a lot of ways. Sometimes these work.. I kinda like the whole Chun-Li backstory, character thing... and sometimes they don’t, like Ken and Ryu as con artists.... yeah, not so much.
You could devote an entire article here however to Raul Julia, who undoubtedly is the best part of the movie, giving a performance that is 200% better than the rest of this film probably deserved. When you read about how ill he was throughout the filming, described as frail but coming to life when acting. It only makes the work seem even all that more impressive that he is still so commanding of almost everything he does.
Amazingly though Bison, not just through Raul Julia’s performance, but also what was written makes him an amazingly decent bad guy. He’s ruthless, brilliant, and very intelligent. His confidence is both his greatest strength, but also often becomes his weakness - in what feels like a genuine “flawed but powerful bad guy” you don’t see often enough in film. He easily detects and plans for his enemies attacks often, and hardly makes many major mistakes until nearer the end of the film.
Indeed he comes across as a believable enemy who climbed a ladder of crime and wants to be a dictator because he believes he’s right and Julia’s acting just makes it all the more believable. Had Guile’s role been given the same treatment and a better actor, it’s possible Street Fighter might have overcome a lot of its other short comings to be considered a better film by the power of it’s combined leads.
I can’t also mention the movie without mentioning “the game.” In an attempt to make this whole project extra profitable for them, Capcom also produced a new video game to go alongside it. The awkwardly titled “Street Fighter: The Movie - The Game” launched to Arcades, and later home consoles - Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. It used both video and animated still images of most of the movie’s cast in a rotoscope/animation style - akin to how Mortal Kombat’s characters were made for the early games.
I remember clearly playing the Saturn version myself and finding it not as smooth and easy to play as other titles in the franchise to that point. Looking at footage of it now, it’s not at all surprising as the whole thing looks very clunky. It’s an odd curio of a time where a game could inspire a movie, and be turned back into a game itself.
In the end Street Fighter is certainly a middle of the road film, which probably accounts for it’s often less horrifically looked upon history. It’s strengths, such as Julia and his lines, and the very 90's feel to a lot of the film are certainly heavy nostalgic fodder.
But it’s worst parts still aren’t nearly as bad as other video-game films have gotten it over the years, meaning you can sit through this and have a good laugh and be entertained. Indeed I could almost recommend this as a cheesy entertaining watch and certainly has been one of the more enjoyable re-watching experiences I’ve had so far on this travel into video game feature films.
At both widely away from the source and yet also possibly as close as you could get it in a live action feature with such a large cast. The attempt to bring the idea of good guys vs. bad guys, as well as try to justify all of the character appearances without having a fighting tournament of some type... they could have done a lot worse than the direction went with.
Perhaps having too many characters was a flaw in the plan as well. I give the writer/director credit for making it work based on studio wishes, in this case Capcom themselves, but a narrower focus of a smaller number like originally planned might have been the better option.
Positives? Some depth in the writing, ambitious production design...
Really it seems like when some thought was put into the bad guy of the film, some real magic happened here. It’s not all just the acting, although that certainly helped, but Bison is written with depth and thought. Sadly the same couldn’t be said of the good guys who are just so generic throughout.
The production often looks flimsy but the amount of original set pieces made throughout the film certainly given it a unique feel, so again it wasn’t without efforts made. What would only have almost pass as a bad James Bond villain attempt feels different by the way the whole thing is showcased and how focused on Bison’s own imags, adding his stamp to everything.
Lessons learned? Ambition.
Honestly I think that’s the label I want to give this film - ambitious. It was so early in the idea of making a video-game feature film that it had lofty ideas in mind, and couldn’t manage them all. Unlike other titles I guess, indeed there isn’t reason you couldn’t do Street Fighter some justice and this attempt certainly tried. Perhaps it was just overly ambitious...
With some other choices made, this might just have been one of the earlier successes in the history of video-game to film rather than one so often overlooked for other films, much better and much much worse.
The film almost sunk the gaming company behind it, and faced so many problems in production making for a very uneven film and continuing the track record for video game feature films at the time. Indeed, for the film makers they probably hoped the day we all went out to see this film in the mid 90's - it would be a huge smash and such a memorable film in our lives, but instead.... well, it was just Tuesday.
Next time - We make a return to the bald assassin.... but to make way for the first time we joined him as a feature player. Same writer though. Oh well.
#13 - Silent Hill (2006)
#14 - Max Payne (2008)
#15 - Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)
#16 - Doom (2005)
#17 - Silent Hill Revelation (2012)
#18 - Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997)
#19 - Super Mario Bros. (1993)
#20 - House of the Dead (2003)
About ‘Game Over: Failure of the Video Game Feature Film’
A series looking at the top 20 profitable video game feature films to figure out what is lacking and what should be done to make a successful adaption of game to film. There are a set of rules to stick by, so for an introduction on the whole series I’m doing please check out the original post located right here.
Movie fanatic, writer and publisher of numerous gaming and movie websites of the past, and former video game guide writer. Started making content in 1997 and ran or assisted with several successful sites, mostly in the realm of Horror and Survival Horror gaming through the early and mid 2000's. Includes sites such as ResidentEvilFan.com, Streets of Silent Hill, EvilGaming.net, SurvivalHorror.org, ShenmueDojo.com, VGN, Gamers Alliance, GamersLounge.com, and BHXnet/BIOHAZARDextreme among others. Usually under the name Rombie. Still occasionally appears around on old video game and Resident Evil forums and semi-frequently appears on the ProjectUmbrella.net Resident Evil podcast.
All images copyright to respective studio/photography owners. Used under fair use for critical comment on video game feature films only.
Correction - Previous version incorrectly stated Street Fighter 2's sales of 6 million were on the NES, when this was supposed to read SNES.