There are three kinds of people who give me bad movie recommendations: the devotees, who have seen all the usual suspects, and can name something from the stranger hinterlands I’ve never heard of; the dilettantes, who have a well-meaning if casual approach to bad cinema; and the haters, who can’t even understand why anyone would want to watch a bad movie. This is why when I get a bad movie recommendation from a hater, I take it seriously. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li was one such recommendation.
Tagline: Some fight for power. Some fight for us.
More Accurate Tagline: Some fight for real estate. Some fight for pianos.
Guilty Party: This is a tough one, since it reeks of soulless studio calculation. Hell, it feels like Warner trying to play catchup with Marvel’s cinematic universe, yet it came out in 2009, when the latter was nothing but a dollar signed-shaped gleam in Kevin Feige’s eye. I’m going to go ahead and blame director Andrzej Bartkowiak, though. He’s a reasonably respected cinematographer, but his directing resume is littered with Uwe Boll also-rans.
Synopsis: Chun-Li has to have some kind of magical racism powers right off the bat. When she’s little, she’s obviously Chinese, but when she grows up, she somehow becomes more Caucasian. Is she slowly turning into Meryl Streep? Sadly, the world will never know for sure.
Anyway, she’s moving around with her businessman dad and rich lady mom, training to be a classical pianist, and in her spare time learning kung fu with dad. And in case we miss anything, she tells the whole story in voiceover. It’s… exhausting. So one day dad is getting something out of the fridge when he gets attacked with arrows and Michael Clarke Duncan. I know, right? Every goddamn time.
Sadly, dad’s kung fu is no match for Balrog’s (that’s MCD) martial art, which appears to be HGH-Fu. Seriously, he’s got so much bull semen in his bloodstream, he can get a cow pregnant by scent alone. While Balrog beats Chun-Li’s dad like he just told that joke, creepy Irishman Bison (Neal McDonough) walks in, tells Chun-Li to go upstairs, then kidnaps her dad.
Fast-forward to now, when Chun-Li is a lot whiter and being played by Kristen Kreuk with every ounce of gravitas that the former star of Smallville can muster. So like one. One ounce. Her mom dies of Movie Cancer, and Chun-Li gets this creepy scroll in the mail. She’s like, fuck it, time to go on a quest. She then fires the large staff of her father’s mansion because fuck them I guess. The scroll will lead her to Gen, who is the master of the Order of Web, this shadowy organization whose chief goals appear to be affordable street food and hand tattoos. Gen used to be a criminal, but now he helps people. At least that’s the story he’s using. Anyway, he’ll train her to… do something, I guess. It’s not too clear. It’s not to rescue her dad either; later in the movie she’s shocked he’s still alive.
Meanwhile, Bison is the head of an organization named Shadaloo (pronounced Shadalao for no reason I can determine) based out of Bangkok, and he’s attempting a real estate scam. Seriously, his big plan is to drive up crime in the waterfront slums, buy the land at a low price, then turn it all into middle class housing. It’s probably the most mundane scheme any kung fu supervillain has ever had. I really wanted the scene where he was cheating on his taxes.
Bison’s first task is having masked assassin Vega murder the heads of all the Bangkok crime families, who are the most multinational group outside of a Captain Planet team. These dead guys are found by the local Bangkok PD in the person of homicide detective Maya Surnee (O-hoarder Moon Bloodgood). But then the movie makes a turn for the magical when Interpol agent and total fucking lunatic Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) rolls up. He’s on the trail of Bison, and is the only one who believes Shadaloo is more than a myth. He’s also the only one who has apparently been mainlining tiger shark adrenaline.
Chun-Li finds Gen — well, he kind of finds her — and says he’s been watching her. Weirdo. The training begins, and that’s really what you want in a movie about crazy martial artists who throw fireballs. You want endless scenes of them not throwing fireballs. Gen reveals that he used to be Bison’s pal, but realized he was a dick. Also, he claims Bison wanted Chun-Li’s dad because the guy had relationships that could be used. So… while being held captive, Chun-Li’s dad is schmoozing his old contacts? That’s a scene I want to see. Bison is also totally preoccupied with a package arriving from Russia called the White Rose, which manages to make even less sense.
Chun-Li follows Bison’s henchwoman Cantana to a nightclub, and then with the power of sexy dancing, gets her into the bathroom. There they have a really clumsy fight. Imagine wire fu, if the guys operating the flight harnesses had crippling vertigo. Nash and Maya were staking out the club but because they’re completely incompetent, only notice something is wrong when people start running out. They rush in, and catch a glimpse of Chun-Li before she escapes.
Gen relates Bison’s origin story, and the important part was that he wanted to get power, so he went to a cave. This is seriously the line of reasoning. I like that the writer of the film thinks that’s where you get power. Want to be president? Gotta find a cave, young man. Maybe he thinks the electoral college is entirely composed of bats? So Bison took his pregnant wife into this cave, karated their baby from her womb, then magically put his conscience in the baby. In this movie, those words are sentences that have meaning, and not something a crazed hobo whispers right before putting you in his chili pot.
Balrog and a bunch of goons show up at Gen’s hideout and shoot it with a rocket. I guess they knew where it was, but hadn’t gotten around to killing the guy. Like it was on Balrog’s itinerary, but he kept forgetting, or running out of time at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
Bison sends Vega after Chun-Li and she just rolls him up. It’s embarrassing. It can’t help that Vega’s mask looks big enough for three guys. She finds out when and where the White Rose is coming into port as well. Unfortunately, this is a lie and she’s captured. Bison reveals that he has her dad, but then kills him, then he and Balrog leave Chun-Li with two mooks, trusting that they’ll kill her. Well, we all know what happens next. She gets out, and at the end of a chase, Gen rescues her. So he’s alive.
Chun-Li reaches out to Nash for some backup, and they all raid the cargo ship with the White Rose. For that one person that hadn’t figured it out, the White Rose is Bison’s daughter. I have no idea why she’s being shipped anywhere. He was able to keep Chun-Li’s dad in prison for what, ten years? He can’t look after his own daughter? Gen fights Bison and wins by stabbing him to death with a steam pipe. Then Bison kicks the shit out of Gen. Chun-Li shows up, uses her fireball and then straight up breaks Bison’s neck in front of his horrified daughter.
Life-Changing Subtext: Conscience is your weakness, so you should keep it in Russia until the moment before the culmination of your schemes. Then bring it back.
Defining Quote: Bison: “Your father has been the milk of my business.” Bison says this like it’s a thing. It’s totally not. Nothing has ever been the milk of anything.
Standout Performance: This was why the film was recommended to me. Chris Klein does some truly incredible work as Charlie Nash. He’s this unholy mashup of Nicolas Cage and Keanu Reeves I am forced to christen “Cageanu.” He somehow manages to look completely disengaged and psychotically intent in every scene. He consistently appears to be making aggressive eye contact with someone offscreen, mentally trying to figure out if he plans to fight them or fuck them, or some bizarre combination of the two. This is one of my favorite terrible performances in any movie ever.
What’s Wrong: Bartkowiak went with a gritty aesthetic, and if there’s one thing the Street Fighter franchise is not, it’s gritty. Guile’s hair alone violates every law of taste and physics with the glee of a clown discovering canned ham. Chun-Li never once wears her iconic costume, and somehow manages to be a less convincing kung fu fighter than Drew Barrymore. Lastly, no one cares about origin stories. Just tell the actual story.
Best Scenes: Everything with Nash. In one scene, he and Maya are staking out Balrog to tail him to a meeting. Balrog steps out of a hotel, and even though Nash and Maya are a good fifty feet away and Balrog never once looks at them, Nash does the “let’s kiss for cover” routine. They promptly lose Balrog, but a supremely smug Nash is like, “It had to be done.”
It’s a plot point that Bison grew up in the Bangkok slums, yet he has the kind of Irish accent not commonly found outside of bogs, fairy circles, and Lucky Charms commercials. In a stab to explain this, they say he’s the child of Irish missionaries who died when he was young, but then they show a baby… implying that he was a baby when his parents died. Sure, the kid looks Asian, but this movie has already shown that ethnicity is something that can be grown out of. So the Irish accent is genetic apparently. Good to know.
Because of the cop subplot, there has to be a scene where they’re thrown off the case. This happens, and Nash walks into an entirely empty office, all, “What happened?” Maya tells them they’re off the case. But the office is empty? Does the Bangkok PD change offices every time they wrap up a case? That might be the cause of some budgetary woes.
Transcendent Moment: After seeing Chun-Li at the club, Nash wants to track her down. When a cop behind him offers a totally reasonable suggestion, Nash, total madman that he is, does this:
Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun-Li was obviously positioned as the first of a series of films each starring one of the characters. Since it’s terrible, this never materialized, but I will always hold out hope for a Nash movie. He’s awesome.