What do video game movies and McDonald's breakfasts have in common? One you can only face when you're drunk and the other when you're hung over. I'll leave you to guess which one is which. Any Street Fighter fan who grew up in the 90s will remember the disastrous Jean Claude Van Damme movie. Superficially, it had lots of promise; it centred around Guile (played by JCVD) and his squadron of marines trying to take down Bison (played by the brilliant Raul Julia in his final role) and his Shadaloo organisation. Throw in Ming-Na as Chun Li (also on the hunt for Bison), Roshan Seth as Dhalsim, Wes Studi as Sagat and a young Kylie Minogue as Cammy and you'd be forgiven for thinking it had a solid mix of physical prowess and acting chops. However, much like the Super Mario Bros movie of the previous year, Street Fighter: The Movie was so poorly executed and deviated so far from the source material, that fans were bitterly disappointed. We had to wait decade and a half for the next live action SF movie, but sadly, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li (starring Kristin Kreuk as Chun Li, Taboo off of the Black Eyed Peas as Vega and not much else) was even worse. That said, by its release in 2009, gamers were used to bad movie adaptations, not least because of a certain German director.
When Mortal Kombat and Silent Hill rank among the better movies based on video games, we gamers have had little reason be hopeful about any others. So I was pleasantly surprised by Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist, a budget web series, which made its way to Netflix earlier this spring. On seeing the mock posters for Assassin's Fist one thing immediately caught my attention: it showcased Ryu and Ken, who have been sorely under utilised in any previous live action translation. Before watching it I looked it up online and discovered it was made by the same team that produced the 3 minute short, Street Fighter: Legacy, about five years ago. I did watch the short when it first came out, but it subsequently escaped by memory. If you haven't already seen Legacy, you can check that out here. But while that short showed the team had some physical talent and decent special effects, it was by no means proof they could pull off an actual story. But by being careful and restrained, I think they have done the impossible: make an authentic Street Fighter series that isn't completely corny.
As stories go, Assassin's Fist is a stripped back, bare bones affair. I suspect this was done for reasons of budget, but necessity is the mother of invention, so the result is a focussed tale of Ryu, Ken, their master Gouken and his brother Gouki, who is seduced by the dark power of Satsui no Hadou and becomes the demon Akuma. Although there are a few other characters in the show — most notably the old master Goutetsu and his daughter, Sayaka — there are no other characters from the games.
|Gouken teaches the kids how it's done|
The story begins in 1987, with Ryu (played by Mike Moh) and Ken (played by Christian Howard) learning the martial art Ansatsuken (Assassin's Fist) under the guidance of a middle-aged Gouken (played by Akira Koieyama) at a dojo in the remote Japanese countryside. The show spends a little time explaining how the two friends ended up at the dojo, under Gouken's care and training, before getting meaty with the plot.
When Ken starts complaining about the lack of progress in their training, Gouken takes the young men to the dojo where he and his brother trained, under Goutetsu (Togo Igawa), decades earlier. Here Gouken begins to teach them how to produce a Hadou (those annoying fireballs cheap players lob at you constantly). Before long, Ryu's is outpacing Ken, much to the frustration of the American fighter. Then one day, in a boarded up room of this old dojo, Ken discovers a book that explains how to perform the Satsui no Hadou. Gouken is no fool and on seeing Ken's new technique, he realises the boy must have uncovered something that should have stay buried.
|Ooh-ohwa your fist is on fi-yer!|
This then leads to a long sequence of flashbacks, where we learn how the young Gouken (played by Shogen Itokazu) and Gouki (Gaku Space) are taken in by Goutetsu, after their father is killed in battle. Like Ryu and Ken, Gouken and his younger brother are torn between their love for one another and their rivalry. This rivalry extends to also winning the affection of Goutestu's daughter, Sayaka (Hyunri Lee). When his older brother proves himself to be the better warrior and the more eligible bachelor, Gouki is lured towards the darkside of Ansatsuken and the poisonous effects of Satsui no Hadou. This story then takes up the bulk of the series, with us only occasionally checking in on the boys in the white and red jammies. Assassin's Fist was originally released online last May as a series of shorts, but for the Netflix version it has been turned into a 2½ hour movie. While I've not seen the serial, I suspect it probably works better in that format than as a movie. For example, we spend a long time in a cave in the woods, as Gouki slowly transforms into Akuma (played by Joey Ansah). This is an important part of the Street Fighter canon, but viewing these slower paced pieces of exposition as stand alone 20 minute episodes may be an easier way to digest them, rather than slowing down an entire movie with scenes where not much is said or done.
|Akuma meditates in a cave for much of the film|
Overall, the script and acting are fine; they are a step up from any original content cooked up by the SyFy channel and miles ahead of any Uwe Bollocks. Howard and Moh are not the best actors by any means, but the script (written by Howard and Ansah) does not demand too much of them. In many ways, the true stars of the show are Koieyama/Itokazu, Space and Igawa, who benefit from being allowed to act in Japanese. This mix of English and Japanese also lends authenticity to the series, which it might not otherwise have had. Most importantly for fans of the games, the combat is well choreographed, with many key moves well represented - even if the shoryuken looks a little silly.
What about non-SF fans, will they enjoy it? Maybe my love for the source material is clouding my judgement, but I think they might. It compares well with many of the epic martial arts movies that emerged following Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's release in 2000. So if you enjoyed that or films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers then you may well enjoy this too. The reason I say this is simple: at the heart of it all is a classic tale of love, rivalry, corruption and betrayal, which is are the cornerstones of so many other classic stories.
- Tight, focussed story that does not stretch itself too far
- Mostly great casting. Christian Howard's Ken is as good as I think we'll ever get.
- Great choreography that does the game's action justice
- Better acting than you might expect from a low budget web series
- The most authentic Street Fighter story to date
- The Gouken/Gouki flashbacks are a little long and may lose any non-SF fans along the way
- Mix of languages may put off lazy viewers
- Ken's hair piece
Proof stories from games can be translated to movies/TV series and an interesting look into the core backstory of Capcom's iconic series. The convincing combat, focussed script and competent acting mean that this really feels like Street Fighter.
Anyone on Netflix can get to the series using this link: http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/80016891