BADaptation: Street Fighter


[BADaptation is a look at some bad film adaptations. While the films themselves might be terrible, the main focus will be on the loss in translation from the source material to the big screen, whether that’s due to plot holes, unnecessary characters, or an outright misunderstanding of the content itself.]

Street Fighter is one of the most popular video game series of the past two decades, spawning a very dedicated community, multiple copycats, and an exploitative sales model that Capcom just loves to enforce. As with a few of the more popular video game series during the early 90s, Street Fighter II found itself adapted into a film, aptly titled Street Fighter.

As with all adaptations, changes were made to not only attract audiences unfamiliar with the game, but to also create a cohesive plot. However, lost in the mix is a messy affair that downplays the game’s main character’s role, but to also spotlight a lesser character to capitalize on name recognition.

Street Fighter
Director: Steven E. de Souza
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: December 23, 1994

In Street Fighter II, which the film is very loosely based on, you select a character who faces off against a gauntlet of characters from across the world in one-on-one matches, leading up to a final boss showdown against M. Bison, the leader of Shadaloo. Arguably, the “main character” in the franchise is Ryu, a Japanese martial artist. Of course, there are a plethora of other characters available to select from, but Ryu has become the poster child for the franchise. You would think, considering how iconic and representative he is amongst the Street Fighter community that he would be the focus of any film adaptation.

However, with a plot that mixes political intrigue that resembled Desert Storm, the film’s main protagonist is “William F. Guile” (Jean-Claude Van Damme), an Allied Nations (UN analogy) commander fronting a mission to rescue hostages from General M. Bison (Raul Julia), leader of an organization bent on ruling the world based in the fictional city of Shadaloo. It makes sense to move the focus from Ryu to Guile, considering just how big JCVD was at the time, but his casting is such a mixed bag of awkwardness and awesomeness.

Given JCVD’s pedigree, it makes sense to cast him as a martial artist-based macho man commando awesome guy. But let’s not mixed things here: Guile, in both the video game series and the film, is meant to be a true blue American. JCVD, however, is probably the most Belgian man to ever exist. Because of this, his line delivery is laughably bad and campy. What’s striking is that the Allied Nations which Guile leads is made up of members of various nations, including video game staples Cammy (Kylie Minogue) and T. Hawk (Gregg Rainwater), that it wouldn’t have been much of a stretch to make Guile Belgian. Then again, that nixes the adaptation even further. It’s a bit of a catch-22, really.

Continuing on with the questionable character identification are basically EVERY character in the film. Street Fighter II is made up of fighters from across the globe, and the film is no different. However, for reasons that are unclear to me, the filmmakers decided to mix the nationalities (amongst other questionable changes) of practically every character. Besides the aforementioned Belgian/non-American Guile, E[dmund] Honda is changed from a Japanese sumo wrestler to a Hawaiian/Samoan sumo wrestler, T. Hawk is Native American as opposed to Mexican, and “Victor” Sagat is changed from being Thai to being played by a Native American. This might come off as nitpicking, but considering just how pivotal racial identity is to the video game franchise, to change characters around like this has to be noted. Perhaps it could be simply brushed off as a casting issue.

The characters’ backstories are convoluted, as well. Again, the fleshing out/creation of a plot for a source material that doesn’t already possess a strong enough one is a major problem with adaptations. In the case of Street Fighter, I can understand how all of the characters are brought together in their haphazard explanation of uniting all of these fighters together. Chun-Li [Zang], for instance, is a news reporter whose crew just so happens to consist of the aforementioned E[dmund] Honda and boxer-turned-cameraguy, Balrog. How convenient, right?

What can’t be ignored, however, is the bastardization of Ryu’s character. In the film, Ryu is nothing more than some low-bit arms smuggler/dealer/up-to-no-good-ian with Ken. He’s cast into a supporting role where he serves as a double agent for Guile’s AN as an insider within M. Bison’s organization. Where is the honor that he is so known for? While the film’s plot attempts to tie that loose end in the climax of the film with his epiphany of a “higher calling,” he’s just so out of character and not at all what anybody would expect from a film purportedly based on “HIS” franchise.

And that brings me to the final point I wanted to make (although there are SO many more problems with the film): Where the hell are the super moves? I don’t want to come off as a one-trick pony with this and my previous BADaptation on Mortal Kombat, but if any film is adapting something like a video game, you’d expect video game elements, specifically those elements that made the franchise as much of a success that would justify a film adaptation in the first place.

Let’s be real here: Nobody plays Street Fighter for its invigorating plot, but for its game dynamics, which heavily revolve around the use of fireballs and flashy punches/kicks. JCVD’s Guile doesn’t shoot out any Sonic Booms, which are his iconic moves; he does, however, pull off a few Flash Kicks on M. Bison, but they’re so hard to pull off in the game that they don’t even count. What’s just as bad as withholding the super moves are making lame attempts to incorporate them into the film.

In a 2-on-2 fight between Ryu, Ken, Sagat, and Vega, Ryu does a Hadouken that is nothing more than a screen flash, a Hurricane Kick that’s really nothing more than a standing, spinning roundhouse, while Ken does a lazy Shoryuken, which consisted of doing a standing, spinning uppercut. At the very least, let them jump! LET THEM JUMP!

You would think that, following one of the worst video game film adaptations ever made, any future adaptations would learn from its predecessor’s mistakes to create a better Street Fighter film… and then Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li came out almost 15 years later. I guess Street Fighter is one of those franchises that filmmakers simply don’t get.

Join me next month as I analyze another seminal video game film adaptation before I change gears and focus toward comic books.