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Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li Review – A Boring Fighter for a New Age

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li Review – A Boring Fighter for a New Age” width=”560″/>

Fans of Street Fighter may be surprised to learn that the new adaptation, subtitled The Legend of Chun Li, reinterprets the classic fighting game as a po-faced, supposedly gritty gangland drama set in the slums of Bangkok. No longer is M. Bison a military dictator bent on world domination. In this version, he’s an unscrupulous businessman who has come up with a brilliant plan to buy up swaths of land in Bangkok, sell them, bring crime into the neighborhoods — thus driving down property values — and buy back the land at a steep discount. If that seems a touch advanced for Street Fighter, well, tell it to Bison.

Franchise devotees and connoisseurs of the memorably awful will recall with varying degrees of fondness 1994’s Street Fighter, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as Colonel Guile and, in what was sadly his final role, Raul Julia as the villainous Bison. That movie unabashedly played up the goofiness of the material, retaining the game’s characters and costumes, sticking Bison in a jungle fortress, and having the good guys stage an all-holds-barred martial arts assault. The Legend of Chun-Li, instead, focuses on the title character (Kristin Kreuk) as she fights to rescue her father from Bison’s prison, and for social justice. (Might as well kill two birds with one stone.) It also brings in an INTERPOL agent (Chris Klein), his hot sidekick (Moon Bloodgood), and a couple of arbitrary supernatural angles involving some sort of fireball of psychic energy and the location of M. Bison’s soul.

I’m in favor of movies that take their outlandish conceits very seriously, but The Legend of Chun Li is stupid rather than silly. The story is both convoluted and wafer-thin, which makes all the grim posturing very irritating. Like many screenplays that were thought through only halfway, this one features a voiceover that won’t shut up, with Kreuk narrating the entire flick the way I imagine she would talk to a special needs child. (At one point Chun Li’s voiceover announces, “I had to research Bison’s organization!” as we see her walk up to a computer and start Googling.) This is also the kind of movie that finds it necessary to supply explanatory flashbacks to events that happened, oh, maybe two minutes before.

The martial arts stuff is irrelevant to the story, and feels shoehorned-in. Indeed, the “fighter” part of Street Fighter is all but ignored until roughly midway through, when someone decides that it’s time for the obligatory training montage with the aging Robin Shou as the sage mentor. (This is also the point where the movie suddenly introduces a random supernatural element, which all of the characters somehow take in stride.) The last third of the movie does mostly consist of Chun-Li beating people up and dispensing one-liners, but the fight scenes themselves are unremarkable, often devolving into incomprehensible barrages of quick cuts.

The only possible source of amusement here is the performances, which really run the gamut. Kreuk is cyborg-like as Chun-Li, but Chris Klein turns in a ridiculously broad, overemphatic performance as the INTERPOL agent on Bison’s tail; it’s either the boldest acting choice of the year, or the most oblivious. And Neil McDonough, playing Bison, fades in and out of an Irish accent so blatantly that I’m convinced it had to be intentional — perhaps as a way to give the character an added layer of mystique (Bison is pointedly established as being multi-lingual). If it was intentional, however, I’m afraid it’ll just confound the movie’s target audience.

The fight scenes aside, The Legend of Chun-Li actually doesn’t look chintzy or cheap: Director Andrzej Bartkowiak (Doom) does a professional job, and the movie is as polished as you could ask for. But the gloss just adds to the boredom. I much prefer the flamboyant badness of the ’94 flick to the attractive, even-keeled mediocrity of this one. Jean-Claude Van Damme’s stock just rose considerably.

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