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HomeBlogPopcorn Parent Movie ReviewsMovie Tuesday: Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (PG-13)

Movie Tuesday: Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (PG-13)

Fight Flub
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li trips right over itself
By Jared Peterson

The Legend of Chun-Li begins, as legends often do, with a voice-over. Chun-Li (Smallville’s Kristin Kreuk), shares in flashback the sad details of her childhood in Hong Kong–studying classical piano and learning martial arts from her father Xiang (Edmund Chen), a wealthy businessman with time on his hands to teach martial arts. One night, he is kidnapped by a band of thugs led by an evil entrepreneur called Bison, who holds him in an underground bunker and forces him to make important business calls to further a shady land deal. Years later Chun-Li, now a concert pianist, receives a mysterious Chinese scroll that instructs her to go to Thailand to find the Order of the Web, a secret society of fighters who might help her rescue her dad. She tracks down the Order’s leader, Gen (Robin Shou), and he teaches her to be one with herself and generate glowing balls of light with her hands. Then she fights a bunch of people, mostly on the street.

The Legend of Chun-Li is a mess. Justin Marks’ screenplay screams all-nighter—character notes and stage directions masquerading as dialogue and fortune-cookie platitudes cobbled together from last week’s take-out. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak, an action film vet responsible for perpetrating one of the late-era Steven Seagal assaults, was apparently on the phone or at lunch a lot. There are scenes that feel almost improvised—and not in the good, Will Ferrell way—the players forced to fill gaps with bits of idle stage business and innocuous throw-away lines. (Tip to film students: never end a scene with “Hmm.”) In one of my favorite bits of C-to-B-to-A plotting, the filmmakers burn two minutes of screen time with a tense brainstorming session between a dozen cops trying to identify a suspect; finally, one of them suggests that maybe they should look at the surveillance photo they have. But the movie’s most delicious blunder, a cautionary tale for over-scheduled film crews everywhere, involves the clumsy provenance of its baddest guy. Bison is a fair-haired Irishman (he’s played by American actor Neal McDonough in a faltering, Lucky Charms brogue), but he makes much of having grown up in the Bangkok slums he seeks to destroy. Then an extensive flashback reveals that his Irish missionary parents died when he was an infant, and he was raised by the Thai staff of an orphanage, making his accent a fascinating miracle of nature over nurture.

The Street Fighter video game franchise was born in the dim arcades of the eighties, and over two decades it has spawned several complex storylines and dozens of characters. Fans may derive thrills of recognition from seeing familiar figures come alive in flesh and blood. But nowadays, story is not a distraction from the gaming experience but a welcome and integral part of it, and even nostalgic Gen-Xers have come to expect coherence and even depth from their electronic pastimes. There simply isn’t nearly enough fighting in The Legend of Chun-Li to drown out the dull thuds of its plotting and pacing.

As expected, martial arts violence predominates, with fighters performing all sorts of skillful—and wire-assisted—moves that should not be tried at home. They punch, kick and block, and also bend and lock each other in, shall we say, uncomfortable positions, so in addition to loud smacks and determined grunts you’ll also hear the straining and cracking of overextended bones and joints. The obligatory teams of black-masked soldiers pour in to several scenes, blazing assault weapons held tightly to their chests. But since both good guys and bad guys deploy them, at times I found it difficult to tell which ones I was meant to enjoy seeing shot. Wanton brutality is present and evenly distributed. Bison enjoys a meal to the sounds of his business partners being slaughtered off-camera, and he kills several people with his bare hands, including one with the classic twisting neck snap. [Warning: icky spoiler follows.] He also performs a ritual on his pregnant wife in which, just off-frame, he plunges his hands through her navel and pulls out his unborn child. [OK, it’s over.] [Editor: Frankly, that seems easier than the 17 hours of failed-epidural labor I went through.] But the cruel is not always to the evil, and Kreuk’s Chun-Li, while Noxzema-clean on the outside, harbors a mean streak. She beats thugs after they’re down and shoots a guy in the chest at point-blank range. In a climactic scene, she and the director (and, they must have assumed, we too) relish the snapping a bad guy’s neck with a gruesome 180-degree turn of his head.

The swearing is limited to a couple of b-words and an s-word derivative. Fancy cocktails are served and consumed, at home and in fine nightspots. Chun-Li takes a bath while recovering from a bullet graze—we never get a closer look, but Gen, from his vantage point, clearly does. (He remains a gentleman.) Sexuality focuses on the mildly kinky—handcuffs left on the bedpost, an attempt at an illicit encounter in the restroom at a club, and a cop, a nefarious businesswoman and several exotic dancers in their underthings.

At a March 1st screening, these previews were shown: Race to Witch Mountain (PG), a rebuild of the 1970’s sci-fi film—some peril here, including a super-powered boy who stops a truck with his body; Battle for Terra (not yet rated), a computer-animated sci-fi adventure with awesome hardware and blandly cartoonish characters; Knowing (PG-13), with Nicolas Cage as a guy who knows stuff, like when things are going to crash—we get clips of a couple of the disasters, including a runaway subway car and a disintegrating airliner; and Fighting (PG-13), about a guy who fights people—lots of punches and one steamy smooch.

Jared Peterson has agreed to this kind of thing for Chesapeake Family Magazine. He blogs at http://proweirdo.blogspot .com and http://panandscanblog.wordpress.com. He last reviewed Fired Up.

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