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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
There has never been a good videogame to movie adaptation. This isn’t some big secret – everyone already knows it. Try as they might, Hollywood just can’t seem to put the pieces together. Surprisingly, hacky genre director Paul W.S. Anderson has come incredibly close a few times, with 1995’s Mortal Kombat, a sort of Enter the Dragon for beginners, as well as 2002’s Resident Evil, a zombie movie that was better than it had any right to be, becoming surprise hits. But still, neither of those films were exactly critical darlings and truth be told, neither really has the best reputation either. They were fun little genre thrill rides, but not really good movies.
A year or so before Mortal Kombat hit theaters, Steven E. DeSouza graced cinemas with his live-action adaptation of the videogame Street Fighter, in which an unconvincing Jean-Claude Van Damme played the films lead character, Guile. With a star like Van Damme, the focus on the movie was largely on Guile, even though fan favorites Ryu and Ken were arguably the most popular characters in the game series. Of course they would get the short shrift in the film adaptation. Not long after the live-action version released and subsequently bombed in theaters, Manga Entertainment licensed and distributed Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, a much truer film adaptation of the game, onto home video.
The plot is incredibly generic – the villainous M. Bison (head of the corrupt Shadow Law group) has been brainwashing the earth’s best martial artists and using them to assassinate various heads of state. When Bison sees the potential in world-renowned mysterious martial artist Ryu (who has gone off the grid, wandering continually from India to Thailand), he begins to track him via monitor cyborg, but has little luck in locating and capturing the reclusive Ryu. Bison’s efforts then turn to Ken, Ryu’s old friend and training partner. Bison kidnaps and brainwashes Ken, who has been searching for a worthy opponent since his time spent training with Ryu. Now Ryu, along with Guile and Interpol, must break Ken’s brainwashing to get his friend back and defeat Bison, thus saving the world from the tyranny of Shadow Law.
Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is undisputedly the best movie adaptation of a video game. It still isn’t great, and the dub is incredibly cheesy and old school (but charming in its goofiness), but the film is, on the whole, still a quality product nearly twenty years after its initial release. It incorporates the videogame almost to the fullest extent, for better and worse. I go back to this film every few years or so, and I’m continually surprised at how easily I get suckered into its nonsense story, goofy characters, and general outrageousness. I like how the movie can be incredibly silly (much like, in various places, the videogame it is based on) without ever resorting to the unnecessary wackiness a lot of Japanese anime titles are known for (luckily Ryu never gets a nosebleed or a sweat drop on his head out of embarrassment or anything like that). The strength of the film is surprisingly in its characters, with the relationship between Ryu and Ken being the big stand-out.
Re-watching the movie this past weekend, I couldn’t help but notice how well the animation has held up as well (it was done by Group TAC, the now-defunct Japanese animation studio responsible for many, many properties over the last 30 years). There are a few places where items look dragged across a cell and probably were filmed that way, but the movie looks pretty lush and well-animated in most places. The fights interspersed throughout the film are also well done, especially the Chun Li vs. Vega showdown (probably the most iconic scene in the whole movie). I like the flashback scenes to Ryu and Ken’s training as well, which is unusual for me as I typically hate flashback nonsense in movies and TV. The ones in this movie are animated in a very neat style (done differently with just enough shades of black and gray to make them stand out) and do a pretty good job of building and establishing character (it helps that they are short and spread evenly throughout the movie).
The chief complaints I have about the movie stem from its ridiculous dub, though honestly, I wouldn’t change it a bit. It is a great piece of 90s dub goofiness and I’m all in on it. At the time, however, I took the work incredibly seriously and hated how goofy it got in places. Additionally, characters are shoe-horned in for cameos (for the obvious attempt to get every single character in the frame), and while some are worthwhile and good (E. Honda, Dhalsim, and Fei Long), other cameos are just plain needless and unnecessary (Zangief, Blanka, and especially Dee Jay). Additionally, the last act of the film goes on for waaaay toooo loooong. An entire three to five minutes probably could have been chopped off of that showdown between Ryu, Ken, and Bison.
Still though, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is an absolute ton of goofy, nostalgic fun. The silly dub goes so over the top at places that it’s hard not to smile at sometimes. The characters have a surprising amount of depth to them as well, especially the Ryu/Ken relationship (the Guile/Chun Li team-up is quite good too). I can’t imagine a better piece of mid-90s videogame fluff than this movie, and for that reason I’m quite glad it exists. It is hard to believe we live in a world where this would be the best videogame-to-movie adaptation, but I just can’t think of anything that does a better job capturing what makes a game so cool and turning it into a quality film. Though the film versions of Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil come close at times, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is still the undisputed king of the videogame adaptations.