"Street Fighter II The Animated Movie": Massive Martial Mayhem, Meager Motivation
For whatever reason, movie adaptations of video games never seem to turn out very well. Perhaps it is because studios seem to treat them more as easy money than actual films. They are confined to modest budgets, and wind up tacky spectacles with pedestrian scripts. Such was the case with the Street Fighter live action film released in the game’s heyday in 1994. As luck would have it though, that same year saw the release of a superior adaptation: Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (SF2: TAM).
This film avoids the aforementioned pitfalls by dropping live action and story altogether. For a fraction of the Van Damme film’s cost, director Gisaburo Sugii (Sheep’s Song) delivers gorgeously animated wall-to-wall action. More than a decade later this is still the standard for hand-to-hand combat in animation. Action junkies will get their fix and then some, and fans of the game will be thrilled to see all of their favorite characters strut their stuff.
However, if watching hero Ryu perform famous attacks like Hadouken and Shoryuken doesn’t make you feel all tingly, or if you’re wondering why I’m bringing up Barbie’s Asian boyfriends, SF2: TAM has much less to offer. Story and character development are so minimal they’re barely worth commenting on. Not that I have anything against mindless violence, but you’d think for a 100 minute film the writer could come up with more than a paragraph. There are episodes of Barney more nuanced than this.
The, ahem, plot is driven by criminal mastermind Vega’s (or M. Bison stateside) organization Shadowlaw, which is tracking down and brainwashing the world’s best street fighters to assassinate world leaders in a bid for global domination. To this end he sends monitor cyborgs all over the earth to evaluate candidates’ fighting skills. Consequently we are treated to an endless parade of bouts between the many game characters. Vega’s research determines that the stoic Japanese wanderer Ryu and laidback American Ken Masters are the world’s most powerful fighters, and he sets out to recruit them. Meanwhile spunky Chinese Interpol agent Chun Li and laconic American soldier Guile attempt to unravel Shadowlaw’s scheme.
All the game’s many big names are present, making SF2: TAM feel rather like one long credits sequence with one introduction after another. Others appearing are Sagat, Bison (Balrog), Balrog (Vega), Cammy White, Fei Long, E. Honda, Dhalsim, Dee Jay, T. Hawk, Zangief, and Blanka. Most of these show up just for a fisticuffs, and have little if anything to say. Even the main players aren’t defined much beyond good and evil. The voice acting is fine, though it doesn’t require a whole lot of emoting. I was amused that Fei Long not only looks but also sounds like Bruce Lee.
Oddly most of the film is deadly serious, contrasting with the outlandish costumes and cornball characters. The only real laugh comes when Shadowlaw targets a man who appears to be Gandhi, and a fighter beats the stuffing out of everyone’s favorite pacifist.
The numerous fast, brutal fights are as intricately choreographed as any Jackie Chan movie, and would be nearly as exciting if there were anything at stake. Admittedly some of the game’s signature moves translate to animation better than others. Dhalsim spinning madly as he flies through the shot is a comical sight that would seem more at home in Scooby Doo.
The most popular battle with fans seems to be Balrog’s attempt to kill Chun-Li in her hotel room, partly because the latter is very skimpily dressed for the duration. Setting that detail aside though it is a thrillingly vicious, desperate brawl that Hollywood ordinarily wouldn’t dare subject a leading lady to. Balrog’s mask and the claustrophobic environment add a touch of Friday the 13th creepiness.
Now would be a good time to note that this is the first completely uncut version of SF2: TAM available in the US, and that there’s very little difference. Just a few meaningless seconds here and there, and a couple revealing seconds of Chun-Li.
One can’t say enough good things about the animation, which hardly seems to have aged at all. Everything is full of detail and the characters move in a very fluid, believable manner. Spriggan is the only subsequent 2D animated film I can think of that achieves comparably lifelike action sequences. The characters look like they’ve been ripped right out of the game, with superhuman musculature and in Guile’s case superhuman hairspray.
The Japanese soundtrack features the usual J-pop with a bit of jazz, while the English one thunders with industrial and alternative metal throughout. I wouldn’t call either sensational, but the former does make it easier to imagine one is watching an actual film as opposed to a game demo.
Speaking of game demos though, one of those would have made a great addition to the anemic special features. An XBox 360 version of the original Street Fighter 2 would be nice. Instead all one gets is a trailer, some character profiles, and a little comic book.
If you love the video games you’re sure to enjoy Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. Everyone else can just take a brief look at the stunning animation and then go about their business, possibly pausing to reflect on whether we weren’t a little hard on Mr. Van Damme just because you couldn’t serve hors d’oeuvres on his head.