It’s Martial Arts Mania Month on Bad Movies with Brad and we’ll be spending the month highlighting some of the best terrible martial arts movies. Both our installments this month will be coming from one of my favorite bad movie periods: the 90s. Ah yes, while normal martial arts film had its renaissance in the 70s and 80s terrible martial arts movies hit their zenith during the years after August 28th, 1993 when this happened:
Two things happened as soon as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers hit the air. 1) Two million second graders got kicked down a hill by one of their friends 1 And 2) Hollywood wanted a piece of that sweet, sweet karate money. One could argue that The Karate Kid started this trend but, they hadn’t made one since 1989, as soon as there were Power Rangers, there was another Karate Kid a year later. Today every single studio wants to make superhero movies, so too did every studio greenlight a martial arts property. Also just like today they would take any property they could get their hands on. Universal Studios struck a deal with Capcom owner of Street Fighter or as some of you surely knew it, ‘That game that’s kind of like Mortal Kombat.’
I haven’t quite touched on this before, but it’s a well known fact that video games don’t make good movies. Every few years as they progress as a genre Hollywood looks to video games and says, “We can make those into movies!” This hasn’t worked out well. Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed seem ready to be major critical disappointments. Even if you look at Wikipedia’s list of movies based on video games, nothing has a higher rotten tomatoes rating than a 44%, held by the uncanny valley filled with sewage that is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within but that’s another article. Street Fighter is in the middle of the pack with 12%. First and foremost, and this is a pretty hard question to answer what the hell is this thing about? Once again, I’ll go with actual quotes.
“Four Years of ROTC for this shit?”
Street Fighter opens in the war torn country of (sigh) Shadaloo. Shadaloo is currently being threatened by the super-villainiest of super-villains General M. Bison, who has taken a group of about 30 hostages from…somewhere and demanded $20 billion dollars in ransom money. That is not a joke. (The M is for money) The Allied Nations, or AN (siiiiigh) have vowed to bring Bison in, and their commander, Colonel William Guile is going to be the guy to do it. Guile tries to get a message to his kidnapped friend Carlos “Charlie” Blanka, so Bison decides to do genetic experiments on him.
Meanwhile reporter Chun-Li and her camera crew are trying to uncover Bison’s ties to the Shadaloo underworld, which includes, guess what, street fighting! In literally the only scene involving streetfighting we meet Ken and Ryu– two small time crooks who get roped into a cage match by Sagat, an eye patch wearing underworld boss. After failing to sell him toy guns in an arms deal, Ryu has to fight Vega, a well bronzed wolverine knockoff in a mask. And Ken has to… watch? Not much street fighting happens as Guile drives the most ridiculous tank ever through the wall and arrests everybody.
Later, after an assassination attempt Guile decides to fake his death so he can follow Sagat and Vega to Bison, as Sagat is known to be selling arms to him. He enlists Ken and Ryu to help and has them fake his death in an escape. Chun Li manages to get a tracker on the truck they escape in and follows the four of them to Bison’s arms deal. After Bison attempts to pay for his guns with his own Bison dollars, (more on that later) Chun-Li and her boys try to roll a truck filled with explosives into the meeting and instead get captured.
Back at Bison HQ, Bison sends Chun-Li to his chambers while sending her crew, Honda and Balrog, to his handy torture chamber. Guile, finds the location of Bison’s secret base and starts planning his assault while it is revealed that his friend Charlie is slowly being turned into a low rent 70s hulk in a clown wig. (siiiiiiiiiiiiigh) Though Dr. Dhalsim, the geneticist is trying to keep Charlie’s mind from being reprogrammed by Bison. Chun-Li reveals to Bison that he killed her father and she tries to kill him back. She doesn’t succeed. Guile launches his assault on Bison’s base against the AN’s orders and travels toward Bison’s base in his stealth boat. (Not kidding) The heroes infiltrate the base, everybody fights with everybody else and Guile finally gets to roundhouse kick Bison. The end.
“Because he paid me a freakin’ fortune you moron!”
Street Fighter was burdened from the start by budget problems, specifically one big, musclely budget problem from Belgium: Capcom wanted Jean-Claude Van Damme to play Col. Guile, and Universal agreed. JCVD then promptly demanded 8 million dollars to be in their movie, 22% of their 35 million dollar budget. Having nearly a quarter of your budget occupied by a leading man who can’t pronounce “probably” sets you back a bit. This is why the climactic battle, originally supposed to be an air attack on Bison’s base was instead done with boats. Boats.
Public service announcement to anyone wanting to film a war movie. There are a lot of different vehicles you can pick when you’re denied planes. Tanks are good, trucks less so, you can even have your guys walk through a trap laden jungle, that would be a good choice. Boats are never the answer. The boat assault comes during the climactic point of the movie, when Guile has to disobey orders to take out Bison, so let’s see what 8 million buys in a climactic speech.
To be fair, you’re at a serious handicap when the speech begins with, “I’m going to get in my boat.”
Almost everyone in the film has trouble overcoming the Van Damme problem, Ming-Na Wen certainly does her best, if Melinda May can’t do it then no one can. Wen spends the whole film performing these terrible lines like a normal person, really selling her journalist part. Unfortunately those lines are said mainly to Col. Guile, who replies in heavily accented cliches. Later when she gets to have some scenes with Bison, she does an admirable job revealing her big revenge story: Bison killed her father. Unfortunately this is overshadowed by some massive, massive someone eating all the scenery.
Of course everyone is hamstrung by the corniest script ever, but once again this film has one of those performances like Frank Langella’s skeletor, a performance done out of love, that manages to make a terrible script into comedy gold.
Raul Julia performs, nay inhabits, the role of M. Bison. In doing this he brings to the screen one of the greatest villain performances ever. Raul Julia’s Bison is the goofy, hilariously insidious comic book villain I’ve always wanted and it is glorious to watch. He’s like the Bond villains people make up in jokes. He wears leather body armor, he decorates everything with skulls, including his future city of Bisonopolis, he even tries to pay for guns in his own money:
Raul Julia had to say, with a straight face, “But every Bison Dollar will be worth five British Pounds, for that is the exchange rate the Bank of England will set once I’ve kidnapped their queen.” AND HE DID IT. If there was an Oscar for most professionalism in a shitty movie, it would be named after Raul Julia. Just watch him and Chun-Li
Sadly, Raul Julia was battling stomach cancer during his time on the production, he’d only taken the part because his children really enjoyed the Streetfighter games. He had every right not to work hard in this role, and he still gave every ounce the commitment he gave The Addams Family which is why we get the best finale fight scene in bad movie history. But alas, while Bison is glorious, he is not our Bad Movie Hero.
“A Hero…at a thousand paces”
Raul Julia should basically win this Bad Movie Hero award simply because of his amazing, professional performance. He certainly deserves it, however as I was watching the film in preparation for the article I came across a performance that is much less easy to see in the movie, but is an absolute joy to watch. Not to mention it’s probably the best single character in the movie. St. Wesley be praised, our Bad Movie hero is the best of bad movie minions, Dee Jay, as performed by Miguel A. Nuñez.
Dee Jay displays all the competence that St. Wesley taught us, although he’s working for a guy building a city shaped like a skull so that means something different. For instance, whatever Bison says, he agrees, no questions asked.
He knows what he’s doing so well that he delivers the bad news to Bison that no one has paid his ransom demand and he gets to live. Then when the AN comes to take Bison down, he does what any sensible minion would do, he grabs a box of money and legs it. Of course they’re Bison dollars… but you can’t win them all. And why, when asked, did Dee Jay elect to serve general Bison? As the quote up there says, he got a freaking fortune.
Grab yourself a copy of Street Fighter it’s worth it for Bison and Dee Jay alone, but getting to watch Van Damme butcher the English language is always a delight. Next time Martial Arts Mania Month continues, and I realize there wasn’t much Martial Arts in this one, so we’ll give you more of that… and kangaroos.