When speaking of an adaptation, I tend to think that a new adaptation of the source material is its own creation (unless you’re going the Gus Van Sant route of duplicating the previous adaptation). So what I’m proposing with this new series of articles isn’t a remake, but a second chance (or third, or fourth, or fiftieth) to get the adaptation right. Hit the reset button, bring the source material back to the big screen, and do it well this time. For this first entry, I have a simple proposal
Make a Street Fighter movie that just focuses on fantastical street fighting.
If you’re an action movie fan who hasn’t seen The Raid: Redemption or its sequel yet, I’m presuming it’s because you gave up enjoying yourself for Lent four years ago, then forgot it’s only supposed to last for forty days, not indefinitely. If you have seen it, you might know where this is headed. The Raid: Redemption and The Raid: Berandal have brought to life some of the best and literally hardest-hitting martial arts fight scenes of the decade thus far, if not the 21st century. The 1-on-1 fights (as well as the 1-on-2’s) featured in both films are showstoppers. Intense, extended, creative and, final result aside, unpredictable.
Last I checked, the Street Fighter video game franchise is built exclusively around 1-on-1 fights. Yes, the Street Fighter mythology has expanded and become fairly dense over time; but fighting is still the heartbeat of the franchise. The plots surrounding the characters are at best tertiary to gameplay and character designs when it comes to the series’ overall appeal. Nobody in the arcade era popped quarters into the slot so they could be entertained by the characters’ motivations; nobody who plays the games today does so exclusively because they’re so very wrapped up in the storyline.
They’ve gone to the well for Street Fighter movies twice now, and made the same mistakes both times. The first film went the route of a childish action-comedy, forsook the quality of the fight scenes almost entirely and pleased absolutely no one at all. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li didn’t fare much better, and was burdened by a weak and needless crime / espionage plot. Neither put as much emphasis as they should have on action. Not only that, both flicks focused on the wrong character. Van Damme’s vehicle had him portraying Guile, while Legend of Chun-Li obviously name-checks its lead in the title.
Somebody correct me if I’m wrong here, but isn’t this guy the undisputed face of the franchise?
And yet the first movie reduced Ryu to a side character, while the second had the audacity to tease Ryu’s appearance in a presumed sequel, a la The Joker at the end of The Dark Knight.
An ideal live-action Street Fighter movie has to have Ryu as the lead. For starters, because he’s the obvious choice, and second because his primary motivation throughout every game in the series is simply to prove himself and test his skills. Yes, in many of the adjacent works he has other, deeper motives, but distilled to what makes him a favorite, he’s the “world warrior.” Make him the centerpiece of your flick, stick the likes of Akuma, Ken and Sagat on the other end, come up with the easiest reason available for them to have a reason to fight, and then unleash the fireballs and fisticuffs. Maybe give him a group of henchmen to dispatch a couple of times for a change of pace. And maybe, if you must, throw in some stakes that make it clear that Ryu is the story’s “hero,” even if he doesn’t intend to be. The important thing is that he fights. Often.
As to the nature of those fights, I mentioned The Raid earlier for a reason. Those fights weren’t merely well-choreographed; they were brutal and physical. Damn near every strike, toss and tackle looked painful. Not just to the characters being portrayed, but to the actors themselves. This, too, is important, because a proper Street Fighter film has to give the fans all of their favorite moves, and at least a few of those moves are liable to look ridiculous in a live action film unless you give them some weight and force. In short, make these moves look athletic–training to pull off a Shoryuken probably demands hell of a lot of box-jumps–and on impact make them look like they hurt. A Street Fighter film would possibly target a PG-13 rating to maximize its audience, so you likely can’t go to the stab-happy, jaw-splitting, “Ow, my artery!” extremes of The Raid. But you can show that a leaping uppercut to the chin would concuss the bright red hell out of you. You can even show that summoning and throwing a fireball with your bare hands should take a hell of a lot out of you. After a few Hadoukens I imagine you’d need to replenish some electrolytes.
Taking a serious approach to the material has worked well for comic book films. It would work for a new Street Fighter adaptation as well. Mind that “serious” doesn’t mean “dour.” It doesn’t even mean “gritty.” Serious means you treat the material with respect. Don’t approach it as a joke. Approach it as an action film, a martial arts film, something that demands talent and attentiveness. The recent, well-received Street Fighter web series Assassin’s Fist did this, and knew well enough to put the spotlight on Ryu. It’s limited by its budget and medium, though. Capcom can take a look at what Marvel has done with characters once thought an impossible sell to film-goers. Use that as a blueprint. And Street Fighter doesn’t even need the nine-figure budget necessary to tell the stories of world-saving superheroes.
All Capcom needs to tell is the story of a man who wants to prove himself through combat. By “tell” I mean “show.” By story I mean action.