1994's Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle "Street Fighter" was so unbearably awful in every way that, were a brave soul to ever retackle the name brand, the only way to go in quality would be up. That may be faint praise, but franchise restart "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li" at least earns that much. Gritty in a homogenized Hollywood sort of way, the film unfortunately still leaves a lot to be desired. Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak (2005's "Doom
") and loosely based on the Capcom video game series, the story attempts to take itself seriously, but is done in by a weak screenplay by Justin Marks and uncommitted performances that threaten to turn the proceedings into an outright farce.
As a child, Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) saw her businessman father (Edmund Chen) snatched away during the night, never to be seen again. Long presumed dead, she moves on and carries out her dream of becoming a concert pianist. Shortly before her mom (Emilze Kiryukhina) passes away from cancer, Chun-Li receives a mysterious scroll. With no one holding her back, she sheds herself of the privileged life she's led and journeys to Bangkok, living on the streets as she searches for Gen (Robin Shou), the leader of the Order of the Web. Once found, the two of them join forces to rescue Chun-Li's father, still very much alive, and put a stop to megalomaniac Bison (Neal McDonough), the head of powerful crime organization Shadaloo. Also entering the equation, though one isn't quite sure how, are Interpol agent Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) and gangland homicide detective Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood).
"Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li" is a rather awkward start to a new franchise that likely will never see a sequel (at least not a theatrical one). The choice in having a female carry an action film is an appreciated change from the norm, but said action consists of just a few forgettable fight scenes and some random chases through alleyways. A building explodes real good with, yes, a character jumping from it in slow-motion, and gunplay is thrown in just for the heck of things. Otherwise, director Andrzej Bartkowiak seems more concerned with telling the story of a young woman searching to find herself. Where her path toward self-enlightenment leads is never quite discerned. Nonetheless, Chun-Li narrates much of it, and the dialogue would be excruciating if it weren't laughable in the way she describes what is blatantly occurring on the screen. Her character can't even sit down at a computer without it being announced. If nothing else, the movie is an ideal one for blind viewers.
Kristin Kreuk (TV's "Smallville" and 2004's "Eurotrip
") stumbles in her voice-overs, but otherwise gives the best performance in the film. As Chun-Li, she is likable, has a lovely smile, and capably portrays the rage inside her when vengeance sets in. Kreuk is also believable in carrying out the physical demands of the part. The rest of the actors appear to have no faith in the material and walk through their scenes as if they were in a Uwe Boll picture. Chris Klein (2006's "American Dreamz
"), so charismatic in the past, is painful in his smarmy reading of Nash, acting like an antagonist even though he is one of the heroes. As archvillain Bison, Neal McDonough (2008's "Traitor
") is undeniably the bad guy in the way that he slathers caviar on a cracker and sips his wine while his business partners are being audibly assassinated outside. As for muscled henchman Balrog, Michael Clarke Duncan (2008's "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins
") acts like such a buffoon that he seems to think he's in a slapstick comedy. Words cannot quite describe how bad he is in this role, so let's just say he's really
On-location lensing in Hong Kong and Thailand brings an authenticity to the setting of "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li," if not to the predictable, cornball plotting. Martial arts choreography is fine, too, but unoriginal. To get to the actionwhat prospective audiences will be expectingone must wade through a lot of padding and melodramatic drivel that doesn't touch the heart so much as it manipulates with a cold hand. Less garish than the abominable 1994 movie, "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li" simply carves out a place for itself in the halls of cinematic mediocrity. You probably won't remember much from it a week after seeing it, and you won't care to have forgotten it, either.