The original Street Fighter movie from 1994 is one of the great cautionary tales. This early attempt at transforming a video game into a film turned out to be Raul Julia’s last movie—and a more embarrassing swan song could scarcely be imagined. I’m sure it served as a great lesson to Julia, and it ought to serve as a warning to all actors that you never know what might be your last picture. With this in mind, I would strongly suggest that everyone involved in the making of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li look very carefully when crossing the street. Not only is this a strong early contender for worst film of the year, it could well be a candidate for the worst film ever made. Quite simply, this is nothing short of a triumph of bad writing, bad directing and bad acting. It survives for a while on unintentional hilarity, but even its value on that score ends long before its 96 minutes are up.
What we get this round is the story of a very Asian-looking little girl whose father, Xiang (Edmund Chen), is kidnapped by an inexplicable bad guy named Bison (Neal McDonough) with the aid of a bunch of inexplicable Asian martial-arts types and an even less explicable bulky black guy, Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan), who specializes in smashing furniture. The event so traumatizes the girl that she gets progressively less Asian-looking as she ages into other actresses. (She ends up being played by Kristin Kreuk (TV’s Smallville), who is half Chinese.) Then her mom dies of movie cancer. It’s bad news all around, I guess.
Things change when she receives a really badly mounted Chinese scroll that somehow leads her to go live on the streets of Bangkok so that some martial-arts master named Gen (Robin Shou, Death Race) will find her. He does and then proceeds to teach her how to keep from landing face-first on a table saw. All this is going to allow her to revenge herself on Bison. Meanwhile, Bison’s activities as a crime lord (notably beheading all his associates) have drawn the attention of Detective Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood, Pathfinder) and Interpol agent Charlie Nash (Chris Klein, American Pie). Ah, but it matters not, because Bison buffaloes the Thai government into not interfering with his nefarious real-estate scheme (yes, it’s one of those plots).
All that’s as much as you need to know about the plot—maybe more. None of this will actually help, simply because nothing could unravel the story or the bizarre collection of cosmic God-awful-ery packed into this movie. For starters, the film appears to believe that accents are genetically transmitted, since Bison—orphaned in the slums of Bangkok as an infant by his Irish parents—affects a stage Irish accent throughout the film. Perhaps in some twisted way that explains why his daughter appears to speak Russian. (Yeah, her existence is supposed to be a surprise, but since it really doesn’t have anything to do with the plot, it hardly matters.) It’s all a mess any way you look at it.
And then there are the performances. Oh yes, there are the performances. Quite apart from McDonough’s “They’re after me Lucky Charms” Irish shtick (bizarre though it may be, it’s the only characterization his Bison has, apart from a variety of polka-dot neckties), the whole cast seems to be vying for worst acting cred. There’s a chance this was deliberate—surely, no one could have actually thought this movie was good. If you were playing a martial-arts guru with clearly visible tape holding your fake sideburns in place (such is the lot of Robin Shou), you might well attempt a performance worthy of such an indignity. Kristin Kreuk’s Chun-Li just seems baffled by the whole thing, which is certainly understandable.
In the end, however, it comes down to Chris Klein and Michael Clarke Duncan, who seem to be in a duel to see who can stink up the movie worse. Klein is the clear winner. His scruffy-bearded (really, the three-day-beard look should be restricted to guys who actually can grow a beard) Interpol agent is a wonder to behold. Think of a Keanu Reeves impression gone horribly, horribly wrong. No, that’s too kind. Think of the worst performances ever given by Reeves, Nicolas Cage and Cary Elwes combined. Multiply by 10 and you might get near the hysterically funny badness on display here. Every word, every gesture, every step Klein takes manages to hit just the wrong note in a way I never thought possible. I’d almost recommend seeing this film for the awesomeness of his performance, but as a gesture of kindness to his further embarrassment, I won’t. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and martial-arts action, and some sensuality.