Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ki Kooooo Ken!

I've been sharing my thoughts about the very bad and extremely (and this is my favorite term to describe the movie) *bizarre* movie based on one of my favorite videogame franchises of all time, Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li.

Just thought I'd chop it up and share here as well... since I spent so much time writing them!

Lotsa SPOILERS, but the movie's so bad, I'm not sure it will matter.

My first post about the subject:

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I saw the movie last night. As for how the movie was, I thought going in with vastly lowered expectations would help (as it has with some movies in the past) but I was still surprised by how amazingly lazy it was. I was expecting stupid, I was expecting boring, but some parts of the story were so poorly thought out that I'm surprised nobody thought to say "I think we need a better excuse for this scene than this".

There's one moment where it seems like they were thinking "well we want a shot of the good guys jumping out of an exploding building, but how are they gonna figure out there's a bomb planted in the building?", and after some brainstorming: "ah screw it, let's get Chris Klein to open a random drawer while he's supposed to be carefully watching the bad guys, and voila, he'll see the bomb. What? no budget for a good-looking bomb? Does anyone have a pager with a blinking light we can use?." Speaking of props, the special effects were Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie bad, which is pretty bad. The plot was just lazy... at points you can tell they weren't trying very hard to find excuses to string together the events they already decided they want to shoot.

The movie is not completely without merit. Kristen Kreuk is ok in the role of Chun Li, though at times her voiceover narration was grating. I thought the movie started out promising, until Bison and his henchmen show up and the stupid gets cranked up to 11. The fight scenes are sometimes ok, sometimes underwhelming. The one really bad fight scene is between Chun Li and Cantana in the ladies restroom, but I'm not sure if it's because of the fight scene itself or because I was still reeling from the awful lesbian dance scene that preceded it. ALL the gun battles were lame.

Aside from Kreuk, the other performances range from bearable, to bad, to sometimes just plain bizarre. Chris Klein as Nash hams it up so much it almost makes it worth watching to gawk in amazement at him. I also kept wondering why he's acting like such a tool, but eventually started enjoying it, simply because of how consistent he was at acting like a sleazy jerk. He was simply epic. And puzzling. Puzzlingly epic.

Michael Clark Duncan plays Balrog so off, it's hard to tell if he thinks he's the bad guy or if he thinks he's supposed to be a big 'ol friendly bear. The scene where he leaves Chun Li to her fate in the torture room is just odd because of how warmly matter-of-fact he is, like he's leaving her to play a game of Trivial Pursuit with the two guys who are supposed to kill her. And this is right after Bison kills her father in cold blood right before her eyes.

Bison was actually watchable. I don't know where IGN came up with their "Irish accent" criticism. Yeah he was an Irish baby, but he doesn't sound Irish. His back story is... interesting, bizarre (yeah that word again), and poorly executed. The basic idea behind his origin mirrors the official canon somewhat, but the execution is so half-hearted, I was shaking my head at how weird the whole thing played and how lazily it was done. Other than that, Neal McDonough is menacing and chilling enough, in a TV-movie sorta way.

Robin Shou as Gen was just plain bad. His delivery was so consistently artificial and forced. He was a LOT better in Mortal Kombat. I can't believe I have to say that. Story-wise, his character was mishandled so badly that by the time he shows up at the end to show Chun Li a poster for the Street Fighter tourney and talk about "Rai Yu", I was wishing the real Gen would show up, poke him in the neck, and make his head explode.

Taboo as Vega got a voice dub, ala Darth Vader, I think. He shows up for one short scene at the start, gets taken out by Chun Li in one fight later, and then he's done. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why he got as much exposure in the interviews as he did. Other than that, he doesn't appear long enough onscreen to embarrass himself or otherwise.

So yup, bizarre, bad, and lazy. Kinda like Plan 9 From Outer Space. It's not exactly boring... it was too weird and bad to bore me. It may be tedious, depending on how easily offended you are by lazy film-making. That was the first time in a long time I was embarrassed to walk out of a theater.

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About whether fans could've done a better job writing an SF movie:

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I dunno... I am not sure having fans write the script would necessarily help. I think they just need to make a good movie , period. They need to figure out what there is in the source material that would work on the big screen and what does not, and take the time to pad things out with something that resembles watchable movie material. The problem with this movie is it is just a random mix of ideas which mostly don't work paired with horrid execution. A completely fan-made script runs the risk of being a 2 hour fan service flick... Basically a YouTube fan film you pay eight bucks to see.

I mean there is a frikkin kikoken in the film, which was probably the most awkward thing I've seen onscreen in a while. However, it is "faithful" to the source material. Part of the reason it fails is because the chi powers were poorly explained, but part of it is it's just plain difficult to stick to certain videogame conventions without a good reason.

I don't think it's impossible to make a decent sf flick. I just think nobody knows how to approach with the right amount of care that such a premise requires.

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On why the first Motal Kombat movie did so well, and whether it was due to its close adherence to the source material:

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I see what you're saying about the 1st MK, but I'd argue that it's not the premise that made the movie work, but the enthusiasm, energy, and plain old competence of the execution. You just have to look at the sequel, which still sticks fairly close to the settings and events of the game, to see an example of how you can adhere to the source material and still fail at making a good videogame movie.

I certainly wouldn't *mind* if an SF movie tried to follow the source material more closely, and I don't doubt there are ways to make it work, but it's more about the execution than anything else. Fireballs, wacky costumes, and people yelling their special moves may not derail an SF movie, but a bad script, a meandering plot, badly choreographed fights, and hammy performances will. I don't care if it's a grittier, relatively realistic approach to the material (see "The Dark Knight" for a comicbook example), or a more fantastical approach (like the 1st MK). What you need is people who care enough and talented enough to put something on the screen worth watching.

For me, the whole point of closely adhering to the source material is not worth discussing. There are plenty of examples of movies that are loosely based on their source material but still work on their own merits. The only people who might mind are the purists.

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More on why Mortal Kombat's sequel failed so badly:

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How many characters did MK2 and 3 have? They were adhering pretty close to the source material (the setting, Outworld, the characters, the moves), and they still failed. Why did they fail? They didn't know what to focus on story-wise, the plot was all over the damn place, the acting took a dip, and the recasting of Raiden was a farce.

But Johnny Cage died, just like he did in the game. Adhering to the source material has nothing to do with whether or not a movie based on a video game is good. It's nice if they do, but I'm not a purist, and they don't *have* to. What they have to do is pick a few things that work within the context of their vision for the movie, and execute it well.

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On Bison, the evil real estate agent:

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I got to say though, the whole real estate thing is blown a little out of proportion... Bison's *not* Lex Luthor from Richard Donner's Superman. The movie makes it clear Bison's supposed to be in charge of a criminal organization of the highest order, and the real estate plot is just the one he happens to to be trying to pull in Bangkok, and within the context of the story, he kinda has a reason for wanting that land (even if his overly convoluted plot obscures his reasons somewhat).

His backstory tries (clumsily) to draw him as a man with a mystical and very sinister past... I think Justin Marks (the writer) read Mark Waid's Unthinkable arc on Fantastic Four and took a cue from how Dr Doom got his sorcery powers. I can see where he was going, but it felt rushed and wasn't organically combined with the rest of what's going on in the movie. On one hand the movie is supposed to be a grittier, more realistic take on SF, on the other there's demonic spirits and unexplained chi powers.

I think, if handled correctly, this version of Bison *could* have worked. However there were just too many uneven and unintentionally funny/bizarre elements competing which each other, a clear sign that there was more than one cook telling Justin Marks where to go with his script... either that or he never stepped back to look at his script and realize how bad a mix it was. Bison's whole backstory just looked forced, rushed, and (I'll use that word again) just plain bizarre in the greater scheme of things.

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