Tuesday, September 15, 2009


This above-average distaff martial arts actioneer about a daughter’s revenge for the murder of her long-suffering father boasts Geoff Boyle’s spectacular cinematography and a sturdy cast, particularly with charismatic Neal McDonough as the dastardly chief villain and Michael Clarke Duncan as his right-hand man. Martial arts fight choreographer Dion Lam of “Exit Wounds” and “The Matrix Reloaded” stages several exceptional hand-to-hand combat scenes involving wire work. As the heroine Kristia Kreuk is convincing here as Chin-Li and handles herself well in the fight sequences. She possesses an expressive countenance,and this gives "Streetfighter: The Legend of Chun-Li" (*** out of ****) its heart and drive. Moreover, as Chin-Li, our heroine changes over the course of the story so that she emerges as a round rather than a flat character. “Exit Wounds” director Andrej Bartkowiak never lets the action stall out during its trim 96 minutes. Of course, the Justin Marks screenplay contains nothing but formula with the usual expository scenes for an origins story. A heroic heroine, ruthless villains, scenic locales, and a by-the-numbers crime empire building plot keep thing warm but rarely sizzling. Ostensibly, “Streetfighter” is a sequel to the Jean Claude Van Damme original.

The movie begins as an origins story with Chun-Li (Kristia Kreuk) talking about her youth in San Francisco. Her international businessman father Xiang (Edmund Chen of “Saigon Eclipse”) wants her to become a concert pianist. Eventually, the family relocates to Hong Kong, and her father teaches her Wushu while she practices the piano. Suddenly, one evening, criminals invade her house, and Xiang battles them until Balrog seizes young Chun-Lie and threatens to kill her. Bison (Neal McDonough of “Walking Tall”) and his men abduct Xiang. Later, Bison appropriates the Shadaloo Empire, the biggest crime syndicate in Asia. He has acquired his power and authority by having his assassin, Vega (Jaime Luis Gomez) decapitated the heads of all the crime lords in Bangkok. Bison has a grand scheme to lower property values in the Bangkok slums, buy up as much as he can, tear it down, and then rebuild it with luxurious housing for the affluent. Bison has no qualms about killing. He abducted Chin-Li’s father years ago and when she comes to Bangkok to straighten things out, Bison murders her father in front of her eyes. Previously, Bison had held Chun-Li's father captive for years and forced against his will to help develop his infamous plan.

Meanwhile, Interpol agent Charlie Nash (Chris Klein of “American Pie”) has pursued the elusive Bison through eleven major cities on four continents and only now comes close to catching him. He teams up with Bangkok Police Detective Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood of “Terminator: Salvation”) in the Gang & Homicide Division. While this is going on, Chun Lin is building a reputation as a successful concert pianist when she learns that her mother is ill. Eventually, Chun Li’s mother dies. The mother was an American and her father was Asian. Chun discovers a scroll in ancient Chinese. She looks for help in translating the document which she suspects will have something to do with her life. Our heroine takes the scroll with her and checks it out with her. The old lady observes, “This is not a letter, it is a light shining only upon you.” She advises Chun Li to travel to Bangkok and search for a man named Gen. Before she locates (Robin Shou of “Mortal Combat”) who gives her a brush course in defying gravity while decimating the dastards, Chun-Li lives in the streets, observes the crime-ridden slums first hand, and later interferes with a gang intent on beating up a helpless man. Principally, Gen shows Chun how to control her rage in a fight.

Not only does “Streetfighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” relate the story of our heroine’s humble beginnings, but the film also details the origins of the cruel villain. Son of Irish missionaries, Bison grew up as an orphan and stole fish from people in Thailand. Just to emphasize his evil, Bartkowiak and Marks show how Bison jettisoned his conscience. He does this by removing his infant daughter from his wife’s womb prematurely, killing his wife. This transferred his conscience into his daughter. Again, Bison is a first-rate bastard. Later, Bison’s thugs attack Gen while Chun-Li is away buying groceries and Balrog destroys Gen’s house with a RPG. Bison orders Vega to finish off Chun-Li, but he is surprised when Chun-Li whips Vega in a knock down, drag out fight, leaves the assassin hanging upside down over the side of a building. Chun-Li heads out to deal with Bison. She learns about a secret delivery of White Rose and determines to help Charlie Nash and Detective Sunee get Bison. Bison’s tentacles stretch to the police and Sunee is told to drop the case. Consequently, Charlie and Chun-Li take on Bison. The fight between Bison and Chun-Li is energetic and the outcome is nothing if not impressive.

Indeed, the producers tampered with the video game when they adapted it to the big-screen. For example, they removed the gloves that Balrog wore. Furthermore, they changed Chun-Li from strictly Chinese to Chinese-American. Producer Ashok Amritraj wanted the film “to stand on its own, not just for the gaming audience, but also as a movie.” “Streetfighter: The Legion of Chun-Li” with its formulaic plot doesn’t rank as a great martial arts film, but it is a good, exciting, action-packed saga with a surprise or two to keep you on your toes. As much as I like Jean Claude Van Damme’s “Streetfighter” (1994), “Streetfighter: The Legion of Chun-Li” tops the JCVD movie in every respect.

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