In the video game movie subgenre, 2014’s Street Fighter: Assassins’ Fist is by far the best ever made. Video game movies are notoriously regarded with more disdain than appreciation among moviegoers and gamers alike, the latter in particular usually very reticent about getting their hopes up when one is on the way. Street Fighter itself has been right at the center of the poor reputation of video game movies with its first two cinematic outings, which makes Assassin’s Fist that much more of a diamond in the rough.
Born out of the 2010 short film Street Fighter: Legacy, Assassin’s Fist first debuted as a web series in May of 2014 before hitting home media as a complete movie. Written by Joey Ansah and Christian Howard and directed by Ansah, Assassin’s Fist also saw Ansah portray the villainous Akuma, with Howard playing Ken Masters, and Mike Moh in the role of Ryu (replacing Jon Foo from Legacy). Assassin’s Fist was subsequently followed up by the 2016 interquel Street Fighter: Resurrection, and despite grand plans for a Street Fighter: World Warrior series to fully bring the franchise to life, with Suicide Squad director David Ayer to helm the pilot and Ansah even having Scott Adkins as his first choice for Guile, a lack of studio movement led to the rights reverting to Capcom and World Warrior falling into limbo.
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That’s nothing short of a crying shame, given that Assassin’s Fist set the stage for the planned story to grow and thrive in the complete opposite trajectory from where the reputation of video game movies currently sits. Ansah has also commented that a need to maintain creative control as showrunner on World Warrior is partly what led to a stall in movement in the series, and given how Assassin’s Fist turned out in contrast to other video game movies, and past Street Fighter films in particular, he was anything but unjustified in standing his ground. Their poor reputation notwithstanding, video game movies aren’t dying out, as last year’s Sonic the Hedgehog, the reboot of Mortal Kombat, and the forthcoming Resident Evil reboot show. Yet despite the success of those films, Assassin’s Fist stands apart for a number of reasons.
Assassin’s Fist Cleared The Air Of Bad Street Fighter Movies
Street Fighter may be one of the longest-running and most popular video game franchises ever created, but as a cinematic property, it was damaged goods at best before 2010. As one of the first major films based on a video game, 1994’s Jean-Claude Van Damme-led Street Fighter was an absurd, campy romp, though it admittedly has amassed a sizeable fan base for those very qualities. Raul Julia’s ridiculously unhinged portrayal of M. Bison is as quotable today as it was when audiences first heard him proclaim Blanka to be “A beast born of my own genius!” and even that’s just scratching the surface of how much scenery Julia chewed playing the dictator. Street Fighter may have been a trainwreck in adapting its namesake, but no action movie whose villain proclaims ”You come here prepared to fight a madman, and instead you found a god?“ will want for entertainment value.
Fifteen years later, the Street Fighter brand took another black eye with 2009’s Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, which had the opposite problem of being a dull, boring slog through chaotically edited fight scenes and a misguided attempt to use the dark-and-gritty approach on a property with such fantastical elements. No longer was M. Bison a Psycho Power-wielding, muscled up would-be dictator, but an Irish crime boss in a suit and tie played by Neal McDonough. Meanwhile, the titular Chun Li, played by Smallville‘s Kristin Kreuk, was a generic blank slate heroine who only donned her trademark ox horns and blue outfit from the games once in a fight scene that made poor use of the character’s spinning bird-kick, in addition to a vast array of other problems. If nothing else, Street Fighter at least made a worldwide haul of just shy of $100 million, while The Legend of Chun Li only scraped together $12.8 million worldwide. With its first outing going down in history as The Room of video game movies and its second bombing on an epic scale, Street Fighter didn’t seem to have strong prospects in movie form.
That perception changed overnight with the sudden arrival of the short film “Street Fighter: Legacy” in May 2010. In just three minutes, Legacy did what many believed to be impossible and delivered a genuinely great live-action take on Street Fighter, and the internet wasted no time in fervently asking when a feature-length expansion of the short was coming. Four years later, it finally arrived in the form of Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, which had become more appreciated as an epic video game web series prior to the film’s release. When it came to its cinematic track record, Street Fighter had nowhere to go but up, but Assassin’s Fist was simply a great movie all-around, and the embrace it received boils down to several crucial elements it brought to the table.
Assassin’s Fist Treated Ansatsuken Like A Real Martial Art
Among the many problems that befell Street Fighter and The Legend of Chun Li was the effort both made to split the difference between bringing realism to their action scenes and still making use of the outlandish special moves from the games, with both failing in different ways. The special moves that made it into Street Fighter were more visual homages than the techniques themselves, with Ken’s approximation of a Shoryuken and M. Bison’s tech-based Psycho Crusher lacking the impact they had in the games. Legend of Chun Li brought more wire-fu into the mix while showing Chun Li developing her Kikoken under Gen’s training, but the execution was consistently off, with Chun Li’s Kikokens more resembling special effects thrown into a fight scene than a weapon of combat being unleashed.
When it came to Assassin’s Fist, by the end of the movie, it’d be easy to believe that one could travel to Japan and actually train in Ansatsuken. Though Assassin’s Fist had great action scenes, it was, first and foremost, a martial arts film, taking viewers in-depth into the fundamentals of Ansatsuken alongside Ken and Ryu and presenting the fictional martial art as matter-of-factly as actual kung fu or karate. More importantly, it made the superhuman side of their fighting skills seem realistic in a way that even many Street Fighter fans were stunned by.
Techniques like Shoryukens, Hadoukens, and Tatsumaki-sempukyakus were presented not as superpowers, but as legitimate fighting techniques based in chi (or qi). Though Street Fighter devotees were more familiar with this, it came across as more palpable since Assassin’s Fist had presented the training in a fictional and highly ostentatious martial art with the same reverence as one would expect from, for example, the Kickboxer or Best of the Best movies. By the time of Ken and Ryu’s climactic sparring match, in which they are permitted to wield the Hado-based techniques of Ansatsuken, viewers were invested in the time and effort the characters had poured into mastering the highest levels of their art. As impressive as it was for Assassin’s Fist to portray a martial art like Ansatsuken as something that could be real, it also connected with viewers from another, equally deep angle.
Assassin’s Fist Told An Emotionally Gripping Story
Being born out of a gaming franchise with a much more abstract story structure than Mortal Kombat or Tekken, Assassin’s Fist was a martial arts epic to the core and one about the tragedy of aggression and excessive ambition leading practitioners astray. Not unlike the light and dark sides of the Force in Star Wars and Anakin Skywalker‘s fall to the latter, Assassin’s Fist centered on the divergent methods of Ansatsuken training: Mu No Hado and the more aggressive Satsui No Hado. At first selling Ken and Ryu on the former as the “purer” method of developing skill in Hado techniques, Akira Koieyama’s Gouken swiftly begs Ken to avoid Satsui No Hado and to keep it hidden from Ryu. Gouken has good reason to fear his young students being seduced by the power of Satsui No Hado and its quicker path to generating Hado, seeing firsthand what it did to his brother Goki thirty years earlier.
Played by Gaku Space in flashbacks, Goki’s embrace of Satsui No Hado transformed an already unstable rising martial artist with a violent streak into a soulless killing machine. In contrast to Ken and Ryu’s exciting and upbeat training montages, Goki’s training in the wilderness after his exile from Gotetsu’s dojo is more akin to a demonic kind of viral infection. Lumbering out of his cavern home (and now played by Joey Ansah), Satsui No Hado makes Goki into one of the most formidable fighters on Earth, but at the cost of his humanity, transforming him into the murderous Akuma, whose only goal is to slay all who could challenge him as the world’s true master of Ansatsuken. Though Togo Igawa’s Gotetsu is defeated when Akuma returns, he dies with some happiness, knowing that he trained a student who succeeded in fully mastering the power of Satsui No Hado.
As Ken and Ryu progress in the Street Fighter movie and Ryu shows signs of being overcome by Satsui No Hado, Gouken’s knows his brother’s inevitable challenge will come soon, leading him to send his young students on their warrior’s pilgrimage and prepare to fight his brother to the death at last to spare Ryu Akuma’s deadly pursuit. Alongside Ken’s longstanding issues with his father and Ryu’s troubled inner spirit, Assassin’s Fist‘s story was one of what it really means to become a warrior. To Gouken, the greatest opponent one can ever face is themselves, and to Akuma, being able to defeat all challengers is the be-all and end-all of Ansatsuken. Though he imparts his vast wisdom to Ken and Ryu, Gouken could not pull his brother back from the darkness. Assassin’s Fist ends as their final confrontation is about to commence with Gouken all the while hoping that Ryu can fight off the demons that his brother could not.
Assassin’s Fist Had Audience Universality
What finally sealed the deal on the success of Assassin’s Fist was the fact that it was able to work on multiple levels for practically any demographic, and not just as one of the best fighting games. Gamers and Street Fighter fans had reason to cheer for a gaming franchise that had seemed all but impossible to do well in live-action hitting the bull’s eye in Assassin’s Fist. For general martial arts fans, Assassin’s Fist also held worth in treating a fictional martial art with the same care as one would accord real-world fighting styles, emphasizing the training as the centerpiece of the story. Just as importantly, it connected with its audience on an emotional level, whether invested in it as a video game player, a martial arts practitioner, or simply a general viewer.
In two and a half hours, Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist rescued the Street Fighter movie franchise with an excellent story and characters that resonated with viewers regardless of their experience or lack thereof with the games, and outstanding training and action sequences that felt real in a way that would’ve seemed impossible for a martial art involving fireballs and thirty-foot uppercuts. One can only hope that the Street Fighter: World Warrior series gets pulled off the shelf and greenlit. As a follow-up to the greatness of Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist with the same creative team involved, one can only imagine how much it would bring to the world of video game adaptations by the end of season 1.
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