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May 27, 2012

How to Make a Good Street Fighter Movie


I fancy myself as a writer, but it’s not often that I dream about any of my stories, or anything I could possibly write about.  (Unless I just wrote about my gruesome, humiliating deaths, but that’d get boring after a while.)  But one night, I had a flash of insight.  I could see something that could propel me to the highest echelon of the literary world.

And then I woke up, and forgot about it.  And when I slept again, I started dreaming about Street Fighter.



It was when I woke up that morning that I started to wonder: “Why isn’t there a good Street Fighter movie?”  Or to be more specific, a universally-approved SF movie.  While I wouldn’t call it “good” by any stretch of the imagination, I found the 90s movie to be an enjoyable (if moronic) romp with a fair bit of spirit.  The Legend of Chun-Li, meanwhile, was a soul-sucking abyss.  Boring, inaccurate, clichéd, and embarrassing for everyone involved -- actors and audience alike -- it’s become a cautionary tale on why you don’t make movies out of video games.

On one hand, a SF movie should be easy to make.  People gather for a tournament.  They fight.  Military guys go up against supervillains.  Fireballs are thrown, answers are found in the heart of battle, roll credits.  Simple.  Make it about the fighting, not about the military.  Be decisive about how you use the spiritual aspects of the franchise (fireballs, hundred hands, etc.); don’t try to make it realistic yet feature a subplot about a child born by sacrificing your good half and winning the climactic battle by shooting bad CG effects.  Treat the series with respect and decorum, but have a little fun with the proceedings; this is a series that now features a 500-pound karate man that can blast you into the stratosphere.


On the other hand, a SF movie presents a lot of challenges.  Who do you put in the movie, out of the dozens of fighters available?  How do you make some of the fancier moves viable and at least vaguely entertaining in live-action?  How do you pound out a plot when Capcom itself is pretty meh on the subject?  How do you add something meaningful to the characters without distorting them into, say, news reporters or pianists out for blood?  How do you create something that appeases the fans, but doesn’t alienate people who aren’t entrenched in the franchise -- and therefore, earn those sweet, sweet Bison Dollars? 

I have a few theories.  And I stress theories -- these aren’t exactly foolproof guarantors of success, but I think there’s at least a little merit to them.  After all, the last thing I want is for SF fans to inherit a big problem. 


Man, that movie was painful.

Step One: Characters

This would be a movie that could thaw the hearts of twice-wronged fans; this would be a movie that they want and would approve of.  Given that, every major player needs to be in the right place.

Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li and Guile are the four main characters.  No exceptions.  Likewise, Ryu is the main character.  That’s the way Capcom’s playing it, and that’s the way the movie should, too.  It’s not 100% his movie and no one else matters, but he’s given his fair share of the focus.  The Four Kings are also necessary -- Bison, Sagat, Vega, and Balrog.  Bison’s the villain, Sagat is Ryu’s rival, and Vega and Balrog make trouble with the rest of the Shadaloo force.  Zangief, Blanka, Dhalsim and Honda would be there too -- gotta have someone to fight -- but they wouldn’t necessarily drive the plot.  


Cammy, Fei Long, Dee Jay, and T. Hawk would maybe get a brief fight in or a cameo, or a slight reference, but that’s it.  Everyone else is banned from screen time.  Maybe you’d see a picture of Dan in a flyer, or Guy and Cody in a quick shot on the streets, or Hugo on TV, but there needs to be a tight focus on the characters that matter.  That (among other things) was a fault of the ’94 film -- shoving in a ton of characters, but making their overall impact negligible.  Fans don’t need to see every character, because they have the games; newbies could get overwhelmed, and plot-wise the focus could get diluted.  If Legend of Chun-Li did anything right, it was to hold back on shoehorning Birdie and Sodom into the run time.  

Step Two: Plot

All’s well in New York City, and its dwellers are enjoying another cool night in the big apple…that is, unto Shadaloo forces start air-dropping en masse.  Wreaking havoc and corralling citizens, it’s not long before the overwhelming Shadaloo numbers take the city.  Leading the charge -- with his fellow Kings by his side -- Bison stands tall amongst his beaten foes, making sure to give one rebellious New Yorker a taste of Psycho Power.

Flash forward a few months, and Bison’s control over New York -- which he’s renamed Shadaloo City (or something evil like that) -- remains undisputed.  Repelling enemy forces by the thousands, he has his men construct new buildings throughout the city.  While the world’s governments watch with frustration, and the people grow ever more fearful of the name “Shadaloo,” Bison makes an announcement: he’s hosting a tournament.  Fighters from all over the world will be permitted to enter and compete against one another (including against Bison himself), all for the chance to earn a massive cash prize…and, as the dictator goads, a chance to unravel Shadaloo from the inside out.    Wary but hungry for glory, it’s not long before fighters assemble and head into the city -- for money, for justice, and to a rare few, a good fight.


Bison’s real plan, of course, is to harness the energy -- the very souls -- of the incoming fighters and use it to power his Psycho Drive, a machine that will allow him to become an immortal, invincible god.  Because…you know, power and insanity, and nothing’s ever good enough for these supervillain types.  With his tech in place, Bison can remotely tell if there’s a strong fighter coming into town (like Ryu) or just some chump soldier about to engage in a mission (like Sawada), and have his soldiers off them from afar.  So no cheating on that front; only fighters are allowed in.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of overlap between strong fighters and duty-bound soldiers.  Guile and Chun-Li are sent in as representatives of their respective organizations, and quickly decide to work together -- outside of a clash here and there -- to stop Bison.  Ryu’s heading there to fight a good fight (and save the world by happenstance, maybe), and Ken’s along for the ride too.  Whatever the case, they’ll have to prove themselves and save the day the only way they know how: with some good ol’ kung-fu fighting.

Step Three: Setting

It’s New York City.  Moving on…

…Okay, it’s a little more complicated than that.  Believing that the environment draws out a distinctive reaction from fighters (i.e. more power to harvest for his Psycho Drive),  Bison’s had his men litter Shadaloo City with special arenas --synthetic creations that mimic a fighter’s homeland.  Inevitably, there WILL be actual fighting in a street for once, but the idea is to create “stages” that make nods to the game series.  A Japanese-styled arena for Honda (complete with bath house!), Balrog’s casino, Dhalsim’s…elephant garage, the works.  Of course, not all the fighting will take place in these arenas; sometimes there just has to be a back-alley brawl, or a clash atop a building.  What’s important is that these areas are diverse and vibrant; much like any SF stage, they’re pleasant to look at but don’t get in the way of the actual fighting. 


Also, I would give any director fifteen million bonus points if they decided to set the movie in the nineties.  Because…hey, why the hell not?

Step Four: Music

The themes we’ve been listening to for twenty years now, given a shot of steroids from Iron Man composer Ramin Djawadi.  In case you didn’t know, he made a song like this.


Imagine hearing Guile’s theme set to the same style, exploding in your face like a flash grenade as the family man makes his stand.  Or alternatively, have a gentler version of Ken’s theme play when he’s reminiscing about Eliza.  Even a few notes from the song would be fine -- just enough for a fan to perk up his ears, and enthrall the average movie-goer.  And the minutes leading into the end credits, unconditionally, would feature an orchestrated version of the Street Fighter 2 intro theme.   Extended a bit, slowed down, and given all the bombast you’d expect from, say, a John Williams piece. 

Step Five: Tone and Depth

Street Fighter is not a series to be taken too seriously (take notes, Legend of Chun-Li).  As many of you know, this is a series full of wacky characters and happenings -- people who should be dead suddenly coming back to life, spinning kicks played straight, wrestler after wrestler after wrestler, and anything related to Blanka.  There should be a spirit to it, a sort of tongue-in-cheek air about things.  A bit of comedy here and there, an aside glance or two, something to inject the levity we expect from the series.

What I’m getting at is that the movie should have the same general feel as one of the Marvel superhero movies.  Iron Man goes up against a guy with no shirt and laser whips, but that’s never played detrimentally.  There’s a spirit of humor throughout, BUT it pays respect to the source material as it should.  In the same sense that a red and gold suit of metal is shown as a viable weapon (superior tech, if you will), so too should a Hadouken be treated as an acceptable commonality. 



Of course, that’s not to say it should be a complete farce.  Iron Man may have featured a man flying around in metal pajamas and a tie-flipping Jeff Bridges, but it arguably offered an examination of what it meant to be a hero, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and overcoming one’s weaknesses and vices for the sake of others.  This movie should (and would) do the same.  Besides the obvious need to adhere to canon -- Ryu as a con-artist is unforgivable -- there has to be something that gives it merit and gravitas.  It’d be a movie based on a video game, but that shouldn’t be any excuse to treat it as a lesser product; fleeting as it may be, it still has a story.  It shouldn’t just be one cool fight after another (though that’d certainly help).  Who are these people?  Why should we care about them?  So what if there’s a supervillain on the loose?  What makes all these people tick?  Why is fighting so important?  These are all questions that this hypothetical movie would have to answer.  If it can’t, then it’s shallow and hardly better than the games they’re based on.    

The movie needs to show what it’s like to be dedicated to fighting -- something that Ryu in a lead role could provide.  What’s it like traveling from place-to-place, living only for the next battle?  How does he survive from day to day?  What has he had to sacrifice in order to adhere to that lifestyle -- a home, a family, a job, friends?  What is it that he’s gained -- that any street fighter has gained -- from putting their faith in their fists?  It’s a chance to examine the real-world applications of such a lifestyle, which can be used for both a few laughs or for some meaningful questions.    Similarly, the characters could play off each other; Ken’s millionaire playboy lifestyle (and in the movie, a sense of practicality and pragmatism) could offer a contrast -- Ken has things Ryu may never have, but the reverse is also true.  The same goes for Ryu and Sagat; Ryu could show the light side of street fighting, and Sagat, while not necessarily evil, can show just how easy it is to fall from grace.  Guile, Chun-Li, and Bison can all play off each other, as the military-minded folks motivated by revenge, justice, or power.  And in spite of their lesser roles, the other fighters could contribute something as well.  They, like everyone else, can help answer the movie’s main question: what does it mean to be a street fighter?


The end result should be obvious.  Some people will see the movie and think, “That’s it!  I’m quitting my job and becoming a drifting karate man/wrestler!”  Others will see the movie and think, “Oh man…I had no idea Ryu’s life was so sad and empty…”  It should be a movie that engages people, provoking them into asking their own questions.  The fights themselves will be important (as they should be), but it’s those questions that’ll keep the movie and the SF mythos fresh on viewers’ minds.

Although…

Step Six: The Fights

You knew this was coming, right?  I mean, come on…as if Vega and Zangief would resort to diplomacy to settle their disputes.

First of all, shaky-cam and Zack Snyder slow-mo are kept to a minimum.  People want to be able to see the fights.  People want the fights to be quick and effective, not slllllllllllllloooooooooooowwwwwwed doooooooooooooown then spedupreallyreallyfastholycow.  The same applies to excessive CG and 3D effects; it’s all right to show things like a Hadouken or Yoga Flame, but I don’t want to see bodies going all Jar Jar Binks on me.  The fights need to have a sort of visceral nature to them; they need to be crafted so that we feel every punch and kick.  You know, something like this.


Each character’s fighting style and strategy has to be reflected.  Consider Ryu’s stance versus Ken’s stance in the games; both have the expected bounce, but Ryu’s is slower and calmer, while Ken’s moves at a faster tempo -- he has more of a spirit to him.  Nuances like that should be reflected, from stances to fighting styles.  Zangief’s a wrestler that wants to get close to you and grapple, and show off his iron body.  Chun-Li’s got those rapid kicks that batter anyone that underestimates her or her resolve.  Honda can close the distance in a half-second with a hot-blooded charge.  Guile keeps his guard up, but isn’t afraid to bust out his spinning backfist, rolling sobat, and of course his Flash Kick.  Generally speaking, there should be a mix of those fantastic elements and realistic ones.


Also, weapons and special equipment are not to be used except by Vega and random Shadaloo soldiers.  You’d think this would be obvious, but considering that we’ve had Balrog using a rocket launcher and Bison using hoverboots, I just thought I’d make that clear.

Step Seven: The Actual Movie Stuff

I’ll be the first to admit that this is where I stumble most.  The nuances behind a story are what I excel in crafting, but when it comes to a movie’s particulars I’m out of my depth.  I will say this, though: personally, I wouldn’t mind if the guys behind Kick-Ass handled the movie.

I found that movie to be surprisingly good (earning a strange look from my mom when I admitted “It was probably the best movie I’ve seen in a while).  It was a good mix of action, comedy, and drama; while I haven’t read the comic book, the fact that these people could create an enjoyable (and presumably accurate) adaption makes me think that my faith wouldn’t be misplaced. 



 So who would play the street fighters?  My answer is a resounding “I dunno.”  The obvious qualifiers would have to be “can fight” -- though I guess they’d make use of stunt doubles in some cases -- and “can act” but I suspect there are a lot of particulars that need to be ironed out.  Preferably, the actors should match the character’s nationalities (Ryu and Chun-Li should be Japanese and Chinese, or at worst someone of Eastern descent), but I suppose it wouldn’t be a total deal-breaker if they weren’t.   

This whole section is tentative, so I’ll leave it to you readers -- and various dreamers across the net --to make your suggestions.  Perhaps Morgan Freeman playing Blanka would be a good choice…

Step Eight: Franchise Baiting

Hollywood gets a lot of flak, but in the end it can’t be helped; it’s a business more so than a creative outlet.  Plenty of people want bankable names that can bring people in, and use it as a foundation for a fanbase.  Street Fighter, by virtue of its recognizable and much-adored name, shows promise.  And with the right moves, we fans could have a franchise that sees a sequel or two.

There’s a reason that I suggested a limit on the characters introduced in this movie; they have to save something for the sequel.   If Cammy, Fei Long, Dee Jay and T. Hawk don’t get their dues in this movie, the next one can put them closer to the main four.  Threads lightly touched upon in the first movie -- how far a fighter fan fall, and the darkness lurking inside Ryu -- can manifest into Akuma being the main villain of the second movie.  With Street Fighter 4 taking place between 2 (memories which this movie is designed to invoke) and the vaguely-distant 3, it’s a chance to show the motion from one canon to the next…though hopefully, movie-makers will have the sense to stop before realizing that it’s time to put Necro and Oro on the silver screen.


What’s important, though, is that the first movie is good.  It has to offer something that’d satisfy fans, but not utterly alienate the average movie-goer.  It has to be something with spectacle, but a level of depth that the games haven’t focused on conveying.  It needs to show respect to the source material and viewers alike; it needs to blend the real and the fantastic; most of all, it needs to be FUN.

That’s not TOO much to ask, is it Hollywood?  So…that means you’re ready to give me money, right?  Contact me on Twitter when you’re ready to pound out the details.  Lord knows I got plenty of ideas  to milk…

5 comments:

  1. Now I want to watch this hypothetical movie.

    Have you ever read the screenwriter book Save the Cat?

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    1. I have not -- I've never had an interest in movie-making, as I suspect it would lead to some involvement in the Hollywood quagmire. Although I suppose it couldn't hurt to give the book a look...

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  2. You know what, this is actually a really good and well thought out idea but I think it's wasted on street fighter. Even if you did manage to somehow make it, then the producers, studios and of course almighty Capcom would immediately try to get their hands in the pie, ruining the idea.

    What you should do, instead, is use this idea to set up something wholly your own. That would kick ass and be well...way easier.

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    Replies
    1. That's...actually a really good point. While I came up with the idea for the sake of pleasing fans first and foremost, if Capcom did get involved (especially the Capcom of late), it could be...well, problematic.

      Maybe it'd behoove me to make my own story.

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  3. Hahaha, problematic doesn't even come near it man. Try watching your idea get screwed up the ass until you can't even recognize it.

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