Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist
This movie review was written under duress.
My best friend (and wayback Street Fighter sparring partner) Will of Will's Free Swim has been assailing me with near daily letters ever since the announcement that CapCom had greenlighted a (non-shitty) live-action Street Fighter web movie.
Will dared me to review the web series in the unlikely event that it didn't suck.
And here we are.
First off, the full series can be freely viewed at Machinma's Youtube Channel, and I was surprised at how well it was done. I haven't watched them all yet, but the general plot revolves around the Street Fighter universe's principal hero, Ken -- and his loyal sidekick Ryu.
They start out in a dojo together, and slowly learn the martial arts from -- I dunno, some guy who looks like that one guy from 'The Blue Oyster Cult' except he's Asian. Their progress takes a few years, and viewers will be treated to Ken and Ryu's proficiency at kicking things. The plot starts kicking, however, when they start to learn how to use hado -- the chi-like power that allows for throwing fireballs, and dragon punches that fly straight into the air.
Immediately, viewers will realize that the makers of this series love the source material, and they're taking the conception and execution of that material dead seriously. That alone should get people to watch the series. It wouldn't matter if you were a Street Fighter fan or not -- if you like martial arts movies, you'll like the story line.
Also, the series feels unrushed. There's no sense that we've got to hurry up and get the character's described, plot moving and done; roll credits. This really shouldn't be called a Street Fighter movie -- it's a series, which is great because this format feels more amenable to real storytelling. Television (or web) series are to movies what novels are to short stories. With more time, we can tell a more compelling story.
And yet, I came into the series thinking it would be ridiculous to watch. Why? Well, as a longtime Street Fighter player, it seems that the character bios were never more than filler -- just interesting enough to gin up interest. Also, many of the players were very much derivative of other characters. The main 'bad guy' of the Street Fighter universe (M. Bison) is a straight ripoff from another anime, and another character was an obvious likeness of Mike Tyson!
So, to treat the Street Fighter universe this seriously (when the franchise owners couldn't be bothered) seemed (to me) doomed to be silly. Also, some of the 'fighting moves' are so outlandishly impossible that I wondered how they could be filmed without looking ridiculous. All the backstories of the character's felt ad hoc -- "Hey, someone is asking about the character's history... I don't know, make something up?"
Well, the producers of Assassin's Fist handled these issues by not going overboard with the special effects, which was very smart. The fireball fighting attack ("hadoken") actually looks good. The two main actors have real martial arts experience and the physiques to back them up. And ... they can both act!
Holy crap, folks -- a Street Fighter series that's good!
The dialogue between Ryu and Ken feels natural and in tune with the franchise's past narratives. Ryu is serious, humble and calm, while Ken is more impulsive, snarky with a dash of arrogance. (Ken: "Hold up -- if I hir Ryu and kill him I won't be held responsible?") There's a little bromance there, and it works without being sappy.
So how would I rate this web series?
I'm going to finish watching the remaining episodes; I think that sums up my feelings.