Video game movies don't exactly have the best track record. Of the maybe dozen or so that I can recall (not including anime adaptations) one would be hard pressed to find one that can really be called good. Even 1995's Mortal Kombat, which I consider to be the best video game movie ever made, has so many flaws that I would hesitate to say that it is anything other than okay. But Mortal Kombat, while arguably the best video game movie, is not my favorite video game movie. No, that honor belongs to a train-wreck from 1994 called Street Fighter.
For the uninitiated, Street Fighter is a series of fighting games, wherein a diverse cast of martial artists beat the snot out of each other in a tournament hosted by a powerful warlord--who happens to have psychic powers. Despite its silly premise, Street Fighter is one of the longest-running and most successful fighting game franchises of all time. Way back in the early 1990's Street Fighter II or one of it's many, many iterations could be found in just about any arcade, movie theater or store that had space for an arcade machine. Truly, those were the glory days for every boy who loved fighting games.
By 1994, the franchise was so popular that someone in Hollywood thought that it would be a great idea to bring Street Fighter to the silver screen. Presumably, said someone never saw the abomination known as 1993's Super Mario Bros.. In any event, the film was greenlit, and audiences were subjected to Belgian action icon Jean-Claude Van Damme pretending to be All-American Colonel William Guile.
And ten-year-old me ate it up.
Now as an adult, I can look back and see just how awful this movie is, and how painful the experience must have been for my Dad when he took me to the theater. There is just so much wrong with this movie, from Van Damme's laughable attempts at speech to the plot that somehow manages to make less sense than the game's. The movie fails on pretty much every level--especially as an adaptation! The characters in the movie may share the same names as their counterparts from the games, but have almost nothing else in common.
Plenty of others have picked this movie and its flaws apart far better than I have, and there's nothing I can really add in that regard. But I'm not here to talk about why this movie sucks; I'm here to talk about why I still love it. And there are two simple reasons that I love this movie despite its many, many flaws: Zangief and Raul Julia's performance as M. Bison.
Zangief is one of those characters who is nothing like his game counterpart. In the games, Zangief is a Soviet professional wrestler who spends his free time wrestling bears for kicks. Despite being a Soviet in the early 90's, he's actually one of the more noble characters. When he's not crushing people's heads like sparrow eggs between his thighs, that is.
Film Zangief, however, is one of evil M. Bison's henchmen. Though not actually evil, he still serves as Bison's muscle for most of the film. But besides serving as a henchman, he also serves as comic relief. And he is brilliant. Seriously, almost all of the movie's funniest scenes involve Zangief. Like when he and E. Honda duke it out in a model city, complete with Godzilla sound effects.
Or there's his earnest confusion at learning that Bison is actually a Bad Guy.
But for me, Zangief's Crowning Moment of Funny is this bit towards the middle of the film. General Bison and arms dealer Sagat are about to have a Mexican Standoff when bumbling con-men Ken and Ryu (who are trying to infiltrate Bison's organization at the behest of Guile) stumble into the room. Unbeknownst to them, reporter Chun-Li has rigged a truck with a bomb and sent it to blow the villains sky high. She even broadcast a message to make sure the villains knew that death was on its way. And Zangief's reaction? Priceless.
I like to think that that line wasn't in the script, and that everyone's reactions happened in real time.
But as much as I love Zangief, the real reason that I love this movie is Raul Julia's M. Bison.
Now, while the filmmakers may not have been able to decide what kind of movie they were making (Action-Comedy-Drama?), Raul Julia knew exactly what kind of movie this was and decided to make the most of it. After all, it's not like this was going to be the worst movie he ever made.
Julia's performance is so balls-to-the-wall over the top that words scarcely do it justice. He plays Bison like an escaped mental patient that has thoroughly convinced himself that he's a Bond villain. And really, there's no other way to play a character like that. We're talking about a gun-runner with delusions of grandeur that uses a Street Fighter arcade stick to control his base defenses.
There's a lot to love about how much fun Raul Julia was having in the role, but his best part comes during the third act. After surviving Chun-Li's attempt to assassinate him, Bison has her captured and brought to his chambers. He gives her a tour of his lair (complete with a fireplace shaped like a skull) and dons the world's most badass leisure suit while Chun-Li explains why she wanted to kill him in the first place. She explains that many years ago, Bison had raided her village and killed her father. Bison's response was so amazing that TV Tropes named a page after it.
Now that is classy. This guy has done so many murderous rampages that he doesn't even remember setting the heroine on her journey. Good times.
Despite the awesomeness of Raul Julia and Zangief, Street Fighter is still a bad movie. A lot of people (myself included) would perhaps argue that Street Fighter crosses that magical threshold of badness where it becomes good again. It's certainly an enjoyably bad movie, which is rare enough in this day in age. But enjoyably bad is still bad, and Street Fighter is most certainly bad.
Still, I can't bring myself to hate this movie, even though it sucks. Every time I watch it, I'm reminded of a younger, less cynical me that was just excited to see his favorite video game on the big screen. And sometimes, that's all that matters.