review for Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li on AllMovie

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)
by Jeremy Wheeler review

There's something special about this underwhelming mess of a Street Fighter reboot that many cinematic cheese-lovers will find very appetizing. The fact is that The Legend of Chun-Li is not at all a good flick, but it's filled with so much cornball ineptitude that one would think some rather broken mad movie genius was behind it. Broken, because for all the movie's unintentional laughs, there are plenty more dull moments and barely inspired fight scenes to yawn at in between chuckling at poor voice-overs and hammy performances. In its own way, it is a fine follow-up to the orange-haired Van Damme original in that they're both bonkers, but while the 1994 effort took the cartoonish route, this reinvention tries hard to find a balance between nonsense and fairly grounded dramatics. Sadly, it's this kind of bipolarity that undoes the flick, even through the eyes of a bad movie lover. Simply put, if you are going to go full-tilt bananas, then, by all means, commit to it.

Largely, the big winner's circle in this stinker has to start with Chris Klein, the American Pie doofus who, at some point, thought it'd be a great idea to switch from his sensitive Keanu-clone persona to bootleg Jack Nicholson. From his first onscreen entrance to the finale of him leaping from a digital explosion, Klein raises the bar of suave overacting to a delicious degree. Also on the chopping block is lead Kristin Kreuk, who handles the combat scenes with vigor, but supplies a sloppy voice-over meant to connect the dots, yet only ends up connecting the laughs. Finally, fulfilling the trifecta of sorry performances is Neal McDonough as Bison, who's a far cry from the wide-eyed Raul Julia incarnation of years past, but thankfully, he made sure to give the character a junkshop Irish accent just to spice up the stupidity.

Through it all, one wishes that the filmmakers had just decided to go all-out crazy (à la DOA: Dead or Alive), or just not at all. To be sure, Asian audiences and gaming nuts will be sorely disappointed in how little of what they know and love ended up on the screen. Instead, they get a modern action film that at its best is a ho-hum distraction that doesn't seem to know how silly it comes off. Fight scenes, while admirable for shaking off the shaky-cam aesthetic of their big-screen brethren, neither inspire nor find a good balance between martial arts and FX-laden power punches. Instead, the film is just there. Sleep-inducing at times and giddily fun at others, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li needs to step up its game if it dares survive another installment. Hopefully the producers will realize just what kind of crummy movie gold the new incarnation of Chris Klein really is -- or they'll just simply do the right thing and hire a talented Asian director to finally do justice to what its built-in audience wants to see, in place of what they think general audiences will flock to.