Source: 20th Century Fox
Powerful forces are converging on the streets of Bangkok. They are warriors, some of whom possess extraordinary abilities, all of whom are determined to see their side prevail. Some fight for us; the others for unlimited power. Now, they are preparing for the ultimate battle - of terror versus beauty, light versus darkness, and good versus evil.
The forces of darkness are led by Bison (Neal McDonough), a crime boss of seemingly limitless power, and whose past holds a shocking secret. Bison's syndicate, Shadaloo, is taking over the slums of the Thai capital, a task overseen by Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan), a massively built enforcer and killer. Also in Bison's employ is the assassin Vega (Taboo, of the group The Black Eyed Peas), a masked talon-wielding warrior, whose weapon is tailor-made for slashing and stabbing attacks. Bison's attache is the beautiful but deadly Cantana (Josie Ho).
As Bison instigates a wave of violence in the slum districts, grabbing power and land no matter what the costs to its residents, a team of heroes emerges. Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) is a half-Caucasian/half-Asian beauty who gave up a life of privilege to become a street fighter, battling for those who cannot fight for themselves. Her kung fu master, Gen (Robin Shou), once a feared criminal, now fights for the forces of good. Equally determined to stop Bison is Interpol cop Charlie Nash (Chris Klein), who has tracked the crime boss all over the world, and Nash's partner, gangland homicide detective Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood).
These vivid characters and their world are long known to fans of the iconic videogame "Street Fighter," which Capcom released in 1987. At the time, the 1-2 player game set a new precedent in two-dimensional interactive entertainment. In 1991, Capcom released to arcades, "Street Fighter II," featuring new characters and fighting styles.
The games' action and imaginatively staged fight scenes are a natural fit for a big screen translation, a fact embraced by noted producer and Hyde Park Entertainment chairman Ashok Amritraj - but only after his children, then aged 13 and 10, brought "Street Fighter" to his attention. "They really loved the game and told me I should make a movie based on it," says Amritraj. "I have them to thank for STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI."
Retaining the property's action and adventure elements, producers Amritraj and Patrick Aiello wanted to add emotional depth and characterizations to the games' rich world, colorful characters, and web of loyalties and betrayals. To that end, they hired then-newcomer Justin Marks to pen the screenplay, and noted filmmaker Andrzej Bartkowiak to direct.
Now one of the industry's hottest screenwriters, Marks is a longtime videogame enthusiast and a self-described member of the "Street Fighter" generation. He makes special note of the franchise's storied history: "I think the game will always be popular because it is the first 'social' videogame, bringing people into the arcades," Marks explains. "Up until the release of 'Street Fighter,' people played games in their homes, on personal computers, or via text-based games like Atari."
Bartkowiak, formerly an acclaimed cinematographer ("The Verdict," "Terms of Endearment"), is a specialist in helming action films and high-octane thrillers, like "Romeo Must Die" and "Cradle 2 the Grave." Working in a big-action-film template, Bartkowiak infuses STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI with a gritty realism, albeit with a twist. "I wanted the movie to look anything but plain," he elaborates. "I was looking for a look that was a little exaggerated at times - a kind of heightened reality with saturated colors. Edgy and a little extended."
The look necessitated that the film's explosive martial arts battles be mostly practical, with CG used in a few instances to enhance the fights, and for environmental extensions. Renowned action choreographer Dion Lam ("The Matrix" trilogy, "Spider-Man 2") worked closely with Bartkowiak to create signature set pieces designed to please "Street Fighter" fans, as well as action-movie audiences new to the franchise.
While Bartkowiak oversaw the main unit that shot the film's dramatic sequences, Lam presided over a team of martial arts and stunt experts that put the cast through their fighting paces. The two units, while producing very different kinds of scenes, worked together seamlessly. "It was important that the characters be consistent from the dramatic scenes to the action scenes," says Bartkowiak. "So, Dion and I developed an individual fighting style for each character. We worked out the fights very carefully before the action unit began work." Producer Ashok Amritraj likens the two units in action to a "choreographed dance," adding that "Andrzej was the 'yin' to Dion's 'yang.'"
One of Lam's star pupils was Kristin Kreuk, who portrays Chun-Li. Kreuk, best known for her role as Lana Lang on the hit television series "Smallville," reported to the set weeks before the start of principal photography, to embark upon a rigorous regimen of martial arts training. Lam devised impressive moves and fights that challenged her each day. "It was a lot of wire work, dives, front kicks, side kicks and fan kicks outward and inward," says Kreuk. "Because it was impossible for me to look like the videogame incarnation of Chun-Li, I wanted to build Chun-Li's strength from the inside. I mean, if she's going up against the likes of Bison and Balrog, she's not going to out-muscle them. She has to have internal strength and fortitude."
While Kreuk was a relative newcomer to the world of "street fighting," her on-screen "master," Robin Shou, as Gen, is an action film veteran and longtime martial arts practitioner. STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI is not Shou's first go-around with a videogame adaptation; he brought to life "Mortal Kombat's" Liu Kang in the 1995 box-office hit.
Michael Clarke Duncan was another apt pupil of Lam's. For a fight scene between Duncan's Balrog and famed Singapore-based actor Edmund Chen, as Chun-Li's father, Xiang, Duncan eschewed the use of a stuntman. Duncan was perhaps uniquely qualified to embody Balrog's size, physical prowess, voice and attitude. It might even seem like Duncan was destined to take on the role, having frequently played and enjoyed the "Street Fighter" game. "But the only character I used [in the game] was Balrog," says the actor. "He was always my favorite - and he looked a little like me!"
Neal McDonough enjoyed the physical preparation for his role as Bison - "Dion choreographed some fantastic moves for me," he says - as part of his process in making the character come alive. McDonough strove to make Bison realistic and powerful, but always fun to watch. "Bison is an entertaining villain who enjoys what he is, and what he has. And that is very entertaining to play as an actor."
"But what really makes Bison a great villain is the way he unravels," adds McDonough, providing a clue to the character's arc.
Chris Klein, as Interpol agent Charlie Nash, wasn't required to learn high-flying martial arts moves, but he did undergo training with guns, which became an integral part of his rehearsal period. "Charlie is known [from the game] for shooting it up when the going gets tough, with his Walther P99," explains Klein. "You're never sure what he's going to do next, and that was a lot of fun to play." Many fans of the franchise see Nash as its unsung hero, one who is inextricably tied to its mythology. "Charlie is out there, on the razor's edge, far from where he came," says Justin Marks.
To bring down Bison and his vast syndicate, Nash joins forces with Bangkok homicide detective Maya Sunee. Maya is an American - a foreigner working with the Thai, for reasons that remain mysterious. What isn't a mystery is the strong chemistry that marks her partnership with Nash - and Moon Bloodgood's delight in taking on the role. She particularly enjoyed her special weapons training with an M-16 automatic and a Beretta. "I was actually getting paid to go to Thailand and practice with police officers," she marvels. "I was in heaven." Bloodgood also visited Bangkok prisons and spent time with an undercover detective.
The filmmakers' decision to shoot STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI in Bangkok was, among other things, a nod to the videogames, which were also set in the Thai capital. More importantly, Bangkok was a perfect fit for the film's story, characters and action. "Bangkok is unlike any other city in the world," notes Marks. "In some ways, it's a modern-day version of the Wild West, so it's a great place for Bison to set up shop. And it's where his story lives - it's a homecoming for him, and very personal."
As director Bartkowiak wrapped post-production on STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI, he took time to reflect on his hopes for the film. "I want audiences to enjoy the film as a ride, because it's designed to be that kind of movie. It's definitely for fans of the franchise, but I also wanted it be more than a typical videogame-to-film adaptation. The characters and emotions will bring in new fans who don't know the game."
For one filmmaker/gamer- screenwriter Marks - the film is nothing less than "a dream come true." He adds: "As someone who grew up on the franchise, I am proud of it not just as a writer, but as a fan."