Videogame adaptations have been a prominent things ever since the rise in popularity of videogames in the 90s, and they’ve also received the stigma of the fact that they tend to not turn out very well, though we’re starting to see an increase in good ones, populated by the fact that last year one of the best films to come out was Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, and this year we had a genuinely great adaptation of Sonic The Hedgehog.
But this is not a new thing – back in the day, the only chance you are getting a decent videogame adaptation was if you watched a lot of Anime, and even then it was a bit of a hit and miss job, which is why it stuns me that when they talk about the conversation on really good videogame adaptations, the subject of the day never comes up. I’m of course talking about Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist. Not the first Street Fighter adaptation.
Street Fighter has been adapted quite a number of times by quite a different number of directors and studios from various countries around the world. Street Fighter really has been one of the most adapted videogames of all time, receiving the questionable movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia, which I actually kind of like even though I know it’s terrible. The Chun Lee movie which was so awful because it had all the problems that the Street Fighter movie had but actually made it worse, and the various Anime which vary in quality in my personal opinion.
But Assassin’s Fist which came out in 2014 was an internet-based mini-series, though it got later released as a film on DVD and Blu-ray which I think is the absolute best way to see this. This was a fan project that got turned into a fully-fledged series after they received the blessing from CapCon for them to do so, probably one of CapCon’s wisest decisions to get the word out considering that it was coming at a time when Street Fighter was one of their only major franchises that they were still making games for. Now a lot of you might be thinking, ‘I don’t want to see a martial arts movie that’s based on a videogame franchise I only have a vague recollection of from decades ago.’ Well, I think I have five reasons why you should definitely take a chance on it even if you don’t think this is your thing.
1. The Fight Scenes All Have Meaning
Now, the one thing the original short that spawned Assassin’s Fist nailed was that it was a very impressive-looking fight scene with actors who really closely resembled their videogame counterparts. Seriously, it’s haunting how close Christian Howard is to Ken. But the fight scenes are very well-choreographed, which once again in this project was also the case. All the scenes are incredibly choreographed – these are some of the best live-action fight scenes I’ve ever seen. These guys were clearly well-trained, and they wanted to show it off in the best way possible. But more to the point, each fight scene has a meaning to it: it’s to show character development; a coming of age moment; the culmination of years of self-reflection. There’s a later moment in the story where Ryu and Ken are doing what is essentially a final exam and you can tell they’re pushing each other to their absolute limit just through the great choreography alone. Each fight scene has been well built up to and has an excellent reason to be in the film. It doesn’t feel like there was an actual quota to reach.
2. The Central Performances
I really like all the performers in Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist. It feels like everyone was giving an excellent performance in this one. Not only do they take the time to make sure they have actors who could do the fights and also look like their videogame counterparts, but they also made sure they could act like those characters. The chemistry between Mike Moh and Christian Howard really feels like what I’d imagine the chemistry between Ryu and Ken would be like, an absolute brotherly bond. And special mention should definitely go to Akira Koieyama who does an excellent role as Gôken, even if he probably looks the least like his counterpart. His performance really gets down the dread he feels of the inevitable clash that he will take part in, and the fear for what will essentially become his adoptive sons should they become too involved in what has essentially been the past that he failed to correct. I even really love the performances of the actors in the flashback sequences – these actors were really given excellent direction and you can really feel all the subtle nuances in their performances. Everyone involved feels like they’ve known each other for years and have real history together, in spite of the fact we don’t see it or gain an explanation; that’s how good the performances really are.
3. It Resists The Urge To Make Tons Of References
Here’s the thing. Many videogame films really feel the need to put in as many references out of nowhere to other aspects of the franchise, and at best they’re usually very restrained, say like in Pokémon: Detective Pikachu was an advert for The Pokémon League from the fourth generation games. But fan films often have a problem that they put in a ton of references for no rhyme or reason. Now, this is usually because they have a limited amount of time and they want to get out as much of the franchise that they can use as possible. Assassin’s Fist is wise in the sense that it doesn’t overly do this. For one thing, it reduces the cast – of in-game characters, there is only four: Ryu, Ken, Gôken and Akuma. There are not many much references to other characters in the franchise other than a brief reference to Dan which was kind of funny. There is not too much of a sense of trying to bring in all this aspect of the game that was necessary, and that’s sort of for the best. This is a very small, intimate story. As a result, you really get a sense that they want to get this story out, and then they’ll worry about bringing in other aspects of the franchise if they can go any further. It’s very interesting to see this level of restraint and it’s to the film’s benefit – it keeps just enough of the games to be recognisable but does not overly do it with it references to make sure it’s its own thing, something that Hollywood blockbusters could really benefit from.
4. It’s Thematically Well Thought-Out
It’s very hard to get across the basic idea of why this story would work based on the game alone. The game is essentially just a group of people from all over the world fighting in a tournament run by a shady organisation in order to eliminate the best street fighters in the world so that they can move forward toward global domination through various means that are never made entirely clear. Hard to translate, hence why it’s been difficult to do that. Assassin’s Fist actually is a prequel to these events. The creators wisely decided to focus purely on the story that is one of the inciting incidences for the main characters, Ryu and Ken. It focuses on their final year of training in the Japanese countryside with their master Gôken and how they’re going to use this as their self-improvement to go out into the world, whilst coupled with the story of Gôken’s past and how his failure to save his adopted brother from himself turned him into the demon fighter Akuma, the guilt that has given him, and their inevitable clash. Fans of the game series know where this is going and as a result it feels like you’re watching a tragic retelling of a story which you know will end badly but are begging for something to change.
Even with that knowledge, this film works really well because they’ve got the themes down perfectly. It’s about regressing the past, learning to conquer yourself before you can conquer others, confronting things rather than running away from them, and it also tells us about the family you make vs the family you’re born in. A lot of the themes revolve around brotherly bonds and fathers and sons, and you can really tell that all the characters that care for each other do so through very subtle meaning. There are all sorts of mini moments which really show that they had a clear thematic idea about where they were going with this story and wanting to get it down; it’s a very focused film in that regard. As a result, it really does a brilliant job.
5. It’s Genuinely Emotional
Yeah, I know, that sounds weird about a Street Fighter movie of all things but this one is genuinely emotional – there are moments where you feel really elated for a character and really sad for them, it really will hit you. This one does an excellent job just telling the story of two groups of three people and the man that connects them both, and it does a decent job really getting down why this training is important for Ryu and Ken, why Gôken is so protective of them and preparing them to face the world now that they’ve become men and are preparing to leave him and the dojo. You really get a sense that this is the most important event in Gôken’s life and he’s contemplating on everything that’s come before him. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is a massive gut punch and makes me really wish I got a chance to see the sequel Street Fighter: Resurrection which has still not had any official release in the UK yet. Get on that, Capcon.
What’s more, the cinematography and score are also both excellent – the cinematography in this film actually kind of makes the environment itself a character, it almost feels like it has personality. I mean, I could go on forever about how they did an excellent job with the costume design that worked so well; how even the characters wearing wigs makes them look very much like their videogame counterparts (though Akuma’s does kind of look ridiculous on occasion); how this film does an excellent job with lighting, but I really want you to see it for yourself.
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