Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist (2014)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/9/14
Director: Joey Ansah
Cast: Akira Koieyama, Christian Howard, Mike Moh, Hyunri Lee, Joey Ansah

For reasons that still defy explanation, Capcom attempted to bring the world of "Street Fighter" to the big screen TWICE, and failed miserably both times. To complete their humiliation, it took a fan-made web series called "Assassin's Fist" to actually realize the material and give the fans what they wanted to see. Seems like a no-brainer, right? "Let's make a martial arts film about the two main protagonists in the game. No one's tried that before..." And yet, Capcom just doesn't seem to get it. To them, it's like "Street Fighter" isn't about fighting at all, which is really hard to wrap your head around. In fact, they even mentioned in interviews that they wanted the first "Street Fighter" (1994) film to play out like a James Bond adventure!

Regardless, "Assassin's Fist" is an admirable adaptation that remains true to the source material and gives fans what they've always yearned for: the tale of Ken and Ryu. The story follows the friendship and rivalry between two martial artists, Ken (Christian Howard) and Ryu (Mike Moh), who are learning the dying art of Ansatsuken from master Gouken (Akira Koieyama). Ken is an aggressive and competitive American with a short temper, while Ryu is an emotionally guarded Japanese orphan who is haunted by inner demons. Much of the story revolves around Gouken's past and his brother Goki, who was consumed by the dark arts and transformed into the ferocious Akuma (Joey Ansah). The same tragic story is repeating itself with Ken and Ryu, and soon Akuma will come to destroy them all.

Director Joey Ansah and his team have put together a remarkable piece of work with an extremely limited budget. All of the players are young and athletic, and quite competent with their fighting scenes. Huh. How novel, using actual martial artists in a martial arts film. I wonder why Capcom never thought of that? The writing is thoughtful and smart, and the story was clearly written by people who are passionate about the material and care about the characters. While this could have easily turned into a fan service film full of self-referencing in-jokes, they wisely keep it focused on the drama and relationships between the characters. The acting is also surprisingly good, and all of the actors hit the right emotional notes with reverence and humility. The film dances on the edge of homo-erotica with its overabundance of oiled up, shirtless, strapping young lads with enviable physiques, but there is a solitary female character named Sayaka (Hyunri Lee) who adds a welcome breath of feminine grace and emotional balance to the story. She's absolutely wonderful, but is also responsible for driving a wedge between Gouken and Goki.

Low budget production values aside, the biggest problem with the film is its two and a half hour running time and its sluggish pacing, which quickly becomes tedious. Granted, it was initially shot as twelve separate web episodes, so perhaps it's unfair to watch it in one sitting and judge it as a whole. While the fight choreography and execution is quite good, it's cheapened by time shifting editing tricks that speed up and slow down various elements. Whether this enhances the impact of the action scenes is debatable, but I found it to be deceptive and distracting. The music score is effective, but not particularly memorable, as are the visual effects. It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here, as there's already talk about adapting "The World Warrior" storyline with Guile and Chun Li added to the cast. It's even rumored that Scott Adkins was approached for the role of Guile, which would add some considerable star power and martial arts talent to the project. Let's just hope Ansah and his team stay true to the material.