Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

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“Street-fighting Tears”

I usually have no problem going on about GWG movies at some length. Hell, I even managed 750 words on DOA: Dead or Alive, and for that one, I had to re-read my review to remember what it was about. But when I got to the end of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, my first thought was, “What the hell am I going to write about this?” It seemed likely the only way I’d get to 750 words, would be by repeating the title one hundred and twenty-five times. For the film is ill-conceived, poorly cast, badly written and directed by the man who managed to make Jet Li look bad, not once but twice, in Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave.

I am not a difficult man to satisfy, especially in the area of Hollywood action heroine flicks. I’m so pleased they are making the effort at all, that as long as it is in focus, and the dialogue largely audible, I am generally a happy camper. Not so here, because SF:TLoC-L [I trust you appreciate how I am not gratuitously padding my word-count?] commits the cardinal sin for the genre. It’s boring – to the extent that I actually dozed off for a bit about two-thirds of the way in. So, full disclosure: this review is based on only about 90% of the movie. It’s possible the ten minutes I missed were sublimely good, so amazing they redeemed the entire rest of the movie. However, I would be inclined to bet against that outcome, as somewhat unlikely.

I think my major issue is that the movie seems to be aimed at a mentally-challenged eight-year old. There’s way too much voiceover, which is usually the sign of a director who can’t trust the script or his skills to put over the necessary content or emotion. And it also insists on Spelling Out Everything For The Audience, which is equally irritating. Case in point. Chun-Li (Kreuk) helps a guy being beaten up on the subway: he has a mysterious cobweb tattoo. Then, later, when she’s going through Chinatown searching for someone to translate a scroll, she encounters a man in the street with the same tattoo. Not two minutes later, the same design shows up on the scroll, but Bartkowiak insists on flashing back to both the subway and street guys and their tattoos. Well, duh

The plot starts with Chun-Li growing up, and her father is abducted by Bison (McDonough) to help with his plans for… whatever. World domination, prob’ly. As an adult, Chun-Li is now a pianist, though the scenes of her in concert are incredibly badly-faked. The arrival of the mysterious scroll has her heading off to Bangkok, where she links up with Gen (Shou), who completes her training. Conveniently, Bison has just returned to Bangkok, where he grew up, and is now planning to take over a large swathe of the city, regardless of the views of the inhabitants. Interpol agent Nash (Klein) and local cop Maya (Moon Bloodgood) are out to stop him, and find Chun-Li’s presence as much a distraction as a help.

And I believed Street Fighter II was a fighting game. Silly me. It’s far too talky: all mouth and no trousers, to borrow a good ol’ British phrase. The fights themselves, choreographed by Dion Lam, aren’t bad, though the welding of some of the Street Fighter moves into the game doesn’t work – Chun-Li’s Spinning Bird Kick, for example, just looks silly. But otherwise, they aren’t awful; there’s a nice brawl in a bathroom between our heroine and Bison’s henchwomen. However, particularly in the first hour, there just aren’t enough of them, and what should be a fast-paced slugfest becomes bogged down as Chun-Li meanders her way, with a somewhat concerned expression, around the slums of Bangkok [which actually look surprisingly liveable. You want real slums, try Mumbai].

However, the casting executive who thought a member of the Black-Eyed Peas was suitable to play Vega should be taken out and flogged mercilessly. This is not sarcasm. It’s not someone who looks like a member of the Black-Eyed Peas. It is a member of the Black-Eyed Peas. His martial arts skills are almost as unconvincing as Chun-Li’s piano-playing. Almost. Klein is equally inept as Nash – the witty banter between he and Maya hits the floor with a resounding clunk, due to the complete lack of chemistry between the two actors. Similarly, McDonough has none of the charisma necessary for Bison. Say what you like about the Van Damme Street Fighter movie, and the venom is probably dripping from your lips there, it did at least have Raul Julia.

In fact, this movie pretty much makes the original look Oscar-worthy in most ways. The best depiction of the game still remains the manic sequence in Jackie Chan’s City Hunter where he and Gary Daniels went toe-to-toe in a variety of epically-silly costumes. Chan made a much better Chun-Li than Kreuk could ever hope to, and any future list of “10 Crappiest Video-game Adaptations of All Time” (admittedly, the main issue here is stopping after just ten) will be judged largely on how highly this ranks. Is that 750 words yet?

Dir: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Star: Kristin Kreuk, Chris Klein, Neal McDonough, Robin Shou

The Smoking Gun Sisterhood, by Thad Brown

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“Admiring and respectful celebrations of gun-packing women as kick-butt heroines, for readers of both genders who appreciate heroines of this type.”

The rise of self-publishing has provided an opportunity for authors to distribute their product directly to the public – it’s no longer necessary to have a contract or even a publishing house. This is, frankly, a double-edged sword: just because you can write a book, doesn’t mean you should write a book. But it also offers a better chance to reach the public for niche publications like this, a short-story collection which falls squarely into our wheelhouse, featuring a wide range of action heroines [and at least one action villainess]. Some of the ten titles might help to give you a fairly good idea of what to expect: Biker Angel; Cops and Robbers; Sisters, Dark and Light.

It has a certain throwback ambiance, feeling at times like you’re reading a collection from the sixties than a modern publication. That’s not a criticism, just an observation, and might be partly because the sexual angles present in some stories are far more hinted at than explicit, and partly because there a square-jawed and certain morality present, largely without shades of grey. Brown has a nicely cinematic tone to his writing – it’s very easy to visualize proceedings in my mind’s eye as they unfolded, and the three entries mentioned above would all have potential as movies. My favorite was probably Sisters, Dark and Light, which pits an FBI agent against a kidnapper whose sadistic streak is frankly disturbing. I also enjoyed the two Capta and the Cop stories, set in the same universe, yet heading in opposite directions.

Perhaps my main criticism is a couple of the stories feel in need of expansion, almost like they were trailers more than features, albeit for movies that I’d still want to say. I did notice a few typos, though any regular readers here will know I’m hardly anyone to complain, and the packaging is too bland – it’s the kind of collection that is crying out for a pulp-styled illustration on the front. Otherwise, it certainly comes recommended to action heroine fans. There’s plenty of variety in scenarios, and even the least of the tales is still fun to read. I think the overall attitude of the stories is what makes them work: it’s the author who described them with the quote in the ‘brief’ section of the header. Having read the book, I’d say it’s perhaps a little po-faced (they’re more entertaining than that makes them sound!), but it’s not far from the mark. If you enjoy this site, I think you’ll get a kick out of these tales.

Update: August 2010. Thad tells me there is now a new edition, which has all the typos corrected, as well as having page numbers, a table of contents, and even has the messed-up line breaks in the preface fixed. He adds, “I wasn’t able to do a cover with a pulp-style illustration that you said it cried out for; I’d wanted to import Rich’s biker picture that inspired “Biker Angel,” but Lulu’s software just wouldn’t cooperate! I did install a different cover image, a smoking revolver on a russet -sort of dried-blood-colored-background, which I thought was pretty cool.”

Update: December 2013. After one regular publishing deal fell through, the last I heard from Thad was that the collection “has now been accepted for publication by Pro Se Productions” and “should be available for purchase in both paperback and e-book formats sometime around mid-2013.” Checking their site, no sign at this point.

Update: April 2014. A little delayed, but we’re delighted to announce the book is now available through Amazon. You may recognize the quote. :)

Update: November 2014. It’s now available in e-form on Kindle, for only $2.99!

[The opening of one of the stories, Cops and Robbers, can be found here, as a taster for the book. 

Les Aventures Extraordinaires D’Adele Blanc-Sec trailer

Luc Besson has always been one of the directors most intimately connected to action heroines: most obviously in Nikita, The Messenger, and Angel-A, but his other works, such as Leon and The Fifth Element also contain GwG elements. He has been largely absent from the director’s chair of late, except for his trilogy of kid-flicks based on the Arthur books, but returns to the field in April with Les Aventures Extraordinaires D’Adele Blanc-Sec, which translates as The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (if you hadn’t worked that out). Based on a series of comics, it follows the heroine through her exploits at the turn of the century, which appear to involve… Well, here’s the official synopsis:

The year is 1912. Adele Blanc-Sec, an intrepid young reporter, will go to any lengths to achieve her aims, even sailing to Egypt to tackle mummies of all shapes and sizes. Meanwhile, in Paris, it’s panic stations! A 136 million-year-old pterodactyl egg on a shelf in the natural history museum has mysteriously hatched, and the bird subjects the city to a reign of terror from the skies. But nothing fazes Adele Blanc-Sec, whose adventures reveal many more extraordinary surprises… Set in the carefree world before World War I, Adele Blanc-Sec’s adventures see the brave young woman fearlessly battling crooks, corrupt politicians, demon worshippers and mad scientists.

Given Besson’s skill with action (I just watched Leon again this afternoon, and it remains one of my all-time favourites), I’m fairly hopeful for this one. The trailer is below: it opens in Europe in April.

Bitch Slap

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“Smack my bitch up.”

There are some films which I like, and where if you don’t agree with me, you are an idiot – such as Shaun of the Dead. However, there are movies where I can see, understand and accept why people dislike them, even if I may strongly disagree. Bitch Slap would be one of the latter. Looking at the the IMDb ballot results, the top number of voters have given it one out of ten. However, the next-most have given it 10/10. Between them, those two extremes represent more than 40% of the total votes. Much the same thing – albeit to a somewhat less rabidly-partisan degree – happened here in GwG Towers.

Chris has a certain firmness of opinion. When she has made up her mind about something, it’s pretty hard to get her to change it. She will purse her lips, fold her arms and stick to her guns. You could argue whether this strong will is a character quality or a flaw, but it certainly led to her early exit from Bitch Slap. Here’s an approximate timeline of the comments from the seat on the couch next to me:

  • 5 minutes: “Would you rather watch this alone?”
  • 5:30 minutes: “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather watch this alone?
  • 10 minutes: “Is this a porno?”
  • 20 minutes: “Could this get any more stereotypical?”

It was not long after this – I think it was when the lesbian canoodling started – she suddenly remembered she had a vitally-important task to perform elsewhere. Judging by the sounds emanating from our office, that task appeared to involve Facebook poker.

Of course, to me, complaining about the film being stereotypical is missing the point. It’s supposed to be a frothy melange of cliches, thrown into the cinematic melting-pot and the heat turned up to ‘High’. The opening credit sequence, with its clips of “bad girls” such as Tura Satana and Christina Lindberg, gives you some idea of what to expect, and it hardly pauses thereafter, growing increasingly more breathlessly frenetic. Not often have I seen a movie suffering from a more chronic case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Diso… Ooh, look! Shiny, pretty things!

Speaking of which, it centers on three women, with about as divergent personalities as it’s possible to imagine. There’s Hel (Cummings), a con-artist with a secret identity; the psychotic Camero (Olivio), who starts off the movie insane, yet somehow manages to get even more loopy as things progress; and, finally, Trixie (Voth), the “innocent” one, whom you’re not quite sure about. The heroic trio end up out in the desert, with Gage (Hurst) tied up in their trunk, seeking… Well, part of the plot revolves around that issue, so I’ll leave that out of the summary. From there, the story of how they reached that point is told in flashback, and event also unfold moving forward, as they try to locate their obscure object of desire before the infamous, deadly “Pinky” shows up.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Others are after the same prize, such as Hot Wire and his GoGo Yubari clone (Japanese, schoolgirl, killer yo-yo), Kinki (Minae Noji). There’s also a good deal of tension, sexual and otherwise, between the three heroines: are any of them quite what they seem? I imagine my usage of the phrase “secret identity” above might have given some of the game away there. It hardly counts as a spoiler either, to say that it all ends (eventually) in a brawl between Camaro and Hel, in the middle of a desolate wasteland, which has become steadily more wasted and bullet-ridden over the course of the movie.

The Laydeez of Bitch Slap

Director Jacobson certainly has a solid pedigree in the action-heroine world, at least at the televisual end of the spectrum. His resume includes episodes of La Femme Nikita, Cleopatra 2525, Xena: Warrior Princess and She Spies, a good number of which have a similarly self-parodying approach to their subject matter as seen here. However, while the excess is somewhat greater, this only really extends to some potty-mouth lines and digital blood. Despite all the tension and canoodling mentioned earlier, Cummings shows a lot more skin for Jaconson as the hero’s wife in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. If you’re going for camp excess, as appears to be the case, you need to be a good deal more…well, excessive.

The main weak link is the leads, who don’t have the chops – physical or acting – to pull this off. I to wonder whether it might have been a good deal better if stunt co-ordinator Zoe Bell, Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor had been the stars of the film, rather than merely cameos. They have all previously shown the necessary combination of martial ability and screen presence necessary for the parts here. Not that the actresses here are “bad”: however, when you’re spitting out Satana-esque lines like, “Ram this in your clambake, bitch cake!” you’d better have the F-sized volume of charismatic fire-power to pull them off, and they fall short of the level needed for this to achieve classic status (Olivo probably comes closest to the necessary level of conviction, spitting our her dialogue with a perpetual sneer).

Having got those criticisms out of the way, the rest of the film is very solid entertainment – providing, as noted above, you can get your brain lined-up with what it’s trying to do (and if you can’t, which is understandable, it’s basically unsalvageable). Alcohol will probably help the neurons go in the correct direction, as will an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop culture, and tolerance for trash at an industrial concentration. The litmus test is probably the slow-motion water-fight which breaks out among the three laydeez early on: if you greet that with a smirk of guilty pleasure (as charged, m’lud), rather than, oh, bailing for the Facebook poker lobby, you’ll probably be fine.

Jacobsen also does a good job with the visual style, providing a perfect match for the lurid, frenetic approach of the script and character. There’s a lot of green screen work, which lends proceeding a hyperreal feeling, and the pace means that there’s hardly a dull moment. Not sure the storyline makes a great deal of sense, I admit, and it feels as overstuffed as a giant bean burrito (you know the kind, the ones you regret buying about one-third of the way through, but just can’t stop yourself from finishing). The fractured plotline has been compared to Tarantino, but personally, there’s a good deal less annoying self-indulgence than Quentin usually inflicts on the audience: for example, Camero doesn’t bring things to a grinding halt, just to witter on about comic-books.

All told, it’s refreshing to see something which is so avowedly politically-incorrect, and proud of it. The film is at its best when wallowing in the gutter, unashamedly down and dirty, and with a broad grin upon its face – credit to all those involved for having the guts not give a damn about the nay-sayers and one-voters. It’s not going to trouble the more-evolved areas of your brain very much, and will tug on the heartstrings even less, but for the times when you don’t want anything more than the cinematic equivalent of a one-night stand, this will certainly do the job perfectly well. Certainly the most full-on, and arguably the best, of the genre to come out of Hollywood in the past five years.

Dir: Rick Jacobson
Star: Julia Voth, America Olivo, Erin Cummings, Michael Hurst