Two of my favorite guilty pleasure movies are Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, although for different reasons. Street Fighter is a doofy, silly little flick that’s enjoyable in spite of being completely off from the source material and, to be honest, because of it. I mean, you have Dhalsim as a scientist, Dee Jay as an evil hacker, and Ryu as a con man. It’s pretty outrageous and I love that it exists because…what the hell?
Mortal Kombat, on the other hand, was made during this very brief period in the 90’s when any kind of CGI – no matter how badly it has aged – was wondrous and automatically cool. Even with its problems, it’s a movie that fully embraces the unique cheesiness of its source material and pulls it off. That’s rare for any video game movie.
We’ve seen them delightfully get Street Fighter wrong with the Van Damme movie and we’ve seen them painfully get Street Fighter wrong with the Legend of Chun-Li, but Joey Ansah and Christian Howard decided that there would be no third strike. I mean, unless they were playing Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Which they should, since it’s one of the best video games ever. But I digress.
Spun-off from the Street Fighter: Legacy proof-of-concept short film from 2010, Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist is a 12-part YouTube series of 10-15 minute episodes. It focuses on the core part of the Street Fighter mythos, centering on Ryu, Ken, Gouken, and Akuma. It is pretty much Star Wars only with martial arts instead of laser swords. The four core characters all practice Ansatsuken, which is essentially the Force. You can work hard to perfect the light part of it or you can delve into the dark side, which will grant you power at the cost of your own soul.
The story shows the final years of Ryu and Ken’s training under Gouken as they’ve finally been allowed to learn the more advanced stuff in their style’s repertoire like the jumping uppercut that goes fifteen feet in the air or the ability to throw fireballs. As they train, they begin to discover more about Gouken’s shrouded past and his brother Goki, of whom he never spoke. The story moves back and forth between the days of Ryu and Ken training and the days of Gouken and Goki training under their master Goutetsu.
Strangely enough, even though Ryu is the main character of Street Fighter and this is the story of his training and even introduction to street fighting, this isn’t really his story. Mostly because of how mysterious his origins are kept and how much more charismatic and likeable Ken is (and let it be said that there will never be a more perfect Ken Masters than Christian Howard), Ryu appears to fall into the background. Even then, the series isn’t even so much about Ken either. The real protagonist turns out to be Gouken, which I suppose makes enough sense since he’s there for both eras of storytelling.
It’s rather nice, honestly. When UDON published Street Fighter Origins: Akuma, I dug all of it except the dry parts with Gouken. Here he only starts out like a generic character, but unfolds from there. Over the course of the story, Gouken goes from your average wise, hard-ass martial arts master to fatherly, protective, understanding, and likeable as a person. There’s a wonderful scene where he finds out that Ken has come across some old notes about the Satsui no Hadaou (AKA the dark side of their art) and has been practicing its teachings in secret. At first it plays a lot like that, “I learned it from you, dad!” anti-drug commercial from the 80’s, but the hardened front that Gouken’s shown as a teacher melts away into desperation as he begs Ken to stay away from it, even if it does get results.
You learn his fear for yourself via the flashbacks that show how Goki transforms into the demon Akuma. Through the transformation, the actors change from Gaku Space to Joey Ansah, who brings amazing menace and authenticity to Akuma’s visage. His face covered in prosthetics, whenever Ansah shows up, he nails the character’s presence. Still, no matter how badass live-action Akuma is and how hard they try to make it sentimental and meaningful, that glow-in-the-dark red kanji tattoo on his back is a little too hard to take seriously.
The fight scenes are wonderful and as I mentioned when I interviewed Ansah recently, are incredibly true-to-game. Ryu and Ken have a sparring match early on before they really know any of the cool special attacks, so what we get is a sweet fight made up of their normal moves, stances, throws, and so on. Goutetsu, who has never appeared as an actual video game character, has his own unique version of the Ansatsuken style with a couple of moves you’d want to see someone adopt in one of the games. It helps that many of the special effects are done practically with minimal CGI, but I’d like to see what these guys could do with a real cinematic budget.
The acting is better than it has any right to be, although we do get moments of outright goofery, like a memorable scene of Ken getting a care package from his father. Everyone in the cast has the ability to speak both Japanese and English, which is neat, but they do regularly change it up with no rhyme or reason. You can’t help but notice it. Even Goki’s one scene of speaking English is in a situation where it feels completely unnecessary.
Overall, the series is a long-awaited love letter and a capable one at that. I never quite cared much for Mortal Kombat: Legacy, but I feel that Assassin’s Fist succeeds where that one fails by having more focus and a better understanding of the source material. There’s some room for improvement here and there, but I want nothing more than to see this expanded upon by bringing in the Street Fighter II cast.
Which reminds me. It’s pretty hilarious that a Street Fighter series is sponsored by Honda.