Street Fighter - The Next Disaster Artist?
It is often the case that there is nothing more enduring than failure. Sometimes, there can be a success in failure. It may take 10 years, it may take 20 but either way, something bad can be just as successful as something good (just look at Suicide Squad). But we're not talking about simply bad films, no no, we are talking about films so bad, they're good...
One definitive example of this "hot garbage" is Street Fighter, the 1994 martial arts video game adaptation gifted to audiences almost a year before even Mortal Kombat would make it to the big screen.
On the surface, Street Fighter seems like a typical Hollywood cash grab, made to capitalise from the popular video game Street Fighter II. But when you read all about its complex production, it becomes evident that truth is stranger than fiction...
The Street Fighter video game franchise was created by Capcom, who after seeing the popularity of their second game sent their executives to Hollywood, to make a Street Fighter movie a reality.
After much consideration, the directing role was assigned to Steven E. de Souza. A director whose only major credit at the time was on a film called Arnold’s Wrecking Company, however, he did write the likes of Commando, Die Hard, and Judge Dredd. Making the jump from the writer's desk to the director's chair much like Aaron Sorkins? We wish.
With a measly budget of $35 million, a Christmas deadline, and a filming schedule of 10 weeks, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Whether it be egos that went unchecked, time constraints, reshoots, or tragedy - the story of Street Fighter is one that will make you both laugh and cry.
The film follows several characters from the video game franchise including Colonel Guile (Jean Claude Van Damme) who leads the United Allies to stop drug lord turned dictator M. Bison (Raul Julia). Bison has kidnapped several A.N. relief workers and demands a $20 billion ransom in three days, but Guile refuses to pay and creates a plan to rescue the hostages. Journalist Chun Li (Ming-Na Wen) joins the adventure, as she seeks out revenge for her father who was killed by Bison. The film also features prominent characters such as Ryu (Byron Mann), Ken Masters (Damian Chapa), Sagat (Wes Studi), Cammy (Kylie Minogue), and many more.
The film which lacks any sort of nuance, is still thoroughly entertaining, thanks to its performances. In hindsight, casting the Belgian actor Jean Claude Van Damme as the all-American hero Guile may have not been the best decision, as his charisma and unintelligible English make the film unintentionally funny and entertaining in all the wrong ways.
That's where we reach our first behind the scenes obstacle...
Recently Van Damme has been open about his severe cocaine addiction, and he has said himself that he was spending as much as $10,000 on the drug every week. Director Steven E. de Souza confirms this, stating Van Damme was “coked out his mind” much of the time on set.
Combined with his drug addiction, de Souza explains how there were days where the Belgian actor would call in sick, and de Souza would have to wait for hours on end for Van Damme to do a scene. To make matters worse, Van Damme’s acting fee alone cost nearly eight of the film's 35 million dollar budget.
Kylie Minogue on the other hand was said to be an absolute delight to work with on-site. And while Van Damme claims he and Minogue had an affair during production, Minogue has never commented on this.
But as enjoyable as Van Damme’s performance is, the real show-stealer is Raul Julia as M. Bison. Julia delivers a delightfully hammy Shakespearean performance as the comedically over-the-top character. With some truly iconic lines (that he improvised) he studied real-life dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and copied their mannerisms to get ready for the role.
A great scene comes where Bison meets Sagat (who is Bison's arms supplier), who is given a briefcase of money. To Sagat’s outrage, the money has Bison’s face printed on it. Bison goes on to explain that: “Every Bison dollar will be worth five British pounds. That is the exchange rate that the bank of England will implement after I kidnap their Queen.” It is a wonderfully insane moment.
Steven E. de Souza also planned to give the actors extensive training to get them ready for the fight scenes. Charlie Picerni was hired as the stunt coordinator, and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez was assigned the role of the physical trainer. Benny was undefeated in kickboxing for 27 years and previously worked with Jackie Chan in Meals on Wheels and Dragons Forever. Unfortunately, another problem arose as Raul Julia was battling stomach cancer, unbeknownst to anyone - it was terminal.
Due to Julia’s frailness, De Souza delayed much of the actor's scenes and stunts until the end of shooting in order for him to put on weight. With the shooting scheduled altered the actors were supposed to have weeks of training, but some had merely one day, often having to improvise their stunts on the same day.
On top of that, the various characters from the game series had different fighting types, while Benny the trainer only knew one style. This meant that not only were the actors fighting with one specific style which was inaccurate to the games, but a lot of the actors had never even thrown a punch in their life. De Souza has previously stated how disappointed he was that he could not implement iconic attacks such Ryu’s Hadouken or Guile’s Sonic Boom, both being infamous moments of the original video game.
They were so rushed for time, de Souza even had to rip out a page from the script just to catch up. There were so many problems, and countless stories it makes Street Fighter perfect to be explored in a biographical film or documentary.
Films like The Disaster Artist, Dolemite is my Name, and Ed Wood, have all gone down a similar route as they present their wannabe artists as underdogs who fought tooth and nail to get their film created and released to the public. Only to have the production plagued by problems and constraints, that would later be their advantage.
Street Fighter has no business being as entertaining as it is. But its the silliness and intentional comedy that comes from the likes of Raul Julia and Andrew Bryniarski (who plays Zangief) that really make the film shine.
Despite the issues in Van Damme’s personal life, this is in no way a smear on the man. Considering the actor’s personal demons, the fact he was able to improvise and perform as he did, is quite impressive.
Despite the negative reviews, the film was ultimately a commercial success making over 99 million dollars at the box office. There were even plans for a sequel, that unfortunately never came to fruition.
Street Fighter is not nearly as bad as Plan 9 From Outer Space, or The Room, but this was a film that was ravaged by critics and Street Fighter fans but has still found a cult following and new appreciation from fans.
The Disaster Artist, Dolemite is my Name, and Ed Wood, portray their unlikely heroes being undeterred by negative reviews, refusing to give up on their dreams. These stories of failure end up becoming feel-good tales of underdogs chasing their dreams, and finding success (albeit a kind of success they were not expecting).
Why can’t Steven E. de Souza be that underdog? While he was an experienced writer, he was not experienced as a director but was still able to make something out of the debacles that happened on set. Though de Souza went through hell to make this film, he is still humble about the experience and is happy with the final product.
Not only this is an inspiring story, but it is also an incredibly touching one. Raul Julia did this film for one reason and one reason alone - his two sons. In an interview with Julia, he talks about how excited his sons were when he told them that he was going to be in the Street Fighter movie. Against everything, Julia still did his own stunts which won him the respect of everyone on set. Against all odds, he fought to make this film see the light of the day.
Raul Julia passed away on October 24th 1994 leading to the film being dedicated to his memory. While the film received no mercy from film critics, Julia’s performance was acclaimed, leading to a posthumous nomination for a Saturn Award.
Not only does this film have a cult following, but despite Julia's tragic passing, several happy endings did come out of it. Jean Claude Van Damme has since been able to overcome his drug addiction. Ming-Na Wen has gone on to star in the likes of Mulan and The Mandalorian. Kylie Minogue is still a pop sensation in the world of music, and to this day, Capcom still makes money from the production thanks to its home media revenue.
There are stories that will lead you from one rabbit hole to the next, so much so there is enough content for a feature film.
The film has an obscure nature that a behind the scenes film could capture perfectly. The film could depict the contrast of fun, and tragedy, using our affection for the actors to bolster the emotion. The lack of preparation and budget can be shown against gimmicky jokes like M. Bison playing on an arcade machine.
While all of it doesn't seem praise-worthy, especially in light of the film's lack of logic, it is hard not to think of the great Edward Wood Jr who said - “Haven’t you heard of suspension of disbelief?”
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