Street Fighter: The Last Battle, a loveable nonsense directed by Jean-Claude Van Damme
There are films that are so bad and absurd that, from certain points of view, they evoke a certain admiration; but Street Fighter: The Last Battle is on another level. The Hollywood adaptation of the arcade phenomenon does not hit the ball in its 102 minutes of footage and, despite a promising cast with Jean-Claude Van Damme in the leading role, reduces the cult video game to a series of failed and clumsy action film clichés. The action films that were released directly in video stores are more concise.
And for all the bad stuff in the film, which is a lot, the stupidity and messiness of Capcom’s first World Warriors film makes for a riveting debacle. Because Street Fighter: The Last Battle fails as an adaptation of the video game, but manages to continue the clichés of action films from a very specific era. And while it deviates wildly from the source material, it manages to make awkward references to games and arcades here and there. Elements that first evoke rejection, then disappoint and gradually accept from a different perspective the viewer who manages to last until the end.
At this point it is worth giving a hint. Although video games have been a presence in Hollywood productions for more than a decade (from Tron to The Video Game Champion), the truth was that the major adaptations of arcade and console hits were a field yet to be explored on the big screen to conquer. . Especially when the storyline of games like Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter II itself was almost non-existent: in the case of the Capcom game, there were just a handful of character sheets, the sparse information in the game manuals, and a few scenes per fighter at the end of the game. Nothing more.
With that premise, and based on the fact that there was hardly any plot basis at the time, the mainstream Ryu, Chun Li and Company fans were open to seeing virtually almost anything in theaters. Almost any excuse to see your favorite wrestlers pummel each other on the big screen would be welcome. Especially with a Van Damme whose career was on the rise. And the truth is that Capcom’s confidence in the project was absolute, as it took on most of the $35 million budget.
Where did so much money go back then? The salaries of Jean-Claude Van Damme (Guile in the film) and Raul Julia (M. Bison) left Steven E. de Souza, the film’s director, very tight maneuvering room, which is noticeable on screen. However, what knocks the film down is the chaos that ensues on set and how it ultimately affects the plot and footage. Improvised choreographies, lack of control in the dressing rooms and all sorts of problems. Against all odds, however, Capcom was delighted with the end result.
And that’s not the end of it: today, Street Fighter: The Last Battle is still very, very profitable for the Osaka-based company. Something incomprehensible? Well, we have to admit that something this bad can be curious, entertaining and, to a certain extent, intriguing at times.
Guile vs. Bison, but Hollywood style
The civil war raging in Shadaloo has reached a critical juncture. The capital was taken while General M. Bison’s army and militias continued to gain ground. The United States decides to join the conflict and has started deploying its troops in Southeast Asia, but in doing so has encountered a thorny problem: Bison has just told the world that 63 United Nations health workers are being held in its barracks General . Of course, the dictator is willing to negotiate his release for $20 billion.
Bison has become one of the most dangerous leaders in the free world. As well as possessing impressive martial prowess, he supports his criminal activities through drug dealing and more recently has begun experimenting on humans to create a new breed of genetically engineered soldier. In doing so, he made a fatal mistake: Carlos “Charly” Blanka, the last subject he inflicted this treatment on against his will, is also the best friend of William F. Guile, the leader of the Allied troops who had just landed on Shadaloo. An impulsive guy with a special disposition for kicking ass.
Guile leads his own regiment of soldiers with prominent members from around the world including Lieutenant Cammy White (played by Kylie Minogue), T. Hawk (Gregg Rainwater) and Captain Sawada (Kenya Sawada). But they’re not the only ones looking to take down Bison: correspondent Chun Li (Ming-Na Wen), along with her reporting team Balrog (Grand L. Bush) and E. Honda (Peter Tuiasosopo), have their own plans to overthrow them Bully at any cost, motivated by blind revenge.
Meanwhile, and in the midst of this conflict, two young con artists intend to do some clandestine business: Ryu (Byron Mann) and Ken (Damian Chapa) know that Shadaloo pays very generously for guns, and they’ve decided to get a good chunk of it by themselves settle down in the underworld of a corrupt and decadent city. A risky business, of course. Luckily, they not only have unlucky loudmouths and an uncanny ability to get into trouble, but also a talent for martial arts.
With these three focal points as the linchpin of the plot, Street Fighter: The Last Stand wants to string together all the clichés of action cinema from the decades before the turn of the millennium. The megalomaniac maniac challenges a group of rebels with a cause who are also exceptional fighters. And although the number of fights is far less than desired and the choreographed fights aren’t exactly a movie claim, it all boils down to the ultimate confrontation between good and evil. The American military against the perfidious Asian dictator. Malice against M. Bison.
A struggle in which, in a very indirect way, the future of the free world is at stake. Luckily for the film’s editors and producers, both Guile and Van Damme are crazy about flying kicks. Unfortunately for fans of the video game, not even the timid references to Street Fighter II manage to save a complete nonsense that reflected on the big screen but began to boil behind the cameras.
The “final fight” behind the scenes: even worse than the footage
Street Fighter: The Last Stand had all the ingredients to be a hit in 1994. Steven E. de Souza, who wrote the screenplays for instant cult films such as the first two Die Hard (Jungla de cristal), Command, Limit: 48 hours or The Flintstones; he would take care of the libretto and direction. A full-fledged Capcom would bear most of the expense, and even two stars of the caliber Van Damme and Julia will share the weight of the poster. Not to mention the global phenomenon that Street Fighter and its characters unleashed a few years earlier. What went wrong?
While it would be easy to blame de Souza, the filmmaker and his team had to go through all of Capcom’s creative and licensing filters beforehand. The Osaka-based company was fully aware and involved in what would happen in the film and even set some conditions that were gradually resolved by consensus: the Blue Bomber company wanted Kenya to play Sawada Ryu, but the Japanese Actor barely defended himself with English and a custom character was created for him: Captain Sawada. Yes, with the same last name.
For reference, if we look at the original version, we’ll see that Sawada awkwardly blurts out Shakespeare’s language and that even one of the sentences, the most complex in his libretto, is said directly in Japanese with subtitles. He may have the attitude of a world warrior, but de Souza was right in delegating the iconic character to Byron Mann. Still, Mann had his own set of complications and faced days of chaotic filming due to two unexpected setbacks that blew up during production.
- On the one hand, Raúl Julia was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which seriously affected his health, forcing him to reconsider the schedules and shooting, so that the scenes had to be adapted to his health, almost in an improvised way, with all his interventions being shot at the beginning of production and much rewrite from the original argument.
- On the other hand, Van Damme was an example of low professionalism. His excessive use of substances and his dealings with the rest of the cast were at least questionable. Which the Belgian deeply regretted many years later. All in all, Capcom was adamant that the Bloody Contact and Kickboxer actor would direct the film.
These events affected all levels of production and shooting, leading to changes and rewrites of the script just before shooting or tight margins to rehearse the choreography of the fights, resulting in nonsense on screen as well as in the sequence of events during the events as well as in the action scenes. But of course, de Souza and his team were completely against the clock: aside from Julia’s precarious condition, the non-negotiable condition…
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