Friday, December 25, 2015

Holiday Happiness: Street Fighter

Do you have a movie you or your family randomly watches around the Holidays? It could be a staple like Christmas Vacation, Love Actually or It's a Wonderful Life. Then you've got titles like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon as action movies set at Christmas in the mix. A friend told me on The O.C. the family watched Stallone's truck driving/father-son story Over the Top while non-action movie junkie colleagues tell me their family randomly watches Bloodsport or Under Siege 2 at festive gatherings. For me, it seems like 1994's Street Fighter has come full circle to become part of my Christmas tradition. My mom took me to see it on Christmas day over twenty years ago and it's been a regular part of my Jean-Claude Van Damme viewing ever since. As I've stated before, it's not a Street Fighter film, it's a G.I. Joe meets James Bond flick that is handsomely produced, includes lots of exciting action and fights while cracking wise and generally being pretty Damme entertaining.

Street Fighter came back this Christmas because my lady gifted me with some bitching trading cards from the 90's. Remember Upper Deck and Topps? When retailers were trying to create a collector's market out of cards, comic books and Beanie Babies? The over abundance of product meant most of this stuff is near worthless but it sure does bring back memories. Along with The Rocketeer, The Phantom, Batman Returns, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, The Punisher and Judge Dredd, my gift included two packs of Street Fighter trading cards. I used to buy these at Wal-Mart and they were not cheap, I recall maybe $3 bucks a pack. That was a lot of dough for a not yet working pre-teen! The labels on these listed $1.47 so maybe I'm mistaken or they were cheaper on their way out. Either way, I had a lot of these cards back in the day where you had to collect them all to complete your set, buy the plastic pages to hold them and put them all in a big 3 ring binder to flip through. The Street Fighter cards are a nice mix of photos and drawings that take you through the movie's narrative, behind the scenes, actors involved (Van Damme is listed as being 5'11" and 190lbs) and the video game's history along with playing tips.

The cards were a great gift and a total excuse to introduce the film to my lady who knows I'm a big Street Fighter fan in general. At only 90 minutes, the time investment wouldn't be too much to ask and to sweeten the deal I suggested we watch the film as a drinking game. Sure enough we found one online where you sip anytime the name "Bison" is uttered, there's some cheesy/clever bantering going on ("You will choke on those words, Guile." 'Anytime, dickhead!'), a line from the video game is delivered ("Are you man enough to fight with me?" 'Anyone who opposes me will be destroyed') and you're supposed to take a shot when someone does a special move. That means the ending gets a bit messy since at least half of the 15 characters deliver a line from the game or perform a special move like the Flash Kick, Hadouken and Psycho Crusher...

The film plays very well and I still contend it was ahead of its time. Writer/director Steven E de Souza does a tremendous job of building the world, introducing and keeping track of so many characters, moving the story along all while setting up lots of fights and action. You have super hero outfits and a larger than life meets current events tone. There are characters of multiple cultures and actors of Asian, African and indigenous tribes descent receiving nearly as much screen time as leading man Van Damme. Quite a feat when compared to today where Emma Stone plays Asian, or Egyptians become white and filmmakers apologize for the white washing months before the film has even come out. Street Fighter was fun as a drinking game and my lady seemed to enjoy it, only questioning Van Damme's orange-ish blonde hair so I had to show her what Guile looked like in the game and how that would be impossible for a film. Dolph Lundgren from Rocky IV would have been a great Guile but Van Damme was just a much bigger star. She also asked if Van Damme was trying to do an American accent and wondered if a dialect couch was on the set. Since in his first scene he more or less grunt-talks but later slides back into his usual stop and go English with hundred sounding like "han-dread" or emphasizing certain letters and making out become "Ow-Teh". That set off an interesting conversation as the Swedish born Lundgren never had much of an accent in his films, Arnold's German inflections were never explained yet Van Damme was always getting a line about being from New Orleans, being born in Belgium but raised in Los Angeles or playing semi-pro hockey in Montreal...

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