First things first. YOU’RE WELCOME for the picture of Van Damme’s pretty face. I know you were waiting eagerly for this day. (Also, I’m glad the whole “heart attack” story was apparently a rumor, hoax, or whatever and Mr. Van Damme is fine. I owned a VHS copy of Cyborg when I was much younger, so I have a sentimental attachment here.)
Now let’s begin.
I have watched so many bad, bad, bad movies for this blog, and as you can tell by the parenthetical above, even before that. 1994’s Street Fighter was not ad bad as Cyborg, but it really was one of the worst I’ve seen for the blog. However, it was the kind of bad that made me laugh instead of making me think about how much I needed a drink. It was a refreshing change of pace.
The super-important, well developed plot of Street Fighter is exactly this: they made a video game into a movie where people fight.
On Team Good, we have Jean-Claude Van Damme (white) as Colonel Guile, Damian Chapa (white) as Ken, Byron Mann (Asian, not sure of his exact background) as Ryu, Ming-Na Wen (female and Chinese) as Chun-Li, Kylie Minogue (female and white) as Lt. Cammy, Grand L. Bush (African American) as Balrog, Peter Tuiasosopo (Samoan) as Honda (who is supposed to be Japanese), and Gregg Rainwater (Native American) as T. Hawk. Roshan Seth (Indian) is Dr. Dhalsim, basically a good guy who is held captive by Team Bad.
On Team Bad, we have Raul Julia (Puerto Rican) as General Bison, Wes Studi (Native American) as Sagat (who is supposed to be Thai), Andrew Bryniarski (white) as Zangief, Miguel A. Núñez Jr. (Afro-Puerto Rican) as Dee Jay (who is supposed to be Jamaican), and Jay Tavare (Native American) as Vega (who is supposed to be Spanish).
The casting follows the game (mostly), yes, but it makes me wonder about a few things:
If it weren’t for cheesy low budget action films like this one, would people of color who want to be in (non-martial-arts) action films ever get speaking roles?
Are there casting calls that basically say “brown guy” because they know the general American public can’t tell a Latino from a Native American from an Israeli?
Why doesn’t this film “tip” for white male viewers into being a film that is “not about me” – does the presence of one or two white male leads suffice to make it “safe”?
Obviously the first two questions are somewhat rhetorical. Street Fighter is obviously not the best test case for the first question, because it’s a product designed for people who are already familiar with a product that has some casting diversity – albeit a heavily stereotyped diversity. (So heavily stereotyped that I wonder if the diversity can actually be called a good thing.) I do wonder, though, why there’s such a difference between the low budget films and the big budget films. If your movie has any possibility of making the big bucks, make sure you keep it white(r)?
I’m quite serious about the third question, though. There’s a tipping point in online discussions where when the percentage of women involved gets high enough, men start perceiving the space as female dominated – and it’s not even as high as 50%. So is there a similar tipping point in a film? If you made a Bruce Willis film and Bruce Willis was the only white guy, but he was the hero, would that be okay? But if he was the third most important good guy, and the first two good guys were black, would it become a “black movie” and white audiences would avoid it because they (ludicrously) believed they would have no one to identify with?
I’m honestly not sure the casting diversity is a win for people of color, since so many of the characters are so stereotyped. T. Hawk is short for Tomahawk, get it?! AHHHHH! Balrog and Honda are also played as jokes, which negates some of the value of the roles in my opinion. But moral fiber, competence, and depth of character seem to be spread evenly across characters of different ethnic backgrounds. Ryu has more ethics than his white buddy Ken, and Sagat (bad) is more of an actual person than Guile (good). Dee Jay (black) is the brain to (white) Zangief’s brawn. That, at least, was highly appreciated by yours truly.
However, I can’t give it 3 stars because it’s not a Strong Contender. The women’s roles are too weak. Yes, they put Chun-Li in that crazy outfit. No, there’s never any likelihood that she’s going to beat the Bad Guy. (That type of thing is reserved for Heroic White Men.) Cammy seems basically competent, and her outfit is WAY better than in the most recent version of the game, but she doesn’t really do much. Both are portrayed as obviously inferior to Guile, the ultimate hero.
Team Good also just seems a little too white compared to Team Bad. It’s a shame they didn’t make a little extra effort given the diverse cast they brought together. The movie was never going to be good, but it could have been distinctive.
It’s also a shame that Jean Claude Van Damme is allowed to talk. If they just had him look pretty and hit things, it would have been way better.
Two stars, which is more than I thought I was going to give it.
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.