By StarvingGamer 38 Comments
(The following contains spoilers for Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist. Watch Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist HERE)
It all started with Street Fighter: Legacy, a two-and-a-half minute fan-made proof-of-concept short that showed more love to the acclaimed video game franchise than Hollywood had managed to muster in two full-length feature-films. Reactions were overwhelmingly positive and, a few years later, the short's creator, Joey Ansah, returned with a Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise the funds necessary to realize his vision of a Street Fighter movie that would be faithful to the source material.
In the first few weeks the campaign only managed to raise ~$27,000 out of a million dollar goal. The situation looked bleak until the announcement came that that the strong buzz surrounding the project had caught the attention of private investors. The crowdfunding campaign was cancelled immediately so that production could begin on Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist. A year later, the completed product was streamed as a movie on Twitch and uploaded as a 12-part miniseries to the Machinima YouTube channel.
An origin story within an origin story, Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist follows the early days of central series characters Ryu and Ken and their training under their master Gouken. Depicted in parallel via flashbacks is the young Gouken training alongside his brother Gouki under their master Goutetsu.
The film opens in 1989 with Mike Moh as Ryu and co-writer Christian Howard as Ken facing off against one another on a riverbank. Fans will instantly recognize Ryu's white headband and Ken's long hair, a look that was established in the Alpha series. The action flows between furious assaults and moments of slow-motion highlighting the heaviest blows. Ansah's decision as director to stay away from the ever-popular shaky-cam keeps the fighting crisp and clear, lending a real weight to the thud of every punch and kick and allowing the audience to fully appreciate the beauty of the choreography and the skill of the actors.
Before the fight can reach its conclusion, time moves back to 1987 as Ryu and Ken train in Ansatsuken (lit. Assassin's Fist) alongside Akira Koieyama as Gouken. Ryu and Ken are immediately set up as foils, as Moh's portrayal of Ryu's introverted and obedient nature clashes perfectly with the brash confidence and insolence of Howard's Ken. Context for Ken's demeanor in provided in a brief flashback as his father Mr. Masters, played by Mark Kileenn, leaves him at a young age in Gouken's care.
Ryu and Ken are preparing to move on to the next stage of their training, mastering the art of the Hado. For fans of the series this is the good stuff, as Gouken breaks down the technique behind the Shoryuken and explodes a training dummy with a respectable CG Hadoken. Ryu and Ken spar in one of the many excellent fight scenes, managing to work in a few of their trademark attacks including the Collarbone Breaker.
The film begins to cut back and forth between Ryu and Ken, and the Hado training a younger Gouken underwent in 1956. The fatherly love in Gouken's warm but firm training style, that Koieyama expertly portrays, is brought into stark contrast against the aggressive training style of Goutetsu, portrayed by the legendary Togo Igawa
The difference between Gouken's Mu No Hado (Power of Nothingness) and Goutetsu's Satsui No Hado (Murderous Intent) is immediately apparent in the demeanors of young Gouken, played by the actor Shogen, and his brother Gouki, played by Gaku Space. While the brothers' characters closely mirror the balance between Ken and Ryu, their rivalry has taken on a harder edge due to the nature of their training and mutual interest in Goutetsu's niece, Sayaka, played by the actress Hyunri. Most notable is the barely-contained rage that Gouki's body trembles with in nearly every scene. It teeters dangerously close to caricature, but ultimately is successful in portraying Gouki's struggle to master the violent force within him.
(Don't worry if all the "Go" names have you confused. There were times when even I had trouble figuring out who was being yelled at.)
Anyone familiar with these sorts of martial-arts stories knows what happens next. One student remains on the true path while the other steps close to darkness in an effort to hasten their training. While Ken is quickly set straight by Gouken, Gouki ends up leaving everything behind and eventually succumbs to the Satsui No Hado, transforming into Akuma. This change in character also means a change in actors, as Ansah steps in to fill the role of the Raging Demon. The effect can be jarring if not a bit confusing for series newcomers, as the half-English, half-African Ansah bears absolutely no resemblance to the decidedly Japanese Gaku Space. That said, with a series of spectacular feats of strength and a gravelly Japanese accent accurate enough to fool an avid anime-watcher, Ansah manages to pull off the character quite nicely.
There is a beautiful loneliness to the Bulgarian countryside that stands in for Japan in these linked narratives. The quiet isolation of Ryu and Ken's life is only broken on occasion by comedic relief in the form of an old man named Goma who constantly heckles Ken during training, and a brief stint to a bar near an American military base featuring a uniquely trollish cameo. Goma, also played by Igawa, sticks out as a particularly sore thumb with a ridiculously obvious wig and painfully forced lines, but thankfully his appearances are occasional and brief.
Everything comes to a head as the film reaches its consecutive climaxes, first with the reckoning between Akuma and Goutetsu, followed by a graduation battle of sorts between Ryu and Ken. It is some of the best martial arts choreography out there and replete with nods to the long list of techniques available to Ansatsuken users. Finally Gouken bids a bittersweet farewell to his students as they set out on their Musha Shugyou, a warrior's journey to self-discovery. While some viewers may be left wondering what happened to the seemingly inevitable showdown between Gouken and Akuma, fans of the lore know that the actual confrontation does not take place until after Ryu and Ken have finished their pilgrimages and Ryu has been overcome by the Satsui No Hado a second time during the World Warrior tournament.
Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist succeeds where other Street Fighter movies have failed, by paying proper tribute to the franchise that defined and continues to dominate the fighting game genre, and goes above and beyond expectations by being not only a good video game movie, but a good movie in its own right. While it is unclear what is next for Ansah and his crew, he has already stated his interest in making further films should Assassin's Fist prove to be a success. Whether you're a Street Fighter fan or simply someone who appreciates good action, this is a movie worth watching, and hopefully the start of a long, long series.
- "...who the hell's Dan?"
- Blanka cameo, watch for it or you might miss it. If you think about it, you'll know when it's happening.
- When did Mr. Masters become Australian?
- "Hi Roo" (shoutouts to S-Kill)
- In the original canon, Akuma fights Gouken during his first visit and loses. I guess they didn't want to compromise his badassedness.
- Despite some confusion, even within Capcom, as to the true nature of the Shun Goku Satsu, Ansah gets to the root of it in the subtitles.
- A fight scene that inspires people to start talking about frame data in the comments section must be doing something right.
- Yo Ken, you're not supposed to give Ryu his red headband until Alpha 2.
- I wish you were here for this one Ryan
- Some excellent comparisons between gifs of the movie and game sprites here and here.