It’s hard to fathom for those who were too young in the early 90s, but at the time of its release, Street Fighter 2 was a juggernaut. It was a game so popular that it became one of the factors that contributed in giving Super Nintendo the edge over Sega Genesis. It gave dedicated arcade businesses a second life, right before their final decline. It was a cultural phenomenon that transcended the gaming community. Only Super Mario Bros. had really been tested on the silver screen before, so people had not been burned yet by video games adaptations. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling.
Released during the Holidays in 1994, Street Fighter: The Movie starred Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kylie Minogue, and Raul Julia. As a Van Damme fan, I adore this objectively bad movie with all my heart, and saw it in the theater during its original run. Its release was eagerly anticipated, and Capcom knew it. A toy deal was struck with Hasbro, turning the GI Joe action figures into Street Fighter characters. They even completed the circle by making a game about the movie, which was already based on a game.
The movie had all the characters that fans of the series love, but some slight alterations were made to the source material on its way to the final product. Let’s take a look at the most glaring differences between a campy Van Damme classic and the game it was based on.
15 Guile’s Origins
Let’s start with the hero of the movie, Colonel William F. Guile. While he is portrayed accurately, at least physically, by the always willing Jean-Claude Van Damme, the character is wrong in many ways. The real Guile is a Major and not a Colonel, and his first name has never been confirmed. If those were the only difference between the video games and the movie, I would call that a simple artistic liberty, but there’s one more thing that really sticks when comparing the two medias.
Guile is supposed to be the most American man to have ever lived, and yet, you might have noticed the “very slight” Belgian accent in the movie version. Van Damme does everything he can to be Guile: He has the tattoo, the tank top, and the split kick, but he can’t do an American accent to save his life, nor does he seem to try all that much. For the “so bad it’s good” crowd, it makes the movie perversely entertaining, and it gives Guile’s big speech a very mesmerizing quality. If that doesn’t make you want to get in your boat and head for Shadaloo City, you’re lying. As for consistency, however, it’s a pretty big departure from the source material.
14 M. Bison’s Job Description
Guile spends most of the movie running after M. Bison, who is the dictator of a small Asian country called Shadaloo. Not being a native of the area (as evidenced by his perfect Shakespearean pronunciation and the fact that he does not look Asian at all), M. Bison somehow took over the country with his army and is holding the population hostage. In his down time, he likes to torture people and say some really mean (but kinda cool) things to those he despises.
The original M. Bison is only the leader of a criminal organization. Sure, he’s a really bad one, specializing in drug trafficking, terrorism, and brainwashing, but he has yet to conquer an entire country. Raul Julia’s masterful interpretation nails the megalomaniac aspect of the character, but his interpretation shows Bison as a charismatic talker who is no match as a fighter without his electromagnetic suit. The real Bison is a psychopath, and a powerful one at that, who enhances his strength with Psycho Power: a spiritual force that feeds off fear, anger, and hatred. Kinda like the Dark Side of The Force, or the mood slime from Ghostbusters 2.
13 The Truth About Shadaloo
While we are talking about M. Bison, let’s talk about Shadaloo. The real Bison uses an organization named Shadaloo as a front to engage in all kinds of evil and diabolical schemes. We are talking about biochemical drugs and weapons, massacres of entire villages, and other assorted villainy. The organization is powerful enough to operate almost as a small country, amassing weapons and having enough wealth to employ scientists to work on their various experiments.
The movie takes it one step further, by turning Shadaloo into its own country, with Shadaloo City being the biggest agglomeration. Bison took over as ruler of the country, but a scene in the movie indicates that he does not really care all that much for it, as his objective seems to be transforming the place in his image and renaming it Bisonopolis. The game’s Shadaloo might be a lot scarier, but the movie’s version promises new, modern housing as well as food courts. In the meantime, the place is in the middle of a civil war, which is a cool story line, but which does not really set the stage for a whole lot of street fighting.
12 The Allied Nations
The Street Fighter series offers a diverse cast of characters, with the good guys usually having their own motivation for fighting. It can go from simple revenge to single-handedly taking down a criminal organization. Individual motivations are nice for a video game where you have time to explore every character, but when you are trying to cram twelve or more of them in a single movie, it becomes difficult to portray accurately. The movie’s solution: The Allied Nations.
What are the Allied Nations, exactly? They are like the United Nations, with less peacekeeping and a more aggressive posturing. Most of the good guys gravitate around the Allied Nations: Guile, Cammy, and T. Hawk are in the chain of command, while Chun-Li, Honda, and Balrog hang out because of their news reporting duties. The organization is portrayed as overly bureaucratic and ineffective. Their Deputy Secretary (who you might know as the bad guy in the second Ace Ventura) is even planning on cancelling their rescue of the hostages, but thankfully Guile is there to convince the troops to carry on, with the help of an inspiring speech and a good dose of Belgian charm. Good thing he did, because watching military people pack up their tents and go back home isn’t much of a movie climax.
And Jean-Claude Van Damme is all climax.
11 Doctor Dhalsim
Video game Dhalsim is a peaceful man who also happens to be a fierce fighter. He’s all about yoga and elephants because he’s Indian, and because Punch-Out!! apparently does not have the monopoly on stereotyping cultures. In Street Fighter, yoga also allows you to breathe fire and stretch your limbs to more than twice their regular size, but those abilities did not translate to the silver screen.
Movie Dhalsim is depicted as a scientist, a doctor who is forced by Bison to experiment on humans, or else. Video game Dhalsim will supposedly never kill an enemy, like a mostly-naked Batman. In the movie, Dhalsim gladly mutates Blanka to save his own skin, but switches the brainwashing program from images of destruction to videos of birds and nature and kids playing in a field. He might be creating an abomination, but it’s gonna be a nice abomination. In the end, the only thing that reminds us that this is supposed to be the true Dhalsim is that he unexpectedly loses all of his hair in an explosion near the end of the movie. It also gets rid of his shirt, and tears half of his pants off in a perfect approximation of his SF2 costume. It's one hell of an explosion.
10 Speaking Of Abomination…
We all know Blanka as the gruff but lovable green guy who fights like a beast and bites people. Officially, he’s just a guy who grew up in the jungle without parents, but he’s still a regular human being. He’s just a bit feral, that’s all.
Street Fighter: The Movie turned Blanka into a military guy named Carlos Blanka who gets captured by Bison, one of the many hostages with little hope of ever being released since the ransom is a steep twenty billion dollars. He’s injected with toxic stuff to turn him into a super soldier, greatly enhancing his strength, but turning him green in the process. The operation also grew his hair significantly in a few days, and despite keeping him immobile for such a long period, it doubled his muscle mass. It also significantly dumbed him down, as he seems to barely recognize human speech and reacts to information by tilting his head to the side like a confused puppy.
So the movie took a Brazilian jungle fighter and turned him into an intellectually-challenged super soldier. And somehow, some of the characters got it even worse.
9 Remember Charlie?
Charlie Nash has been talked about for a long time in the Street Fighter series, though his playable appearances have been few and far between. In Street Fighter 2, he was presumed dead, and Guile was fighting to avenge him. The movie took the character and mixed it with Blanka to become a single person. Thus was born Carlos “Charlie” Blanka. The names and origins might have been mixed up, but the character’s reason to exist remains the same. When he is captured, Guile swears to help his friend.
The movie twists the formula however by making Guile ultimately responsible for his friend’s own demise. When he is originally captured, Charlie/Blanka is assumed to be a regular Joe among the hostages. It’s only when Guile insults Bison and clumsily mentions his name as one of the hostages on live television that he gets singled out and turned into a dumb green guy. Good job on throwing your friend under the bus there, Guile.
Also, because Movie Guile is kind of a terrible person, he tries to shoot his friend in the head when he realizes what he has been turned into. Only Dhalsim stops him, probably so that they can debate who’s the most responsible for turning Charlie/Blanka into a violent monster.
8 Sagat Falls Short
I will admit that Sagat is my favourite Street Fighter. He’s a 7’4’’ monster with incredible reach and power. The games portray him as a Muay Thai master, one who for most of the franchise is second in command to M. Bison. He’s a force to be reckoned with, so one might assume that the movie gives him a prominent role. Instead, the adaptation changes pretty much everything about Sagat except for the eye patch.
The movie version of Sagat is a retired cage fighter who turned to arms dealing after his career ended. A job description change is not the end of the world; just show him kicking some ass at some point, and we’re still in business. The biggest problem with Sagat’s movie version is that he is changed into a short, 50 years old man. He spends more time in his business suit than he does fighting. Sure, he is played by Wes Studi, an actor with an impressive resume, but you would have expected a bit more physicality in a movie called Street Fighter. This would have been like casting Danny Devito as E. Honda. You might get a good performance, but it’s a much smaller-scale approximation of the character.
7 Ryu And Ken: Con Artists
One of the defining features of Street Fighter is the friendly rivalry between Ryu and Ken. Having trained together, the Shotokan fighters are two of the toughest and most well-liked characters in the series. Which is why it’s puzzling that the movie writers decided to turn them into con men who spend most of their time weaseling their way out of a fight.
Ryu and Ken punch a few bystanders in a staged prison escape, but you only really see them do anything noteworthy in a two-minutes fight near the end of the movie. Most of their screen time is spent turning them into the comedy relief team. Their biggest con is to sell fake weapons to Sagat. The weapons shoot tennis balls instead of grenades. Because it’s one of the stupidest plan ever executed on film, they get caught easily, but it doesn’t stop there. They also betray Chun-Li, who is about to take out all the bad guys at the same time and avenge her father. We are then supposed to cheer them when they have a change of heart and join the good guys. Even then, Ryu is the only one who really changes, as Ken tries to stay behind to steal gold until the very last minute.
6 Chun-Li’s Revenge
The only thing that both versions of Chun-Li have in common is the revenge story. They both want to avenge their father who was killed by M. Bison. In the games, she hopes to achieve vengeance by becoming an Interpol agent and tracking Bison down. In the movie, her plan is a lot more convoluted, just like everyone else’s story.
Once she decides to get revenge, Chun-Li learns martial arts so she can defend herself. Then, she tracks down other people who want to get even with Bison (Balrog and Honda, who we will talk about in the next entry), and they become war correspondents for a news channel. That part of the plan alone must have taken a very long time, because I doubt that three people just march into a news station and ask to become reporters. We’re talking about university studies, and being lucky enough to all get hired at the same station. Finally, they all get voluntarily captured just so Chun-Li can seduce Bison into having some private time, which she uses to kick him a whole lot instead of stabbing him when she has the chance. In the end, Guile is the one to kill Bison, and Chun-Li seems all right with that, even though her lifelong quest ended with a few kicks and someone else stealing her thunder. At least she's a good sport about it.
5 Balrog And E. Honda: Best Friends Forever
The only thing we should remember about Honda and Balrog from the video games is this: Balrog is Bison’s bodyguard, and kind of an idiot. Honda wants to prove how good sumo is, and somehow ends up on the good guys’ side. In the movie, we throw all of that to the garbage, because they are now the bests of friends! In fact, they are the other two members of Chun-Li’s news team: Balrog is a cameraman, and Honda is some kind of technician. He pushes buttons a lot. I don’t know much about TV production.
Balrog and Honda joined forces with Chun-Li because they are also looking for revenge on Bison. You see, Honda used to be a sumo wrestler and Bison ruined his career. Balrog quips “he did the same… to my boxing career”. It’s never properly explained how he did any of that. Was Bison so interested in professional sumo matches that he rigged a tournament? Did he plant rumours of drug use? And what about Balrog? If Mike Tyson was able to have a career after going to prison for sexual assault, what kind of terrible thing did Bison do to him? This is never properly explained, but we have to trust Honda and Balrog when they tell us they are angry at Bison. Like, REALLY angry.
4 At Least They Got The Braids Right
Dee Jay is one of the most loosely defined characters in the Street Fighter franchise. He’s introduced as a kickboxer who likes to dance, and as the series progresses, we learn that he also records albums and that he travels the world looking for new rhythms. That’s a ridiculous plan, as I feel like going to concerts and listening to new artists would be a better way to come up with new beats than kicking people in the face and getting involved in a war with international criminals.
The movie obviously also did not know what to do with Dee Jay, so they made him a computer geek who used to work for Microsoft, and who designed all of Bison’s computer and security systems. And then, because they put as much thought into his story as Capcom did, they simply plugged him in the background of a few scenes, and gave him about a dozen lines, most of which consist of variations on “Yes, General,” or “No, General.” That’s just enough words to let us realize that, yes, he does have a Jamaican accent, so it is indeed the Dee Jay we all know. Except that he does not throw a single punch or kick in the entire movie.
3 This Is Not The Zangief You Are Looking For
Zangief probably gets the worst downgrade of all characters in the movie. Once a proud Russian wrestler willing to defend his nation’s honor, the movie depicts Zangief as a moron, a man so dumb that he does not understand the concept of televisions. Indeed, when confronted with video images of a runaway truck on a path to the bad guys camp, his reaction is “Quick! Change the channel!”. It’s supposed to be humorous (and it kinda is, I guess), but it makes the character look like an irredeemable goof, with the mind of a child who hasn’t learned how to use the toilet yet.
The movie makes it a point to show that Zangief is not a bad guy, he’s just dumb and easily influenced. He’s convinced that Bison is the good guy, because the man told him so himself. Why would he lie? Later on, he learns that other people working for Bison were getting paid, unlike him, who was fighting for justice and freedom. That’s finally enough to make him snap and side with the real good guys.
Zangief’s only redemption comes in the form of an endless fight between him and Honda, as they rampage through Bison’s lair for the last 20 minutes of the movie or so. It’s one of the few running jokes that is effective in the movie.
2 The Famous Captain Sawada
In the games, the character of Captain Sawada is… non-existent. There is no Captain Sawada in Street Fighter 2. In the movie, he is the only named character who is not based on the video games. Instead, he is assumed to be a stand-in for Fei Long, who is the only Street Fighter 2 character to not be a part of the movie. So why did they go with “Captain Sawada” instead?
The story goes that Capcom wanted the actor to play Ryu, but the studio had already settled on another person. In order to please Capcom, the studio agreed to put him in the movie anyway, and being unable to find some space in the already crowded script, they took out Fei Long and put in the new character instead. Why did they name the new character “Sawada,” then?
Because it’s the actor’s real name. The switch was so lazy that instead of coming up with a brand new name and back story to match, they just had Kenya Sawada, the actor, play Captain Sawada, the character. And then, they gave him about two minutes of screen time and a punch or two in the final showdown, just to justify his existence.
1 Cammy and T. Hawk, Military Leaders
Cammy and T. Hawk, unlike Fei Long, do appear in the movie. They make an appearance as Guile’s closest friends and colleagues, the two people he can trust in battle. The original Cammy was a complicated personality, at first brainwashed by Bison and then a powerful spy for the British MI6. Thunder Hawk was a man whose village had been stolen, and whose wife had been kidnapped. Because complicated stories have no place in such a tight movie, their characters were reduced to “military woman” and “military man.”
The movie does make some effort to let us know that these are indeed Cammy and T. Hawk: for the final battle, Cammy removes her military jacket so she can be in her more recognizable leotard, although she does keep her pants on. It is, after all, a PG-13 movie. As for T. Hawk, he puts on a “Cherokee” headband, which he says is “for good luck.” And that’s how you know that he is a Native American.
As far as fighting go, Hawk and Cammy spend more time shooting guns than punching people. The final assault on Bison’s lair, which they lead, is a full-on naval military campaign, with machine guns, torpedoes, and grenades. While it would have been weird for a modern war to be fought with a gigantic fist fight, I don’t think anyone expected a movie called Street Fighter to turn into a cheap approximation of the Normandy Landings.