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Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist (Live-Action)

FUNimation // Unrated // October 28, 2014
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted November 3, 2014 | E-mail the Author
The Film/Series:

Too often in big-screen adaptations, especially with videogames, characters with straightforward histories and personality traits get inflated and bent to a script's whim, resulting in portrayals resembling their origins little beyond their name. Some, like Prince Dastan, Liu Kang, and even Bob Hoskins' Mario, escape their respective movies relatively unscathed; others, like Raidan, Luigi, and Max Payne, suffer heavy blows that make them nigh-impossible to value beyond reluctant understanding of the "... we've gotta make it work as a movie!" mentality. Few videogame adaptations are more egregious in that aspect than the '90s Street Fighter movie, notably in the depiction of fan-favorite characters Ken and Ryu: dedicated and conflicted warriors in the games reframed into daffy con artists. With knowledge of the successful Street Fighter animation and comic-book series under his belt, actor and stunt guy Joey Ansah decided to get his hands dirty in giving the franchise, and those characters, some due respect with Assassin's Fist. While flawed as a cohesive big-picture production, the two-plus hour series excels at being exhilarating, smartly reverent, and more philosophically pertinent than one might expect from a fighting-game flick.

Everything about Joey Ansah's take on the Street Fighter mythos exudes reference and precision, depicting the process of Ken and Ryu's training in the fading art of Ansatsuken ("Assassin's Fist") before they embark on their journey to the game's focal tournaments. It provides fleshed-out background information behind how they arrive at Master Gouken's doorstep in Japan -- Ryu as a mysterious orphan adopted by the martial arts master; Ken as the rambunctious child of a wealthy, busy entrepreneur in the US in need of discipline -- and the ways in which their personalities impact their focus on the spiritual/magical side of their art, the Ki, as well as their competitiveness with each other. In the midst of their training and character definition, they're also told the story of Gouken's brother, Goki, who struggled with channeling and controlling the mystical energy into the fighting style's potent energy/fireball attacks, a warning of what could happen if they lose themselves to the power.

Assassin's Fist originally appeared on Machinima (a la Mortal Kombat: Legacy) as a series of webisodes that clock in between ten and fifteen minutes a pop, each ending with some kind of credible "gotcha" moment that seamlessly feeds into the next installment's opening scene. Therefore, the chopped-up content flows together surprisingly well as a singular narrative, unnoticeably so, when welded together without the title cards; however, the sprawling length of all the picaresque segments continuing one after the other leads the production to suffer from some awkward storyline pacing issues. Part of that comes from the lack of an immediate conflict or stakes in the modern-era plot, which is essentially a feature-length training montage for Ryu and Ken as they discover their distinctive capabilities and experience their own issues with harnessing the Ki. In truth, the structure of Assassin's Fist predominately revolves around gratifying the games' fans instead of concentrating on forward-moving momentum, given only mild uncertainty in Ken's waning interest in the training and desire to fast-track his energy honing.

Here's the thing, though: Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist transforms that sparsely-plotted, doting concentration on the lore into its own style of martial-arts drama, hybridizing the discipline and control of physical training with the quasi-philosophical struggle in focusing Ken and Ryu's powers. The methods and willingness in how the guys decide to tap into their powers -- or fast-track their growth by unstable means, through the "dark" version of what they're being taught by their master -- becomes a source of depth and looming curiosity in the story, as well as a smart way of sketching out their personality types: restraint versus ferocity, embodied with mixed but admirable buoyancy by actors Christian Howard and Mike Moh. The struggle between controlling and unleashing one's potential (as well as resorting to darker, more wrathful motivations) certainly isn't a new concept, stretching back to '80s kung-fu films all way to Keanu Reeves' recent directorial debut in Man of Tai Chi. That said, it fits comfortably within the Street Fighter universe and manifests rather well on-screen through the warriors' Japanese training, especially when juxtaposed with the cautionary descent of Gouken's power-hungry brother.

Surprisingly, amid the fireballs, windmill kicks and rising uppercuts, Assassin's Fist manages to make Street Fighter's signature moves feel like natural extensions of a martial-arts style instead of showy indulgence, elevated by strong production values that defy the lack of Hollywood-caliber budget. Director Joey Ansah's grasp on hand-to-hand fighting shines in the choreography, photographed with a steady, clear perspective on the geography and potency of battle. Does the director's perspective delve headlong into fan-service territory? On occasions, sure, when he lingers a little too long on (numerous) uppercuts and on Ryu and Ken's changes in appearance. They're so frequently counterbalanced by Ansah's organic incorporation of other elements -- the formation and release of hadoken energy balls, the creation and emergence of their nemesis, Akuma (Ansah himself), and their purpose for embarking to the tournament itself -- that you're willing to enjoy his diligence in reminding the audience that he knows his way around what Street Fighter's all about, something sorely lacking in the messes contorted within the Van Damme and Kruek vehicles.

The Blu-ray:

Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist arrives from FUNimation in a standard three-disc package: Disc One being the red-topped Blu-ray, while Disc Two and Disc Three are black-topped standard DVD discs. Promotional artwork adorns the front and back covers, replicated by a cardboard slipcase, while nice darker-shaded inner design work adds a touch of class to the overall presentation. Note: The option isn't available to watch the content in separate webisode format, only a series of less than ten chapter stops; however, the episodes are still available to be viewed in their original broadcast format at

Video and Audio:

Assassin's Fist might be working with a streamlined budget, but it has a lot of eye-catching strengths going for it: exquisite interior and exterior locations with unique textures, dedication to the series' unique wardrobe and other aesthetics, and a capable grasp on defiant visual effects. It also has the formidable Red EPIC digital camera capturing its 2.35:1-framed mix of furious action and surprisingly steady-handed and inventive close-ups, with splashes of chic lighting and blitzed choreography to keep under control. FUNimation's 1080p AVC digital transfer misses very few beats in translating the visual strengths into a big-screen projection, respecting the dimensionality and depth of shadows and the clarity of fine details -- coarse rocks and wood grains, paint strokes and frayed fighting attire. The visual effects involving the energy balls, a mix of resourceful lighting and measured computer generation, are solid and as seamless as they can appear in high-definition, complete with blasts of vibrant blues and eerie reds and purples for the "darker" arts. A few dim shadows and mild edge halos are the only slight drawbacks to this beautiful HD rendering of an indie martial-arts flick.

It's the kind of production that'd benefit immensely from a multi-channel mixing, which would add potency to the whirlwind kicks and energy balls as well as touches of atmosphere during Ken and Ryu's training exercises. Unfortunately, as one might expect of an ultra resource-conscious indie action production, we're only working with a 2-channel English/Japanese Dolby TrueHD track for the activities; with that said, however, there's still a lot going on to embrace within this high-definition treatment. Separation across the channels is marginal, but noticeable when a fireball or a Satsu no Hado dark stance emerges, and elements like cascading water and insects in the woods create a convincing front-end environment. Punches and kicks exhibit a fairly robust lower-frequency response, while the full-tilt epic music keeps itself moderately under control against the brawling effects. The subtitles presented by FUNimation arrive in clear, bold font with a capable grasp on the flow and presence of dialogue, making the shifts from English to Japanese highly satisfying. They're available in optional English text for the Japanese dialogue and complete English SDH subs.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with Joey Ansah:
Director Ansah is pure enthusiasm, especially for the Street Fighter mythology, and it reflects in his unpretentious, sporadically energetic commentary track. While there are stretches of silence and a bit of plot explanation, he also digs into the production elements as well, from the shooting location that's a stand-in for Japan and fleshing out Ken and Ryu's training area to the "realism" behind the fight choreography. He digs into the visual effects in rendering the "Hado" energy attacks, as well as digging his heels in to discuss the many references to the games and extended-universe content throughout the production. You can easily pick up on Ansah's confidence and enthusiasm in the track, and it's justly deserved.

While there's an extensive list of segments included in the Making of Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist (14:38, 16x9) piece, it's a matter of quantity over quality given the succinctness of each chapter. It includes interviews with Joey Ansah, actors Mike Moh and (writer/choreographer) Christian Howard, and many other members of the cast and production crew. The piece also offers a cluster of behind-the-scenes shots of Ansah and his team making the Street Fighter universe into a reality, including the focused costume work and visual effects. FUNimation have also included a series of Deleted Scenes (11:10 16x9), including a nice reference to the Dan Hibiki character in the games, as well as a series of Outtakes (5:30, 16x9) and some cleverly-aged, in-universe content via Ken's Video Diary (3:20, 16x9). Wrapping things up are a series of promotional materials: a Main Trailer (1:50, 16x9) and a slew of other promos for FUNimation products. Full-featured DVD discs also accompany the Blu-ray.

Final Thoughts:

A metric ton of concentrated passion went into getting Street Fighter right in Assassin's Fist, and it shows through the justice Joey Ansah has done to the franchise in his polished series-turned-film. The fighting hits hard yet doesn't become too overindulgent in showing off its knowledge of the universe, the characters are precise yet not overly ostentatious in their references, and there's even a layer of depth in Ken and Ryu's ascent into skilled spirit-wielding warriors -- and the "sins" of their predecessors -- that goes above and beyond what one might expect from an adaptation of a fighting-game franchise. While episodic in nature and exhibiting some sluggishness in the storytelling as a response, each clump of content appropriately leads to the next into a surprisingly comprehensive and seamless culmination. It'll probably work best for most in 45-minute chunks (the length of three or four webisodes), but the option to watch it all as a long-form story is certainly preferable to broken-up shots. FUNimation's Blu-ray look fantastic and sounds decent, despite the lack of a full surround option, and carries a nice collection of extras that include a director's commentary and making-of segments. Very strongly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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