In 2010, long-time friends and martial arts practitioners Joey Ansah (The Bourne Ultimatum) and Christian Howard finished developing Street Fighter: Legacy, a self-made short film that, in no uncertain terms, aimed to show the world how good an adaptation of the franchise could be. Their plan worked: Capcom gave them the go-ahead in 2012, so the friends---working again with producer Jacqueline Quella---expanded the scope to a feature-length film that explored the humble origins of Street Fighter icons Ken (Christian Howard, reprising his role from Legacy) and Ryu (Mike Moh). Their Kickstarter campaign began in 2013 but was cancelled within weeks after private funding was secured.
The newly-christened Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist was filmed in Bulgaria (which doubled for rural Japan quite nicely, believe it or not), and the finished product was received warmly by critics and fans alike, especially those still trying to erase their memories of the 1994 film and 2009's equally awful Legend of Chun-Li. Originally posted on Machinima as eight separate 11-minute webisodes, the full-length version of Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist runs for a whopping 150 minutes and, for now, remains exclusive to Blu-ray and DVD. I approached the webisodes---and, to a much lesser extent, this expanded version---with caution, as the prospect of sitting through two and a half hours of material based on two characters from a fighting game just felt...silly, to be honest. But the end result is an entertaining, well-made effort that survives almost every handicap and could even succeed without the franchise association.
Anyway, the story is simple enough and follows our red and white-clad heroes as they learn the mystical power of "Hado" in the dojo of Gouken (Akira Koieyama), who doubles as a long-time friend of Ken's family and Ryu's adoptive father. They're skilled students with an obvious love and respect for one another and their sensei, but they're positive that his past is much more complicated than he's led them to believe. It turns out that Gouken's brother Gouki (Gaku Space) was drawn to a dark version of "Hado"---partially with the encouragement of their sensei, Goutetsu (Togo Igawa)---but his lust for power literally transforms him into a demon (or "Akuma", again portrayed by director Joey Ansah) who trains in seclusion under extreme physical and mental stress. Gouki's humanity was almost gone even before he left the dojo and underwent the transformation, but it's not long before he returns to see his brother.
Assassin's Fist is told in fragmented, non-linear chunks, which isn't surprising given the material's episodic origins. The budget is minimal and there a less characters, environments, and action than you'd expect for an adaptation of this type. The film's exhaustive running time seems like yet another potential handicap. Yet the capable performances, fantastic choreography, terrific set design, and obvious love for the source material absolutely carry most of the weight, resulting in a relatively breezy viewing experience that has paved the way for a follow-up within the next two years. Funimation's Blu-ray/DVD combo pack follows suit with a strong A/V presentation and a handful of extras which, along with the "feature-length" additions, should entice those who saw it for free to help support the cause.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Shot with digital RED Epic cameras and presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Assassin's Fist looks pretty darn impressive from start to finish. The overall picture is smooth but not smeary, sharp but not processed, and balanced but not flat. Textures and image detail are quite good and the modest but pleasing special effects blend well. Flashbacks, meltdowns, transformations, and dream sequences are occasionally post-processed or color tinted for stylistic effect, but overall this feature has a uniform appearance that fans will appreciate. Digital imperfections are largely absent, though one brief shot appears to suffer from interlacing and slight banding can be spotted on occasion.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional images in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
The singular audio option on this Blu-ray is Dolby TrueHD 2.0...and unfortunately, that's not a typo. It's likely that Assassin's Fist was limited to two channels for budgetary reasons...but either way, the film's atmosphere and overall impact aren't hampered too much. There's still a strong amount of channel separation at times, dialogue is clean and crisp, and the sporadic music cues don't fight for attention. Those who like to fiddle with their receivers may want to experiment with simulated surround just for fun...but even right out of the box, this is a perfectly fine presentation of slightly limited source material. Bonus points, however, for two sets of subtitles: one just for the Japanese dialogue (with partial text and vocabulary translation), as well as a full SDH track for the deaf and hearing impaired.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The interface is smooth and simple with a montage of action scenes and clean, clutter-free navigation...although, not surprisingly, a handful of trailers, logos, and other distractions must be dealt with beforehand. The final packaging was not included with this "check disc", but an updated summary can be found on Thomas Spurlin's excellent review
posted last month. In the meantime, I'll be sure to update this section if and when a final copy is mailed out.
There's a good mix of stuff on paper, but most of it doesn't dig below the surface. The main attraction is a feature-length Audio Commentary
with director Joey Ansah, who does an admirable job of filling the entire 150-minute session. Topics include shooting in Bulgaria, story structure, performances, music, Street Fighter Legacy
, franchise memories and mythology, production design (props, sets, etc.), securing the budget, and much more. Ansah has a tendency to fall silent at times and often narrates the action or plot, but this is still a worthwhile track nonetheless.
Covering similar ground is a series of Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes (9 clips, 14:38 total)...but as the running time suggests, these are extremely short and don't go into much detail. These include separate interviews with Ansah, producer Jacqueline Quella, actors Akira Koieyama (Gouken), Christian Howard and Mike Moh (Ken and Ryu), Togo Igawa (Goutetsu), and Hyunri (Sayaka), as well as brief glimpses at the costume design, fights, and special effects.
A collection of Deleted and Extended Scenes is up next (4 clips, 11:10 total), entitled "Who the Hell is Dan?!", "Gouki's Photo", "Letter from Mr. Masters", and "Paying Respects", as well as three brief but amusing "Ken's Video Diary" entries (3:20 total), a series of Outtakes (5:30), the film's Main Trailer (1:50), and a few Previews for other Funimation titles. Unfortunately, optional captions or subtitles have not been included during any of these bonus features.
Most movie adaptations of video games are nothing more than "bad ports": they either crank the cheese factor too high or saddle colorful characters with pretentious, bloated mythology. Surprisingly enough, this 152-minute origin story of two lead characters from a fighting game---assembled from a dozen webisodes, no less---is not only entertaining, but it could possibly succeed even without the franchise association. Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist balances drama, mystery, and action fairly well during the bulk of its lifespan, serving up just enough fan service to satisfy die-hard disciples without alienating newcomers. Aside from a handful of cheesy moments and a few questionable wigs, it's a good time at the movies. Funimation's Blu-ray/DVD combo pack offers terrific A/V quality and a handful of decent bonus features which should tempt those who already saw most of it for free earlier this year. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.