Reviled by critics but now something of a cult classic, the legendary Street Fighter movie was one of the first ever attempts to translate a popular video game to the cinema screen. And things did not go according to plan.
Ti Singh, co-founder of Bristol Bad Film Club, spoke to actors Wes Studi (Sagat), Byron Mann (Ryu) and Grand L Bush (Balrog) about their experiences on the film, its enduring appeal with fans, and why a troubled production failed to dampen their enthusiasm.
Roundly derided on its release, and featuring some of the most bizarrely entertaining scenes in cinematic history, Street Fighter: The Movie is often dismissed as a mid-90s action disaster that set the trend for big screen adaptations of video games to get it horribly wrong.
And yet, more than 20 years after it first hit our screens, the doomed martial arts blockbuster has acquired an enthusiastic cult following, and continues to live on.
Maybe it’s because of the ‘so bad it’s good’ appeal. Maybe it’s because it’s still genuinely fun. Maybe it’s because the late Raul Julia, playing villain M Bison in his last ever film appearance before his untimely death, delivers one of the greatest, most exuberant, scenery-chewing bad guy performances of all time.
Regardless, the making of it is a fascinating story. And some of its central cast are all too happy to shed some light on being a part of the film.
For Ryu actor Byron Mann, probably best known to TV audiences today for playing Yao Fei in the first season of Arrow, Street Fighter was his first ever movie experience.
“This was back in 1994, when there were no video game movies. This and Mortal Kombat were the first ones. I had no idea it was a video game, I didn’t play video games and wasn’t entirely sure what they were all about – I just thought this was a regular movie.”
Stepping into the shoes of villainous henchman Sagat, Heat and Last Of The Mohicans star Wes Studi was similarly in the dark about the gaming aspect.
“I was not aware of the computer game at the time, as I am not much of a gamer. However I found the role of Sagat very interesting, because of its extremes.
“For me, Street Fighter was simply pitched as an action movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Also, what sold me on it was that it would be shooting in Thailand and Australia, and the fact that Raul Julia was co-starring was also a very positive plus.”
Balrog actor Grand L Bush, a prolific action veteran of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, Maniac Cop III, Demolition Man and the James Bond film Licence To Kill, was also keen to hop aboard.
“Universal Studios called my agency saying a film adaptation based on the incredibly popular computer game Street Fighter was in the works. The casting director wanted me to come in and read for one of the major roles – I did.
“That’s when I met the director Steven E. DeSouza for the very first time. The next thing I knew, I’d landed the gig and my transformation into Balrog The Ferocious started straight away.”
For DeSouza, a talented Hollywood screenwriter who had penned Die Hard and Beverley Hills Cop III, the film would be his first and only major feature project as a director.
It would be easy to lay the blame for its shortcomings at his feet – but all three actors I spoke to were unequivocal in their praise of him.
“I found Steven to be a very capable first time director,” recalls Studi.
“His intelligence is only exceeded by his kindness and generosity,” notes Bush.
Mann, who went into a little more detail about the issues with the production, had this to say:
“Steven had a blank slate as had been no real computer game movies before this, so he could do whatever he wanted. I think Super Mario Bros. had come out, but it wasn’t a big success, so Steven pitched to Capcom his idea to make it really cinematic and they were ok with it.
“I think it was just the production in Thailand, because it was so behind schedule. I think every week we lost one or two days, so after a month we were a whole week behind schedule, which was pretty serious as it was costing a lot of money.
“He’s very good with actors, he’s funny, but it was a lot to handle. The action was handled by Charlie Picerni, a very experienced stunt coordinator, but there was a bit of an episode towards the end of the film. The two of them had a serious bow-wow.
“Because the movie was only scheduled to shoot in Thailand and Australia for four months, when we wrapped there were still 30 pages of the movie we hadn’t shot. So, a month later, we were all summoned to Vancouver to finish the movie. So all the climatic fight and tunnel sequences were all done in Vancouver!
“We shot on three different continents, and went three months over-schedule. But that’s movie-making; it’s never tidy.”
It’s telling that all three cast members have extremely fond memories of their time on the film.
Mann remembers partying pretty hard with star Jean Claude Van Damme:
“If you’ve ever been to Thailand, you’ll know it’s a pretty exotic place. Lots of women running around. Lots of men running around. Lots of everything running around – you name it, they’ve got it there.
“Throughout the years I’ve become friends with JC (Jean-Claude) because he lives in Hong Kong, and so do I for part the year.
“When we were making Street Fighter in Bangkok, he invited me out for dinner. So, I asked what was the name of the restaurant and he said: ‘No Hands Restaurant.’
“So I walked in and JC was there, some of his friends and about 30 women. And it turned out you just have to sit there and the women feed you – you don’t have to use your hands.”
Bush, meanwhile, relished his training regime:
“We spent four more weeks running up and down the streets of Bangkok battling through stifling heat and walls of pollution. We jogged and sprinted for more than three kilometers each day.
“It was in exotic Bangkok where I lost more than one stone in body weight within 30 days and by the time we left for Australia, for two more months of filming I had become Balrog personified.”
Studi, who kept his signature eyepatch as a memento after filming, treasured working with Raul Julia, who was battling illness throughout the shoot.
“Raul was a real pleasure to work with. He was a consummate pro and a very giving actor.
“He had a big personality and a heart of gold, and despite his illness, he gave his all to the common effort of making Street Fighter an entertaining film.”
An entertaining film it remains, and Bush is quick to pay tribute to the fans who have kept its memory alive.
“Even when Street Fighter was being developed, it came to the drawing board with a huge ready-made fan base, so I’ve always known that it was destined to become a cult classic and I’m honoured that its popularity continues to be re-invented.
“Game not over – and for that, I remain eternally grateful.”
To read the full interviews with the Street Fighter cast, visit the following links: