Welcome back to the Adaptation Fix-it Shop. The goal: rehabilitate remakes and reboots that, for one reason or another, just didn’t work. This time in the shop, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li.
The Legend of Chun Li is the second Street Fighter movie. The first, Street Fighter: The Movie also had issues, but the delicate balance the movie has between brilliance and inanity makes tinkering with it a difficult proposition. The Legend of Chun Li, though, has the issue of not quite feeling like a Street Fighter movie. There are two separate narratives in the film; one following Chun Li and her search for her father, the other following a pair of Interpol investigators trying to bring down M. Bison’s criminal organization. The separate plot lines do eventually merge late in the running time of the movie, but, until then, they’re in competition with each other for screen time.
The obvious fix is to pull the narratives apart, placing them in their own works away from the other. The Legend of Chun Li is an origin story; taking the focus off Chun Li detracts from the purpose of revealing her background. The Interpol investigation could stand alone without the Street Fighter ties; there is no reason for the main villain to be M. Bison. With the idea of pulling apart the narratives in mind, let’s rebuild The Legend of Chun Li.
One issue that needs to be dealt with early, the mix of martial arts and gun play. When a movie emphasizes martial arts, guns stop being effective, at least when used on the heroes. Likewise, the heroes never touch a gun. Why should they when their body is a far more effective weapon? The Legend of Chun Li mixed the two, adding to the narrative split. Chun Li avoided guns, but the Interpol agents were effective with them. The mix added to the issues the movie had. Another problem, this time stemming from the Interpol investigation, is that the narrative requires the villain be stopped, one way or another. Because Bison is a key character from the video game, he has, or, should have, script immunity, as will any character working for him that appeared in the game. Yet, given the events that happen in the movie, allowing Bison to escape will make the investigators look bad, especially given how close they got to him. Time to fix this.
I’ll start with the Street Fighter elements. It’s Chun Li’s origin story; how she became the character in the video game. The video game had her as a martial artist from China working as an Interpol agent avenging the death of her father. The Legend of Chun Li did have that up until the end, where she turned down the Interpol agents. Even having her father working for M. Bison’s organziation can be kept. Bison, though, is a would-be world conqueror with a criminal organization. It seems to be a step down to become just an land developer with no scruples. Bison should be up there in the same ranks as Blofeld, the Red Skull, and Cobra Commander. Why else would he have the spiffy red uniform? Given that several other characters from the video game also have a bone to pick with Bison, if The Legend of Chun Li is the start of a series of origin movies leading to a final showdown against Shadaloo, then Bison needs to survive the movie.
Now that I have the required elements, time to put things together. The goal of the story is to get Chun Li working for Interpol. Defeating Bison once and for all is out; we need him for another movie if this works. Disrupting one of Bison’s plans is possible, though. Chun Li needs a history with him, even if it happened on a Tuesday. The early part of The Legend of Chun Li, showing her time as a young girl, can be used, if only to show her relationship with her father. Even Bison’s organization kidnapping him can be kept, though having him appear to Chun Li should be avoided. Again, the goal is to get her into Interpol to avenge her father’s death. Chun Li needs to track her father and see him die at Bison’s hand, to make sure her quest for vengeance is personal. Bison, for his part, needs an appropriate scheme. The land flipping in the movie is a start, but it shouldn’t be the end goal. The man has eyes on taking over the world. Getting power over elected and unelected officials is just part of the plan. Replacing them, taking over their country, building up a private army, that’s more world conqueror. The land flipping needs to lead into the bigger scheme, something that Chun Li can disrupt while still letting Bison escape.
The tone is going to be difficult. On one hand, the almost cartoon-ish approach of Street Fighter: The Movie is too light. At the same time, the martial arts involved aren’t that realistic, even if they are based on real arts. The video game characters toss fireballs and perform upside-down flying spin kicks. The movie’s tone has to handle the almost-superheroic powers. This is why I compared Bison to the Red Skull and Cobra Commander; his scheme needs to be achievable but matching the over-the-top-ness of the video game’s martial arts. Buying up land on the cheap is too real. Using that land to hide a mind-control laser is too unreal. There’s a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.
At this point, I have Bison kidnapping Chun Li’s father to use him as part of a nefarious plot, Chun Li learning martial arts to help her track her father’s kidnapper, and Bison executing the father in front of Chun Li. Her father needs to be integral to the scheme; scientist is usually a good role and the specialization can inform the nature of Bison’s plot. At some point, though, Chun Li’s father becomes superfluous and is either killed to prove to Chun Li that Bison means business or is killed out of hand to eliminate a loose end. Either way, Chun Li witnesses the execution. Through this, Chun Li battles waves of Bison’s troops, starting with mooks both singly and en masse before running into on of Bison’s lieutenants. The Legend of Chun Li used Balrog for this role, though Vega got a brief cameo for the sake of a cameo. In either character’s case, the fight must leave whoever appears alive, though unconscious or thrown off a building into a container of pillows are acceptable end conditions. The final battle should involve Chun Li and Bison, with Bison getting away. The appearance of an Interpol team who needs help from Chun Li should be enough to let Bison get into an escape craft; the idea should be that, if the fight wasn’t interrupted, Chun Li could have won. Interpol recruits her, and the movie ends.
The idea is very loose, and The Legend of Chun Li did incorporate most of the above. The difference is that the above outline keeps the focus on Chun Li. Interpol is there solely because the organization needs to recruit her. The agents appear at the end, though hints throughout the new movie can be inserted. Shadowy people on street corners watching Chun Li can reveal themselves at the end when they need to be rescued, for example. The Interpol angle, though, is a subplot, not the main plot.
With the Street Fighter elements taken out, what can be done with the Interpol half of The Legend of Chun Li? The investigation was a decent enough crime drama. With the requirement to be tied into the Street Fighter setting removed, the criminal land developer becomes a decent mastermind. The land flipping makes sense as a plot, something that local police can’t handle because the upper echelons have been bribed or ordered to ignore what is happening. The over-the-top martial arts are gone, allowing the agents to use guns and normal combat techniques in the final assault. The running time of the movie that dealt with Chun Li can now be dedicated to either the investigation or the machinations of the villain. The Interpol agents can come into their own instead of sharing a plot with a licensed character.
The key issue with Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li was the tone. The movie just did not have the right field. Part of the problem was keeping Bison as a realistic, though exaggerated, crime lord. Separating Chun Li’s origins and the Interpol subplot allows both to thrive.
Next week, a look at adaptations through the history of film.