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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Art of Storytelling and The Legend of Chun Li

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I would start this with a gag about how theres nothing worth saying about Street Fighter:

The Legend of Chun Li, but Im gonna be talking for, like, twenty minutes straight,

so here we go,

Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun Li, a massive failure of intent.

[Title Theme]

Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun Li is a very odd film.

It feels like an honest attempt at taking the video game adaptation and elevating it

to the same level of respect as literary adaptations, and does so by mimicking

The Transformers.

You said cars pick their drivers.

Sometimes they pick a driver with a cheap-ass father, out the car.

Now, this isnt to say that the literary adaptation is inherently high class, there

are definitely greater and lesser adaptations out there

On one hand you have adaptations like Annihilation that, while not strictly faithful to the original

text capture the spirit of the novel in a way that takes advantage of the change in

medium, and on the other hand you have stuff like Earthsea.

Did you see those red marking on the side of its head?

Yes, very attractive.

I've read about a dragon once with markings like those.

Fascinating, you can tell me by the fire one night.

Wait a minute. Red markings?

Like the dragon that ravaged Tavnor?

That's the one, do you remember it's true name?

The one to bind it?

The one to subdue it to your will so you can ask it any three questions you desire?


but that specific spread in quality, and the sheer volume of adaptations that have been

made, means that a movie based on a book tends to get a pretty fair shake critically.

The presuppositions created by the phrasebased on the best selling novelare

broadly neutral, trending toward positive.

The same cannot be said for the phrasebased on the hit video game.”

The pursuit of therespectablevideo game movie has remained elusive, but boy are

studios still trying.

Tomb Raider and Assassins Creed would be the most recent failed attempts at securing

some prestige, but lets roll back a decade.

Its 2009.

The Playstation 3 and XBox 360 are hits, and high definition gaming is no longer next gen,

its the standard.

Blockbuster video games are investing more and more in narrative.

Genres that would have previously done little more than pointed the player in a direction

and just saidyeah, uh, shoot the dudes in redare expected to have a campaign

laden with pathos, melodrama, full voice acting, and mocapped facial animation.

Simultaneously so-called nerd culture has surged into the mainstream with the better

part of the decade being dominated by huge geek franchises such as Harry Potter, the

Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Transformers dominating the box office and, to a large

degree, the cultural zeitgeist itself.

In 2009 Capcom tried to capitalize on this apparent respectability by turning Street

Fighter into an arty crime drama.

By copying The Transformers.

It did not work.

I love this job

While the dramatic qualities of Michael Bays 2007 Transformers have been the subject of

endless ridicule and criticism, the spectacle still resonated with audiences, and those

profits definitely resonated with investors.

From aspect ratio to colour palette to story structure, everything about Legend of Chun Li

is the budget-friendly version.

Same aspect ratio, but using spherical lenses instead of expensive, troublesome anamorphic lenses.

Same colour palette, but in broad, washed tones instead of an expensive frame-by-frame

colour grade.

Same plot structure with a superfluous Troopcop b-plot that only collides with the a-plot

at the very end.

Its actually kind of unsettling the degree to which Legend of Chun Li is clearly cribbing

from Michael Bays notes, all part of an attempt at coding itself as areal movie”.

It even aspires to a similar weight and intensity.

Not just action, but capital D Drama, which brings us to the other primary influence,

Ang Lees Crouching Tiger.

On some level this project started as Crouching Tiger, they wanted Legend of Chun Li to be

a martial arts action movie that was, at its core, a character driven drama, much like

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

That's not a bad goal, all told, and a character like Chun Li isn't a bad choice if that's

the story you want to tell.

Within the Street Fighter universe Chun Li is easily one of the more accessible characters.

She's an attractive martial artist who works for Interpol, she's out to avenge her father's

death, and... that's about it.

Unlike a lot of the other characters from the games you don't have to exposit a deep

mythology, explain magic powers, or introduce dozens of other core characters in order to

tell her basic story.

It is a straightforward origins and revenge plot, which frees you up to really focus on,

well, character and story.

A good cue to the dramatic intent of the film is in the specifics of the editing.

The movie starts with a glory shot of the Golden Gate bridge which pans over to kid

Chun Li playing piano and her father watching proudly while adult Chun Li narrates over

top ruminating on her childhood dream of being a concert pianist.

This moment lasts almost a minute and has only two edits for a very quick insert.

From there the film cuts into a much faster paced sequence of aerial shots of Hong Kong,

and the music changes from relaxed piano to tense electro rock.

Both the editor and cinematographer are working to bring us into Chun Li's emotional space,

they want us to share her viewpoint and understand the contrast in her life, the peace and serenity

of her early years in San Francisco versus the uncertainty and chaos of Hong Kong.

This is solid fundamental film making.

So whats the problem?

[Laughs] oh boy is the script terrible.

Thats not the only problem, but if we were to point to a singular core issue that's what

went wrong with Crouching Pianist Hidden Street Fighter: the script sucks.

The performances leave a lot to be desired, but its hard to give a powerful performance

when the script consists of gems like this:

my father was an important business man

Your father was a very well connected business man.

Kreuk sounds like she's reading a bedtime story to a three year old.

Which, yeah, sure, a great way to really elevate your video game movie is to condescend to

the audience like theyre actual children, sure, yeah.

With my mother gone, the path in front of me was empty.

I couldn't help feeling like I was being led somewhere new.

Im actually willing to bet that this voice over, like many a terrible narrator past,

was a late addition once they realized the plot was not particularly compelling on its

own merits and audiences were having trouble following the setup because its boring.

However Kreuks condescending narration is not the least of the script's problems.

For some brevity, let's just make it into a list of major flaws, though I'm not going

to be able to get to all of these.

1 - Terrible dialogue 2 - Villain with unclear goals and motivations

3 - Poorly explained stakes 4 - Multiple extraneous characters with dead

end plotlines 5 - Main character learns nothing worthwhile

and does not change 6 - Changes are made to the source material

that actively makes the story worse 7 - Inconsistent moral core in a movie about

doing the right thing

And that is the bottom line that were going to dig into here: this movie sucks because

the script is terrible.

Lets talk about that plot, shall we?

As a young child Chun Li wants to be a concert pianist.

Her family moves to Hong Kong.

She is taught Wushu by her father.

However at a young age her father is kidnapped by Bison, played here by Neal McDonough doing

his best to try and set himself apart from Raul Julias sublime performance of the

character by acting the character with a lilting Irish brogue.

Chun Li grows up and does become a concert pianist.

After a performance one night she receives an ancient scroll as a gift from an unknown


On her way home she sees a man with a spider web tattoo on his hand get mugged in the subway,

and she calls for help, but no one comes and then the scene just ends.

This is the kind of moment that isnt going to stand out on the first viewing, because

you mentally assume theyre going to fill it in down the line, but they dont.

I am, despite multiple viewings, hard pressed to explain the point or purpose of this mugging


Moving on Chun Lis mom dies of cancer.

Bison has his business partners killed for no discernible reason.

Bison menaces Chun Lis father who he has stashed away in a basement somewhere doing


After her mothers funeral Chun Li gets her scroll read and the woman tells her she

needs to find a man named Gen, whos the guy with the spider web tattoo, and then I

guess Chun Li becomes homeless in Thailand because thats her plan to find Gen?

This isn't well explained at all, a lot changes very quickly, and none of her friends or family

seem concerned that she's quitting her job and moving to Bangkok on a whim shortly following

the death of her mother without making any prior arrangements for housing, finances,

or contact.

We'll come back to this plot point later.

Bison acts menacing while talking about real estate.

Chun Li fights off six guys while starving and sleep deprived, then collapses after murdering

a man by dropping a shelving unit full of power tools onto him.

She's picked up by Gen who takes her back to his place and trains her to make fireballs

in an extended training montage and he tells Chun Li that Bison is the person who kidnapped

her father, and so Chun Li starts spying on Bisons team.

Actually, as a part of this he explains that he used to be part of Shadaloo, Bison's organization,

but he grew a conscience so he started the Order of the Web to try and repair the damage

that he had done as a criminal, but hes only, like, fifty, which would mean these

ancient scrolls are younger than a New Kids on the Block poster.

So the next 20 minutes or so are largely concerned with Bisons real estate conspiracy.

He is, I guess, extorting the city of Bankok into selling him the riverside slums so that

he can kick out all the residents, bulldoze the neighbourhood, and build a series of luxury

condos, but Im not sure why he needs to do all this extorting because this sounds

like exactly the kind of garbage move cities are already more than willing to do.

Also theres a MacGuffin called the White Rose that Bison is trying to smuggle into

the city.

This sub plot leads to Chun Li following Bisons henchwoman Cantana into a nightclub where

were going to put the movie on pause and talk for a second about gaze.

I have talked in the past about the Kuleshov effect, the principle of Montage, and the

psychological mechanisms through which editing creates meaning.

Now, gaze describes the act of looking.

In a film context we are principally concerned with the gaze of the camera, meaning what

the camera chooses to look at and how it chooses to look at it, and yes this involves anthropomorphizing

the movie.

No better are the ideas of gaze and montage demonstrated than when a film chooses to use

its gaze to express the gaze of a character within the film, which is itself a situation

manufactured to justify gazing.

So, Chun Lis plan to get information out of Cantana is to seduce her, a plan to which

Cantana is potentially receptive because shes attracted to women, a detail that is communicated

to us the audience via the camera following her gaze, and gazing on the women in the dance


This isnt necessarily condemnation, but I think its useful and instructive to actually

break down the why and how of this information exchange, how is it that we, as an audience,

come to understand that Cantana is attracted to women purely via the use of juxtaposed


Being aware of these kinds of mechanisms makes us more alert as film viewers, more conscious

of the ways in which a film is steering our attention and our emotions, and in turn making

us better equipped to vocalize the messages that media is presenting us with, in this

case the way that the film has chosen to justify staring at womens asses by using a female

character as the agent of that staring.

Anyway, this subplot ends with Chun Li fighting Cantana in the bathroom, and as shes escaping

from the nightclub she shoots a man in the chest at point blank range.

So, yeh, hes dead.

In a scene that is up there in the realms ofwhere did they think they were going

with this?”

Bison is using Cantanas dead body as a punching bag because shed already said

too much.

Alright, strap in for a second, ‘cus this is where things really jump off the rails.

Like, the punching bag scene is definitely something, Gen fills in Bisons whole back


So, in his youth as the orphan of some Irish missionaries who died in Thailand he used

to just steal fish but crossfade time jump to much later in life when hes I guess

no longer homeless he takes his very pregnant new wife to a cave and kills her by ripping

their baby out through her belly in order to put all his goodness into the baby so that

he wouldn't have a conscience and would only be pure evil.

We'll come back to this one too.

Evil guys attack the secret hide out in the stupidest way possible.

They send in ninjas to fight hand to hand when they have a rocket launcher in the car.

Both parts of that are stupid, but it does give us the best line in the film.

I'll do it myself

In the explosion Gen dies, then Bison hires Vega to kill Chun Li then Vega promptly gets

his ass kicked.

Now, this next scene, Chun Li physically assaults a civilian for not giving up private shipping

manifests and gets some more information about the White Rose, but for me the scene is more

instructive because of the sound.

I havent pointed this out up until now, but the dialogue in the film has overwhelmingly

been re-dubbed, which is actually part of why the performances feel so flat and disjointed:

the emotion of the face and lips just doesnt quite match the sound that youre hearing.

Also theres a different character to the dialogue thats recorded in a sound booth

versus the dialogue thats recorded on set.

Its subtle, but pervasive.

Now, if you listen to this guys lines,

listen lady, I think it's time for you to go

Hear how theyre kinda mumbly and overlapping with a lot of room noise and echoes?

I think it's time for you to go

I wouldnt be surprised to find out that most of the on set sound was like this, which

is why theres so much dubbing like this

What does this have to do with my father?

Many people wanted those connections.

People like Bison.

The leader of Shadaloo

Moving on with the plot, Chun Li gets trapped and captured.

Bison kills her dad in front of her.

She escapes, but takes a grazing shot in a market, and manages to slip away once a riot


Gen shows up because hes not dead, just a dick, uses magic powers to heal her bullet

wound in seconds, and she finally figures out how to make a fireball.

Returning to the dock she threatens this guy again, there's a big fight at the docks, Gen

fights Balrog, they figure out that the White Rose is Bison's daughter, Chun Li knocks Bison

off the roof with a fireball, kills him in front of his daughter, buries her dad, plants

some sequel bait, credits roll.

Did you even notice the two supporting characters that I cut from the plot?

These two?

The interpol agent and the Thai detective?


Guess we didn't need them.

His name's Bison Ive tracked him through eleven major cities on four continents and

never come close, not once.

They actually take up a substantial chunk of the screen time, theyre a couple of

cops in pursuit of Bison and his Shadalaoo organization, but mostly they just sit slightly

off to the side of the action or show up after everything is over.

Theyre pretty much just here for padding and innuendo.

We should be more aggressive

Looks like you got that down

Well, unlike you, I don't lose my man

Alright, [cracking noise] let's start with the whole "abandoning your past life" storyline.

The first major flaw in this is that no one tries to stop her.

Her mother just died, she's clearly in a deeply vulnerable place in her life, and not one

of these people, friends, or extended family tries to intervene when she quits her job

and packs up her house.

this isn't indicative of a plot hole, it's indicative of a fundamental lack of drama

or conflict.

And this all ties in to another issue: she doesn't actually abandon everything.

She doesn't get up and walk away from it all, taking only some bare essentials and living

with the poorest of society.

Oh, sure, she sleeps in an alley and skips out on showering, but at the end of the movie

she's moving right back into her multimillion dollar Hong Kong mansion.

Living on the streets for a couple weeks was probably instructive, but she was basically

a poverty tourist.

If she ever got tired of living in a slum there was always a mansion waiting back in

Hong Kong.

She sacrificed nothing.

This ties directly into the character arc: Chun Li doesn't really learn anything or change.

At the start of the film she's a confident, spunky, kindhearted person.

As the film progresses she dabbles in poverty tourism, kills three men in cold blood without

remorse, and returns to her life of wealth as a spunky, kindhearted, slightly more confident


Now, that's not an irredeemable problem.

Lots of good movies have main characters who don't learn or change all that much.

But it IS a problem when your movie opens with the main character pondering how they

turned into the person they are!

Sometimes I wonder how I got to be the way I am.

The writers have explicitly set up a transformation story.

I used to be a little girl who wanted to be a piano player, now I'm a cold hearted killer

who murders people for the greater good.

I used to be a selfish, upper class snob, but I learned the value of hard work, community,

and sacrifice.

These are the kinds of stories that we are, very literally, being told to expect.

Any transformation contrast is deeply compromised by the early scenes of the film, when her

father is kidnapped.

Now, the problem is not the existence of these scenes, but their proportional length within

the film.

We're shown that she's been exposed to this criminal world since she was a little girl

and we only spend the briefest time with her as a civilian.

This is a really good example of how movies need to function emotionally and not just


We can look at the opening of the film and extrapolate that logically everything between

her father being kidnapped and her success as an adult was more or less normal but we

dont feel the respective weight of these things

Because it's such a tiny part of the opening her time as a concert pianist feels more like

a brief interlude in a life of violence, a hobby that she took up to pass the time waiting

for revenge, rather than the normal world that she's pulled out of, and what little

we see of her in that stage of her life is basically the same person we see at the end

of the film.

The only thing that changes is the number of living parents and felony murders.

Next up is the whole thing where Bison transfers his goodness into a little baby.

I have a couple problems with this scene.

First, and least important, is that the intensity and violence of the scene is considerably

out of place given the tone and treatment of violence throughout the rest of the film.

It's an extremely jarring kick-the-dog scene that's meant to show the audience just how

evil the bad guy is, but I think it becomes less effective because it's so relatively


It's such a sharp break from almost everything else that it pulls you out to a place where

it stops being the actions of a character and becomes the decision of some filmmakers.

Youre not thinking about the moment and its place in the emotional tapestry of the

movie, youre thinking about why the people who made this made it the way they did.

The only other scene that comes close is where Bison is using Cantanas body as a punching

bag, while everything else is sanitized, bloodless, fantasy violence.

Beyond that is the implications of this scene on the metaphysical world of the film.

So, first, things that happen in movies dont need to be true.

Like, characters can believe something without that thing being diegetically factual.

It's one thing for this myth to exist, for Gen to tell Chun Li this mystical rumour that

he heard, but it's effectively confirmed later in the film that his daughter is, in fact,

the vessel holding all the goodness of his soul.

That means that in the world of Street Fighter good and bad are tangible products that can

be transferred from one person to another.

While the implications on free will and morality are staggering, most importantly it does nothing

to actually improve the story at all.

It makes Bison less comprehensible.

It doesnt make his goals any clearer.

We still have no idea what he's up to, what he's doing on a day to day basis, and what

his end goal is.

It actually makes it worse.

By offloading the explanation onto supernatural evil the screenwriters fall into the trap

where the villains actions are tautologically justified by them being the villain.

Its fine for melodrama, Raul Julia understood that

The day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life.

But for me?

It was Tuesday.

But Legend of Chun Li is trying to take itself seriously.

There's one thing I learned in the slums: when people are hungry there's nothing they

won't do.

Everyone has a price.

There's a plot in here about buying up waterfront property for redevelopment, but they're extorting

the city board into making the sale which makes no sense.

Was the board zoning the area as a slum for purely altruistic reasons?

It's like the writers couldn't decide if Bison should be using black magic, private military,

shady business practices, or a Chinatown style shakedown, so they tried to squeeze them all


It's hard to care about any of them since the stakes are so vague.

The people who live in the slum get kicked out, then vanish never to be seen or mentioned

again, not that we ever really connected with them in the first place.

The big showdown at the end with Interpol, Bison, and Chun Li doesn't even have anything

to do with the whole slum buyout anyway, and the plot line is never resolved.

The only reason anyone cares about the White Rose shipment is because they think it might

be a weapon, even though Bisons whole plan is pretty much just capitalism.

To top it all off, the changes to the source material actively make the story worse.

In her original incarnations Chun Li is alternately an undercover cop or an Interpol agent.

Changing her from a cop to a concert pianist does nothing to raise the stakes or make the

character more relatable.

In fact it makes the story hard to tell because you now have to justify all kinds of crazy

crap that's super easy to hand wave if she works for interpol.

Why is she in Thailand?

Why does she know martial arts?

Why does she have combat training and not freak out the first time someone pulls a gun

on her?

Why does she care about the legal front of a criminal organization?

all of this action nonsense is just explained in one line if she works for Interpol.

The character conflict comes baked in: when she confronts Bison does she stick with her

training and let the courts bring him to justice, or does she extract revenge and kill him herself?

When she meets Gen does she stick with Interpol with its superior resources, but strict rules

and expectations, or become a vigilante and join the Order of the Web?

Instead we're asked to believe that a concert pianist who learned kung fu as a kid is going

to be willing to throw herself at a well armed international criminal organization and not

wind up as Jane Doe floating down the river.

So, they wanted to legitimize the video game adaptation and they screwed it up with an

awful script.

Every single problem with this movie comes back to the script.

The characters frequently make decisions based on information they don't have because the

script needs to get them somewhere, the villains are an indistinct mass made of every bad guy

trope possible, resulting in an antagonist that's too confusing to take seriously, and

entire chunks of the film are flat out useless to the story.

the funny thing is that they failed so hard that even when talking about video game movies,

a sub-genre that is peppered with examples that plumb the depths of shoddy, hilarious,

and hilariously shoddy filmmaking, that they made something most notable for how forgettable

it is.

It does all make the movie somewhat unique.

You're not a schoolgirl anymore.

Really in all the agonizing over when video game movies are going to finally be good we

miss that they already peaked with Super Mario Bros. in 1993.

Okay, look, how many Marios are there between the two of ya?

There's three: there's Mario Mario and Luigi Mario



Help these Marios around the side.

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