Revisiting a film or show after a helluva long time sure throws its pros ‘n’ cons into sharp relief. Whereas upon first viewing, one generally views things with a receptive eye, taking in all the stimuli of a new situation, repeat viewings are conducted with a more critical, discerning eye that prunes and sears through the fat to get to the bone underneath…
Last night I watched the animé movie adaptation of Street Fighter II that I picked up on DVD over the weekend (and for just a fiver too – thankyee, Animé Village!) – I must say the Law of Diminishing Returns certainly applies with this one! It’s a great adaptation of the much-loved gamer’s slugfest, with plenty of fluid, faithful-to-the-game fight scenes to keep fans salivating. As a film per se, it’s like a foetus separated from it’s umbilical chord – that is, one unable to survive via its own means. Such is the “story” – specks of plot which merely tape together the fights – that were this a script for a live-actioner without a popular brand name to ensure popularity, it’d be a straight-to-the-bargain-bin release! Such is the unremarkability of the whole affair. Strung together setpieces do not a good story make – thus what seemed like “THE BEST FILM EVVA!!!!1111” when I was 13, just fails to fully deliver upon a decade’s reflection.
The blurb on the cover of the DVD reads “vastly superior to its live action counterpart” – I’m not sure if I’d be so ready to agree with that! It’s certainly a much better (read: more faithful) adaptation of the source material than the Van Damme vehicle, using the greater freedoms of animation to deliver a higher quality of fight scene than Hollywood’s effort could hope to muster – however, I have a soft spot for the universally-panned live-action spin-off, as flawed an adaptation as it was. The fact that De Souza took as many liberties with the source material as he did proved to be both its undoing and making. Whilst as a faithful adaptation of the source material it’s rubbish, in its own right it stands successfully as a competent piece of cinema.
I already hear ye laughing at the back – shut up! The animé version is a glorified, finely-motioned exercise in superfluity – you could shave many a scene from the production (Ken vs T.Hawk, Dee Jay’s meeting with Guile, Zangief vs Blanka) and lose nothing that impacts the story (such as it is). In De Souza’s valiant flop, every character plays a part in the central narrative, popularity contests aside – it’s as if he sat down and decided “I’m gonna write a story that incorporates all these characters”, as opposed to the Imai and Sugii approach of “Cram as many charas/ fights in there as possible – oh – and scribble a little story over it all once you’re done”. All of the charas in De Souza’s interpretation – unlike in the game and anime – are markedly on one side or the other (or at least have chosen a side by the film’s climax). A fitting means to giving each character a stronger integration into the main narrative, whatever their own agendas. Another refreshing change was the choice to play on the side of practicality as opposed to popularity and cast Guile as the hero, as opposed to the Shotokankas Ryu & Ken – I was a little disappointed how Guile, the one who had the most stake in bringing Bison (aka Vega) down, was cast aside with a blast of Psycho Power in the animé.
Speaking of Ken and Ryu, the most shocking thing about De Souza’s interpretation was his decision not to cast them (at least not initially) as stereotypical heroics – shorn of any affinities to ‘good’ or ‘evil’, the two are portrayed as mercenaries, selling their wares to whoever can cough up the cash. Granted, there’s always been an egoistic strain to these two characters, but De Souza really exploits it in his interpretation, giving us a pair of questionable rogue types more interested in pure financial advancement than advancement of “mind and body as one”. I suspect this (plus the admittedly laughable attempts to pull off the character’s trademark special moves) earned this film much of its scorn from fans….
Fans also deplore the camp, bombastic feel of the live-action flick, missing the point that the original game had its fair share of gonzoid goings-on. Me? I relish the sublime silliness of De Souza’s version – much more honest than Sugii’s use of faux-gravitas to hide a disintegrated narrative. Raul Julia hams up his final film role to fine effect as General Bison, and the other players – including Van Damme as Guile – seem to be having a gala of a time! No heavy ponderous nonsense where it doesn’t belong – just a group of decent actors getting into the feel of playing (at) a videogame!
I’m hoping that the critics will one day re-evaluate the estimations they hold each of these two adaptations in. Don’t get me wrong – De Souza’s live-action spin-off is far from Oscar material, and Sugii’s much-loved animé movie has good reasons for being liked in itself – but after the final bout has been fought in these two takes on the SF II mythos, it’s De Souza’s treatment I’ll more likely press that ‘continue’ button for…..