Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie – A thoroughly unpretentious lesson in arse-kicking

Sometimes it’s hard to look at movies objectionably; I grew up in the 90s and during this exciting decade, Street Fighter II was the ultimate beat ’em up arcade game. Not only was it fun to play, it was a great source of competition too; anyone who put their money into the arcade version was potentially subject to a random challenge from a fellow gamer – and if you lose, you can wave goodbye to that £2 worth of credit you just pumped into the machine too. Inevitably, you do lose, ’cause the other guy is an "older kid" and knows all of M.Bison’s special moves! It wasn’t fair then, and it sure as hell don’t feel fair now either!
I first sat through Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie around about ’97. I still remember seeing a trailer for it on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast. Suffice to say, it looked frickin’ cool, so my brothers and I clobbered together our meagre £5 pocket money (sometimes we join forces for the greater good) and bought the VHS tape that same day. I wasn’t an anime fan back then; but this movie was like a bolt of lightning for a trio of Street Fighter fans. Over the years since I must have sat through Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie 10 or even 20 times"¦ well, you get the picture; this one is tightly interwoven with my adolescence.
Coming from a video game like Street Fighter, this was never going to be Citizen Kane. The plot can be described in one sentence; M.Bison and his evil henchmen want to take over the world, standing in their way are martial arts masters (Japanese) Ryu and (American) Ken, along with a couple of other do-gooders (including Chun Li and Guile). That’s it, folks, not even James Bond is that simple. So, you must be wondering, what fills this 1hr and 35mins of running time? Isn’t it obvious – martial arts; a heck of a lot of martial arts, with all the fireballs, lightning kicks and pile-drivers you can wave your dusty SNES at.
Pick of the clashes (there are many) is surely Ryu vs. Fei Long and Chun Li vs. Vega.
Both are interesting due to their distinctive fighting styles – consider that Fei Long is Bruce Lee, basically, so his moves are fast, elegant and flashy technique driven martial arts topped off with high pitched battle cries. His one fight is a furious and clinical match-up that ends when he is knocked out cold by Ryu’s famous Hurricane Kick. You can feel the impact of each blow, this is one kinetic slugfest.
On the opposite end of the scale is Chun Li’s death match with the sadistic spaniard Vega. Doing away with the friendly vibe, this time the fight is a desperate and compelling spectacle that will end with death. What’s remarkable about this scene is that it all happens in a small apartment, so chairs and sofas are being thrown about in the chaos. Compared with the runaway train Vega, Chun Li is the petrified rabbit caught in the headlights – so in terms of brute strength, it’s a massive mismatch. I won’t spoil it for you, but what ensues is a creative and exciting action set piece that feels incredibly intense.
It’s worth noting that, for nostalgic reasons, I watched this dubbed into English. What is especially amusing is that Manga Ent. not only produced an English dub track, but also spliced in their own grunge and metal soundtrack too – so a lot of the action is set to head-banging anthems from the likes of Alice in Chains ("Them Bones"), Silverchair ("Israel’s Son") and Korn ("Blind"). It’s massively cheesy, but also quite fun. And that’s the point of this movie, really, we aren’t watching it for deep drama or poignant romance, it’s all about dragon punches, spinning bird kicks and sonic booms, and well"¦, it delivers some absolutely knock-out moments. Street Fighter fans – drop everything, this is a must see! After all, you get to see Chun Li naked in one of the most blatant fan-service scenes ever conceived!?
So, what if you’re not a Street Fighter fan? To be honest, this probably won’t win you over. If you love your martial arts, Dragonball Z or Naruto, you might want to give this a try, but at the same time, don’t expect much in terms of character introductions or plot exposition i.e. do yourself a favour and don’t try to work out why characters can use psychic powers or launch fireballs.
If you can accept Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie for what it is i.e. dumb guys constantly beating the crap out of each other in a number of creative ways, all set to classic 90s grunge tunes, you will enthusiastically mosh your way from start to finish. A masterpiece it might not be, but if you’re looking for a thoroughly unpretentious ass kicking, this is one movie worth picking a fight with.