12:00 - 18th January 2015, by David West

Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist

Previous attempts to bring the smash hit Street Fighter games to life on screen haven’t exactly showered themselves in glory. There was the inexplicably camp 1994 outing with Jean-Claude Van Damme that tanked at the box office, followed in 2009 by the universally panned Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun Li with Kristen Kreuk.
Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist debuted as a 12 episode web series, directed by newcomer Joey Ansah, who also co-stars and co-wrote the screenplay. The story begins in 1987 when Ken (Christian Howard) and Ryu (Mike Moh) are training with their sensei Goken (Akira Koieyama), who becomes concerned when Ken starts dabbling in the forbidden techniques of Satsui No Hadou. However, the focus then shifts entirely, going back decades into the past to recount how the young Goken (Shogun – two word names are so over) and his brother Goki (Gaku Space) studied the secrets of the Ansatsuken – the ‘Assassin’s Fist’ of the title – with their master Gotetsu (Togo Igawa). Goki becomes corrupted by the Satsui No Hadou and is cast out by Gotetsu, but he continues his training in the forbidden art that inexorably reshapes his entire body.

Joey Ansah gets far more right than wrong with Assassin’s Fist, which is presented here not in episodic form but as one continuous feature film, a choice that creates some issues. It is very long – over two hours – and the pacing and structure are very different in a series versus a standalone movie. There are some slow stretches and the running time could be trimmed considerably without sacrificing any vital plot points. The change in story focus from Ken and Ryu to Goki and Goken feels abrupt – particularly since the Ken / Ryu plotline is well underway by the time the extended flashback begins and then it’s a long wait before they return to the screen.

Koieyama hits just the right balance between stern master and caring father figure as Goken, Christian Howard makes a brash Ken, while Mike Moh is a little wishy-washy as Ryu. The decision to shoot the flashback scenes entirely in Japanese lends an air of authenticity to the performances, and Bulgaria does a fine job of standing in for Japan. The Satsui No Hadou business smacks of the Dark Side of the Force with the villainous Akuma (played by Ansah) standing as Darth Vader versus Gotetsu in the Obi Wan Kenobi role of the wise old master.

With an extensive background in martial arts and stuntwork, Ansah and his team have done an excellent job capturing the combat style of the videogames. The fights are packed to the brim with references to the source material and Christian Howard in particular impresses with his high kicking style. If anything, there should be more fight scenes. Most of those here are sparring matches, which are fun but not loaded with much dramatic weight. There are only really two fights with high stakes, and ending on a cliffhanger rather than with a knockdown, drag out brawl seems like a missed opportunity.

Assassin’s Fist is far and away the best live action adaptation of Street Fighter to date and presents a promising start to a new chapter in the Street Fighter franchise.
SCORE: 3/5
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