March 5, 2009

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Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (PG-13)
A girl seeks to avenge the death of her father in the kick-tastic Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, a bit of martial arts fluff based on the character from the video games.

Chun-Li (Kristen Kreuk) loved her father and grew up learning to play the piano and to do martial arts as a result of his attention and guidance. But her childhood was cut short when he was dragged away by Mr. Bison (Neal McDonough), your standard piercing-gaze creepy bad guy. Now all grown up, Chun-Li is a concert pianist but she can’t shake the desire to help fight injustice, and after her mother’s death she decides to go to Bangkok to, uhm, sleep on the street. Or something — even the extremely direct “here’s what you’re watching right now” narration doesn’t completely smooth over the rougher patches of this bumpy story road. But the gist of it is that Chun-Li goes to Bangkok and gets herself a martial arts mentor named Gen (Robin Shou) and prepares to face off against Bison, who is, of course, there. An Interpol agent named Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) and a Bangkok police detective named Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood) are also on Bison’s case, and occasionally they cross paths with Chun-Li but frankly this whole side plot seems like a way to stretch the movie beyond the hour that it naturally should have been.

If you’ve ever been even an infrequent viewer of Smallville, you’ll know that Kreuk middle-distance-stared her way through the series as Lana Lang, Clark Kent’s soul mate and by far the show’s most boring character. Not surprisingly, she does not suddenly learn to act here. Nor do McDonough (go-to evil guy for all sorts of shows, including most recently Desperate Housewives) or Chris Klein (who just sort of looked surprised for the whole movie) add layers to anything. No, this movie is not about acting or characters or plot; it’s about butt-kicking, a whole lot of butt-kicking.

As Gen does his wax-on-wax-off thing with Chun-Li, he teaches her how to harness her inner sacred whatever to be a better fighter. This means that you can have plenty of scenes where Chun-Li is raining down rib-cracking, head-breaking smack-down on interchangeable bad guys or where she’s being walloped with a force that would kill a lesser video game character without going comatose. Kick here, punch there, dead person there — this movie is all about the violence and it serves up plenty.

But it’s not particularly innovative violence and you don’t particularly care one way or another about the characters, so Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li offers neither heart-pounding action or gut-cramping camp. It offers only straight-up direct-to-DVD quality fight scenes and, depending on which Michael Bay movie is playing on FX that night, it’s not really worth leaving the house for. D

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and martial arts action, and some sensuality. Directed by Andrzej Brtkowiak and written by Justin Marks, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is an hour and 37 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox.