When Steven E. de Souza was first hired to write and direct a film based on the popular Street Fighter gaming franchise, he was determined to create something that was more than just a generic martial arts movie.
De Souza wanted his Street Fighter film to be a cross between James Bond and Star Wars by way of a good old-fashioned war movie. He was also determined to avoid the mistakes of Super Mario Bros. the then-recent computer game film adaptation that bombed both critically and commercially a year earlier.
To de Souza, that meant avoiding the temptation to shoehorn elements from the games into the film while also doing away with some of Street Fighter’s more supernatural elements.
What he never counted on, however, was the interference of Capcom, the Japanese company behind the Street Fighter games and the movie’s co-producers who had the final say on pretty much everything that would feature in the finished film.
Though de Souza’s Street Fighter movie would go one better than Super Mario Bros. by becoming a box office success, the resulting movie was rightly lambasted by fans and critics alike.
So, what went wrong for de Souza? Pretty much everything from the sound of it. Here are the 16 Things You Never Knew About the Failed Street Fighter Movie.
16. De Souza Got The Job Thanks To His Pitch… And Die Hard
Though Street Fighter represented de Souza’s first major gig as a director, he was already an established screenwriter in Hollywood, with some pretty impressive credits to his name including Commando, The Running Man, 48 Hours, Die Hard and Another 48 Hours.
Even so, Capcom was unsure about handing the project over to him. In the end, De Souza was able to convince them with his pitch: a James Bond-style action movie which saw Street Fighter villain M. Bison in control of a giant secret island base and army.
With Capcom keen, De Souza had just one sticking point: the film should focus on just seven Street Fighter characters rather than the entire roster.
15. Kylie Minogue’s Casting Was a Stroke of Luck
Even as de Souza headed out to start production on Street Fighter in Bangkok, he found himself facing a tricky predicament.
Though the majority of roles had been cast, de Souza had yet to settle on a female lead to play the part of British fighter Cammy. With much of the filming taking place in Queensland, Australia, de Souza also found himself under pressure from the Australian Actors’ Guild, who wanted the director to cast an Australian actor.
Against this backdrop, de Souza boarded a plane bound for Bangkok and almost immediately came face-to-face with his female lead. Pop singer and soap star Kylie Minogue had been handpicked as the cover star of Who magazine’s “World’s 30 Most Beautiful People“ issue, which was amongst the on-flight magazines.
14. Jean Claude Van Damme And Kylie Minogue Got Close
From the off, Capcom was fixated on the idea of having Jean-Claude Van Damme play all-American hero Guile – but casting the Belgian came at a cost beyond his sizeable salary. Van Damme was in a bad way back in the mid-’90s.
The stress of filming and promotion for a string of hit movies had seen the Muscles from Brussels develop a nasty, $10,000 a week, cocaine habit. He had also split from his third wife and quickly married again but the new relationship, with then-wife Darcy LaPier, was already on the rocks.
By the time filming started in Thailand, Van Damme therefore had no qualms about embarking on an affair with his co-star Minogue.
“It would be abnormal not to have had an affair, she’s so beautiful and she was there in front of me every day with a beautiful smile, simpatico, so charming, she wasn’t acting like a big star,” Van Damme revealed to The Guardian. LaPier was pregnant with Van Damme’s son Nicholas at the time.
13. They Blew Their Budget On Jean-Claude Van Damme And Raul Julia
Van Damme wasn’t the only big name courted by Capcom from the start; the Japanese video game developers were also keen on casting Raul Julia in the role of M. Bison. Julia was a classically trained actor who brought gravitas to the film.
He was also a notable star at the time, having won widespread acclaim for his performances as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family and Addams Family Values. Van Damme was the big box office draw though and an actor capable doing mid-air splits, which was always likely to be useful in a movie like Street Fighter.
Casting these two heavyweights did not come cheap though – Van Damme’s fee for the movie alone was rumoured to be in the region of $8 million. With Street Fighter operating on a budget of around $35 million, de Souza was forced to cast lesser known actors, comedians, martial artists and bodybuilders to fill out the rest of the cast.
12. De Souza Was Forced To Create A Character From Scratch
Capcom’s interference continued throughout casting. Though De Souza spent several months carefully handpicking two relative unknowns to play Street Fighter stalwarts Ryu and Ken, Capcom had other ideas.
They wanted Japanese martial arts actor Kenya Sawada to play Ryu. Capcom saw Sawada as a star in waiting and felt the movie could be the first of many with the gaming giant. De Souza felt otherwise though.
For one thing, he had already cast Bryon Mann as Ryu, citing the actor’s excellent comic timing while, for another, Sawada struggled with English and would have been wholly unsuitable for the comedic role.
De Souza decided to offer a compromise: he would include Sawada elsewhere. The only problem was that Sawada didn’t really fit in as any other Street Fighter characters. In the end, de Souza created the role of Captain Sawada to keep Capcom happy.
11. Raul Julia Was In Bad Shape But Remained Professional
Raul Julia kept the details of his ailing health a secret during the final few years of his life. So when he arrived on the set of Street Fighter, the production team was shocked at how small and frail Julia was. The Addams Family actor had recently undergone surgery for stomach cancer and was a shadow of his former self.
De Souza felt it best to rejig the shooting schedule as a result, delaying filming on most of Julia’s scenes while the actor regained some semblance of health and bulked up enough to play Bison. During this time, Julia relaxed with his family, gradually returning to something approaching his former self.
Though Julia still looked gaunt in the finished film, his ‘show must go on’ mentality and willingness to do his own stunts garnered the admiration of the film’s cast and crew. Despite the film garnering negative reviews, Julia won acclaim for his performance. The movie marked his last before succumbing to cancer and was dedicated to his memory.
10. Rejigging the Schedule for Raul Julia Messed Up The Movie’s Stunts
When action movie veteran Charlie Picerni agreed to come onboard as Stunt Coordinator on Street Fighter, he did so on the condition the stunt team was given enough time to train the cast ahead of filming the movie’s many action sequences.
However, Raul Julia’s illness threw a serious spanner in the works. Once the production team learned of Julia’s cancer, the initial plan to shoot the actor’s less intensive scenes as M. Bison, while the rest of the cast trained with Picerni, was scrapped.
The decision to switch around the schedule forced Picerni and the fight crew into situations where cast members could only be trained for fights on the day of filming, with much of the resulting stunt choreography improvised off the cuff.
“You have to have rehearsal time. That’s the bottom line. You have to have rehearsal time and I didn’t have any,” Picerni later lamented to Polygon. Actors with martial arts experience and even Van Damme himself also lent a hand to those performers less well-read in this kind of work.
9. Van Damme Was Given His Own Minder
With Van Damme at the height of his fame and proving a little difficult to handle, studio bosses decided to pay for the Muscles from Brussels to have his own handler on set. The idea was that this enforcer would ensure Van Damme stayed as professional as possible during filming in Thailand and Australia. With Van Damme at the height of his drug-fuelled partying excess, it was seen as a sensible move but quickly backfired.
The problem was that JCVD’s handler was completely ineffective, allowing Van Damme to head off into the night on regular occasions during filming in Bangkok.
That resulted in several hours of lost time on set, waiting for Van Damme to turn up. The Belgian was known for his partying antics in Thailand and regularly failed to arrive on time because he was usually busy sleeping off a hangover.
8. Van Damme Messed Up The Film’s Biggest Scene
Once he finally arrived on set, Van Damme’s spaced-out demeanour made for some frustrating situations, not least when the actor messed up one of Street Fighter’s biggest stunt sequences.
According to an account offered to Polygon, one sequence called on Van Damme to jump out of the mutation chamber in the heart of M. Bison’s base, fire a few guns, beat some bad guys up and yell over to Chun-Li and Balrog: “Go, go, I’ll catch you later.”
The sequence was a complicated one that required exploding blood packs, carefully choreographed fighting and several actors falling from catwalks on wires. However, when filming began it didn’t take long for Van Damme to yell “cut!”
The Belgian was convinced he had said the word “ladder” rather than “later” and insisted the sequence be reshot. De Souza would later re-watch the initial take, where his suspicions were confirmed: Van Damme has said “later” not “ladder.” The second take would prove just as disastrous – this time Van Damme actually did say “ladder.”
7. Filming Was Beset by a Series of Mini-catastrophes
When filming wasn’t being hamstrung by Julia’s illness, Van Damme’s antics and the fact every major action sequence was being put together virtually on the spot, Street Fighter suffered a series of mini-disasters that only added to the increasing sense of concern around the project.
One crew member suffered a serious skin condition after coming into contact with the Chao Phraya River in Thailand, another producer turned his car into oncoming traffic and collided with a bus, having forgotten what side of the road he was supposed to drive on.
Though he suffered serious injuries, the worst incident saw the movie’s line producer suffer a heart attack that ultimately resulted in him leaving the production altogether. Later, another unnamed actor was busted bringing steroids into Australian for the latter portion of the film’s shoot. It really wasn’t great.
6. The Cast Didn’t Like The Food In Thailand But Loved The Massage Parlors
With much of the initial filming for the Street Fighter movie taking place in Bangkok, Thailand, the cast ended up getting well acquainted with the local culinary delights and customs – though with mixed results.
“In Thailand,” Ryu actor Byron Mann told Polygon, “no one knew it would be that hot and humid. We were malnourished and not accustomed to the food. Everyone lost weight.”
Watch the film back and you can actually spot some characters looking noticeably slimmer in later scenes. It wasn’t all bad news for the actors though; many of the male cast members took an interest in the city’s thriving massage parlors.
5. Guile Was The Central Character For A Very Specific Reason
The decision to have Guile serve as the film’s protagonist is still seen as a strange one by most Street Fighter fans. The games had always focused on Ryu and Ken and while they were present in de Souza’s movie, they took on a far more comedic role than most fans would have probably expected.
The decision to focus on Guile may have had something to do with a deal Capcom had struck with Hasbro to produce a series of toys to tie in with the movie, which was due to be released just in time for Christmas 1994.
The popularity of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe toys had waned slightly at the time and the introduction of a Guile-led range of Street Fighter toys was seen as the ideal way to reinvigorate the range. It had some adverse consequences for de Souza though – Guile was required to drive a tank in the movie. A tank that looked suspiciously like a pre-existing G.I. Joe toy.
4. The Film Features A Bizarre Cameo And Some Real-Life Death Footage
Street Fighter’s one and only cameo must rank among the strangest ever put to film. It saw Adrian Cronauer, the real-life Armed Forces Radio DJ from Vietnam whose exploits formed the basis for the Robin Williams movie Good Morning, Vietnam, essentially playing an AN Forces Radio DJ.
His one and only line is a variation on his signature catchphrase: “Good morning Shadoloo!” It remains Cronauer’s one and only film credit to date.
Even stranger was to come though. In one sequence where Dhalsim is busy showing Bison the progress of Blanka on a video screen, footage can clearly be seen on a monitor of a man being shot in the head.
3. Filming On Street Fighter Descended Into Chaos
With filming falling behind schedule in Bangkok, De Souza contacted studio bosses to request additional time to complete his work. However, Capcom had their hearts set on a December Christmas release to tie in with merchandise and said no.
This forced de Souza into making arguably his most contentious decision in order to stick to the schedule. While he and half the crew filmed Street Fighter’s drama-led, dialogue heavy scenes during their stay in, Australia, Picerni and the other half of the crew would film some of the movie’s stunt-led sequences on a different sound stage simultaneously.
The setup eventually led to a heated confrontation between De Souza and Picerni after the former learned that the latter had failed to incorporate many of the Street Fighter characters’ signature moves into the action sequences, arguing that they wouldn’t look realistic. The pair came close to blows with Picerni threatening to walk off the project altogether.
2. Street Fighter Was Cut To Ribbons
De Souza, who was known for delivering bloody thrills on the page, was convinced the version of Street Fighter he submitted to the censors was worthy of a PG-13 rating. The MPAA thought otherwise though, handing Street Fighter an initial R rating, citing the film’s various scenes of bloody violence.
Though de Souza insists the reaction was down to the exceptionally sensitive media environment and negative attitude towards violence in films at the time, he still feels that the cuts required to make the film a PG-13 hindered the final product.
Virtually any trace of bloodletting was removed, while much of the violence was toned down. As a result, footage featuring some of the charactes’ trademark moves were cut also while other scenes, like the one in which Vega originally died after being impaled on his own clawed glove, were cut almost completely.
1. The Film Was A Success And There Were Plans For A Sequel
Despite the difficulties on set, problems with Van Damme, Julia’s illness and the fact de Souza and Picerni probably never spoke to each other ever again, Street Fighter did go on to score big at the box office, returning just over $99m off the back of a $35m budget.
While the film’s negative reviews cooled any immediate discussion of a sequel, by 2003 talk of a Street Fighter 2 resurfaced. The rumours suggested Van Damme would return alongside much of the original cast. Holly Valance and Dolph Lundgren were both supposedly lined up for parts in the new film but the project ultimately never progressed.
Van Damme was given one final opportunity to reprise the role of Guile though in Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun Li, which saw Smallville star Kristin Kreuk take on the titular role. The Belgian turned down the movie in the end, dodging a major bullet in the process – The Legend of Chun-Li flopped badly and was hated by fans and critics alike.
Did we miss anything else you remember about Street Fighter? Have your say in the comment box.
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