This is the story of a Christmas wish that came true.
I spent most of my first year of college smoking weed and playing Street Fighter II on my roommate’s Nintendo. I did other things, too. I fell in love with a woman named Martha. I argued about art and philosophy, and I forgot what I was writing about? Oh, yeah, I smoked a lot of weed. Joints, bowls, bongs. There is probably a large swath of my brain that still looks like post-war Europe.
And I played a lot of Street Fighter II, one of the few video games I ever excelled at. For a brief moment, I was good at playing the legendary 1997 first-person shooter Goldeneye until my little brother demonstrated that I was not, in fact, good at Goldeneye. I also just wasn’t a “video game” stoner. I was more of a “Pizza Hut” and “watch True Romance over and over again” stoner. But Street Fighter II was different. I could play it while high, and while under the influence, I had developed a game-playing strategy: I’d smash the game controller buttons as quickly as I could until I was either victorious, which I was, more often than not.
Here are my top five Street Fighter characters: 1. E. Honda 2. Blanka 3. Chun-Li (Shoutout Nicki Minaj) 4. Guile 5. Dhalsim.
I just needed to explain why I, a recently grown adult boy, would want to see the big-budget 1994 movie adaptation of Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia, which came out the day before Christmas Eve. Sadly, I would be traveling the day it opened, so a viewing would have to wait until Christmas Day. I considered seeing it on Christmas Eve, but that day was too crammed with family traditions like eating ham and eating more ham to sneak away.
But Christmas Day? That came in two simple parts. The first is opening presents. The second is doing nothing — eating cookies, picking tinsel out of your hair, napping.
That was my Christmas wish. I lied to make it happen, too. My little brother was on board, of course. I told my dad it was a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, which it was, but it wasn’t a gritty martial arts spectacle like Bloodsport. This is “The Muscles from Brussels” at his most cartoonish. I sold my mom on the movie with a more elaborate falsehood, telling her Street Fighter was a drama about a young boxer punching out of the slums.
We piled into the car on Christmas Day and then watched Street Fighter. There was popcorn and candy. It wasn’t quite the debacle from years earlier when we all went as a happy family to see The Godfather: Part III and left drained of cheer. Luckily, Street Fighter was only 1 hour and 42 minutes long instead of Michael Corleone’s long goodbye, which clocked in at 2 hours and 42 minutes.
Did my family like Street Fighter? No. Did I like Street Fighter? Not really. Was I happy I got my way? Yes, and that never happened again.
Street Fighter is a bad movie, and I don’t mean it’s a bad movie with some good moments or that it’s “so bad it’s good.” It’s certainly not a cult movie, nor should it be watched by anyone, even nostalgia junkies. It is cheap, colorful, and two-dimensional. If it’s remembered, it should be as the great Raul Julia’s final starring role in a movie. He died from a stroke on October 24th, 1994, at the age of 54. The actor had been battling cancer for years and looked emaciated and frail in Street Fighter. He was excellent, though, having a ball playing a ranting supervillain. He accepted the role partly because his children were fans of the video game franchise.
The only good scene in the movie is, naturally, Julia’s. His character, the evil M. Bison, is toying with Ming-Na Wen’s Chun-Li, a captive. Bison slowly steps behind a folding screen and takes off his armor and cape, and red leather uniform, and when he steps out from behind it, he’s wearing a comfortable smoking jacket. For a moment, he considers other Gestapo-style hats like the one he is wearing and chooses a more casual version. We don’t see him removing his hat and putting on a new one, though. There’s an edit, and viola, new hat. Anyway, defiant, Chun-Li is aghast that M. Bison doesn’t remember the day he destroyed her village and murdered her father.
“You don’t remember?” she says. Then Bison purrs, in the third person: “For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday.” Other moments are almost as hilarious, and I wish Street Fighter had been a straight-up comedy. This baked-in sense of humor almost saves the movie. Almost.
Director Steven E. de Souza and the producers of Street Fighter tried their best to bring the video game characters to life: Andrew Bryniarski as Zangief, a swollen Russian henchman, is spot on, and so is Byron Mann’s Ryu. As Sadat, Wes Studi is a little like Raul Julia — too good for the role but working hard for an honest paycheck.
Peter Tuiasosopo did an excellent job as E. Honda, even though that character is supposed to be a Japanese Sumo wrestler and Tuiasosopo is American Samoan. Blanka is a “Brazilian mutant” in the video game with green skin and orange hair. Blanka’s best game move is “chewing on faces.” The movie tries to bring him to life but, alas, fails. The actor who plays Blanka, Robert Mammon, is experimented on in Bison’s laboratory (pronounced “la-BOR-atory” by Julia) and transformed into a cross between a Cromagnon man and a stalk of broccoli.
The video game tries to be diverse, which is admirable, but also serves up some pretty grotesque racial stereotypes. Thankfully, the movie isn’t as bad, trading light 90s racism for terrible, muddled politics. Street Fighter is a movie that is still intoxicated by the first Gulf War when America led a coalition of nations to repel the Iraqi army from Kuwait.
This war almost wiped away the memory of Vietnam from the culture. That war was a long, brutal, morally reprehensible tragedy that America lost, but the Gulf War? It was awesome. America had just won the Cold War by accident and had billions of dollars of toys, like predator missiles and night vision goggles, and stealth jets. The fighting took about 43 days, and then it was over. We threw a grotesque parade to celebrate!
In Street Fighter, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Col. Guile leads an international force called the ‘Allied Nations,’ a stand-in for the real-world United Nations. These are the good guys, and they wear blue helmets to hammer home that the A.N. is the U.N. They’re fighting flamboyant terrorist M. Bison in the city of Shadaloo, a made-up city in Asia that, at one point, looks like it’s located in the middle of China? But during a scene at a bad-guy black market, there are camels?
At one point in the movie, a soulless bureaucrat played by Simon Callow orders Col. Guile to stand down because the suits want to negotiate with Bison. Guile refuses and inspires a mutiny, and then he and his loyal A.N. army attack Bison’s fortress. Negotiations are for wusses. I want to mention that Van Damme jumps into a high-tech stealth boat, which can turn invisible except for the wake it creates.
I think my family laughed out loud at that.
Street Fighter is a Christmas movie in the sense that it came out during the Christmas season. The greatest Christmas movies are the ones that immediately remind you of the people who know you. Who are happy because you’re happy. Any movie you watch that allows you to fly out of your window and back in time is a Christmas movie.
When I watch Street Fighter, I immediately smell egg nog, which I used to call elf milk, which is disgusting. It wasn’t the holiday in my house unless I’d sipped that viscous nutmeg slime and wretched while everyone laughed.
I don’t make wishes anymore. I suppose it never hurts to whisper your heart’s desire, no matter how impossible it would be to fulfill it. But if I knew there was a chance a wish of mine could come true, I’d wish I was in my family’s old Ford Taurus again, driving home from the movie theater, giggling about Jean Claude Van Damme’s stealth boat. My dad would be alive, still very much in love with my mom and vice versa, and my brother, a terror and one of the most influential people in my life, smiling, wondering how I managed to talk our parents into seeing an awesome movie about an awesome video game.