The 1994 Hollywood adaptation of Capcom's million-selling Street Fighter series has gone down as something of a cult classic, which is movie code for saying "it was terrible". Released to almost universally scathing reviews, it nevertheless turned a profit and today is viewed with kinder eyes as a nostalgic throwback to a time when a film based on a video game was a big deal, even if it sucked.
The Guardian has published an incredible behind-the-scenes piece on the movie in which several of the cast and crew talk about the troubles which impacted its production - including ailing villains, military unrest, dodgy food, poor planning and a star who was seemingly more concerned with drink and drugs than actually getting his scenes done.
We won't spoil the piece by reproducing all of it here - you need to read this one in full if you're a fan of the series and remember this cinematic car-crash - but we'll supply some edited highlights.
For example, writer and director Steven de Souza recalls the first real headache he had to deal with, which was the illness of Raul Julia, who was playing the role of Bison, the film's antagonist. Julia was rumoured to fighting stomach cancer and the film would be his final role; he passed away from a stroke two months before it was released.
I got a phone call from our costume consultant. She’d gone ahead a day before us to meet Raul and she said: ‘We have a problem. He looks ghastly; he’s like a skeleton.’ We thought: ‘Oh god, what are we going to do? We can’t put him on camera.’ We decided to push all of Raul’s scenes to the end of the movie, so he could gain weight and we’d move other things up front. I was putting people on the camera who’d had virtually no fight practice.
Byron Mann - who played Ryu - recalls the impact of this approach:
We had our trainer, Benny, but he didn’t know what video game fighting actually was – it was all new to him,” he says. “We only found out midway through the shoot that different characters have different styles. Somebody said: ‘Wait a minute, why is everyone fighting in the same way?’
Then one day I was having lunch, and an assistant director came over to me and said: ‘Hey, are you ready for your knife fight?’ I said: ‘What are you talking about? I don’t know anything about it.’ I went to one of the Thai extras, a stunt guy, and asked him if he could help. On the spot, he taught me what he knew – and that’s what you see in the movie. And it was a bladed sword, it wasn’t plastic. I could have injured myself and others.
As if this wasn't enough, things were hotting up in Thailand, where large portions of the movie were being filmed. Keith Heygate, the first assistant director on the second unit, recalls:
There was talk of a possible coup, so the military closed all the roads down. We needed to get the cast, the crew and all this equipment to different locations, so we had to travel by high-speed boats down the khlongs [canals] at 1am in the morning. This went on for 10 days, and these boats kicked up a lot of water, so, by the time we got to the location, the cast and crew were all sodden. Van Damme hated that.
Van Damme was the world's biggest movie star at the time, yet his antics on set caused much chaos - much of which had to do with his drug habit, as de Souza explains:
I couldn’t talk about it at the time, but I can now: Jean-Claude was coked out of his mind. The studio had hired a wrangler to take care of him, but unfortunately the wrangler himself was a bad influence. Jean-Claude was calling in sick so much I had to keep looking through the script to find something else to film; I couldn’t just sit around for hours waiting for him. On two occasions, the producers allowed him to go to Hong Kong, and both occasions he came back late – on Mondays he just wasn’t there at all.
While Van Damme was proving hard to control, other members of the cast - who were willing to work as hard as possible - found the script and setting so incomprehensible that they had no choice but to phone in their performances. Roshan Seth, who played Dhalsim, said:
I didn’t know the character; I didn’t know the video game; I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was supposed to be a mad scientist. I thought: What sort of science am I supposed to be doing and what am I mad about?’ There’s a scene where my character has to pull out his hair in anger – they spent all day fitting me with a skull cap so I could literally pull my hair out. I just stopped thinking – they just told me what to do and I followed instructions.
Following reshoots back in North America and numerous edits to ensure that all-important PG-13 rating, Street Fighter finally limped into cinemas in 1994 - where it made over $100 million on a $35 million budget. It may not have been a hit with hardcore fans of the video game, but it did the business by getting bums on seats.
You can tell de Souza is secretly proud of it, too:
Jean Claude made two films that earned $100m: Timecop and this one. It was extremely profitable for the studio – it cost $33m and made $105m, so it was good for everybody. People say it’s so dimwitted it’s funny, but we knew it was funny. How can you see that movie and think it’s funny by accident?