Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist has landed

The long-awaited Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist has just landed and fans have been eager to see the results.

Following the Street Fighter: Legacy short film released in 2010, this series has been years in the making and a genuine passion project for the development team of creatives Joey Ansah and Christian Howard, and producer Jacqueline Quella. Based on the popular video game series by Capcom, fans have been craving a faithful adaptation for years and have sadly been let down time and again... until now.

The great news is that the Assassin’s Fist series truly goes above and beyond expectation and serves up the best live action Street Fighter adaptation we've seen to date. The significance of this is pretty major and offers a bright future for not only the franchise, but a refreshing optimism for game adaptations as a whole. Hopefully other filmmakers and studios will take note.

To summarise the story, Assassin’s Fist focuses on the characters of Ryu and Ken as they uncover the past of their master, Gôken, and learn the secrets of their dark art, Ansatsuken. But, beyond this, there are many intertwining story layers and the episodes weave in and out of the overall series arc, which we’ll discuss more in a moment.

Let’s give this series and 'rebirth' some context for those who may overlook the significance. Other than the excellent Manga released around 20 years ago, SF fans have never been treated to a true, faithful live adaptation of the franchise. It seems insane considering the ready-made fanbase which exists. Every SF and action cinema fan will recall the highly disappointing 1994 Street Fighter from director Steven E. de Souza which, after recovering from initial failure, re-entered the hearts and minds of fans as a fun, campy parody, rather than serious contender. I actually love it as one of those “so bad it’s good” guilty pleasures.

Then, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li was a flat-out letdown and missed the mark even further, basically licensing the brand and character names and applying them to a totally random, unrelated script with no bearing on the original SF story or concept.

In short, a real SF adaptation seemed impossible. But, in retrospect, the formula was simply wrong. It clearly hadn’t been approached the right way and lacked a team who valued the source material enough to stick to it. This has always baffled me. Why create something based on source material and then stray completely off the path? Surely you’d only alienate the core fanbase? I guess in the studio machine, with many hands on deck, compromises will always result in diluting the formula to something palatable and safe, reaching the widest audience possible.

Moving beyond these earlier disasters, sometime later in 2010, the Street Fighter: Legacy short film was a beacon of light on the horizon. Created as a proof of concept for something bigger, while not giving much away, it showed what was possible simply by working with key SF elements (familiar characters, costumes, fight moves and theme music) and allowing those who actually value the source material to creatively steer the ship. I was a big fan of Legacy and wrote about both the short film and the team behind the project (in the likes of Martial Arts Illustrated and Jade Screen, among others). It served as a great teaser and in a few short minutes gave a better representation of a live action SF experience, compared to both the 1994 and 2009 efforts combined.

Joey Ansah and Christian Howard, the new SF team and driving force behind the project, had worked in the film business for a number of years and, being lifelong SF fans, positioned themselves as the ideal creative force to take on the challenge: filmmakers who had a technical understanding of both the creative and business elements, plus SF fans and gamers who understood the material better than most in the industry. Off the back of Legacy and a successful campaign encouraging fans to voice their enthusiasm (which led to millions of YouTube hits and a rally of support), the development of the full Assassin’s Fist series was soon underway.

It was a long time in the making but it’s finally here and far exceeded all expectations. Those of us who followed the series evolution closely always knew the results would be strong, but even we were surprised how well it turned out. The series represents a huge cornerstone in a few different arenas: it’s a major turning point for the Street Fighter franchise, it redefined how game adaptations (in general) should be approached and deservedly shines as a big achievement for the filmmakers who worked extremely hard and against all odds, outside the Hollywood machine.

Other than the fact that the production sticks very closely to the source material, and we are treated to a wide-spanning vision of the SF world, it’s not all about the fighting. Some of the strongest components (I felt) were seen in the new, fleshed out relationships and drama which we’ve never seen in a live action SF format. This offered a layer of depth and character development which surprised many fans. Delving deep into the drama, we learn about Ryu’s father-son style relationship with Gôken, Ken’s difficult relationship with his own father, plus the backstory between the young Gôken and Gôki and the story of Gôki's transition into the terrifying demon, Akuma.

The story drives the action and, throughout the 12x10 minute (appx length) episodes, comprises a feature length experience and allows us a rich insight into this world. Becoming familiar with these characters and their struggles makes us genuinely side with them. We even sympathise with a villain like Akuma when we learn how he came to become a banished demon, living in total solitude.

The fight choreography is very strong and, most significantly, captures the fighting styles of each individual character and their iconic signature moves which are amplified with impactful (but not overused) special FX. As well as Howard and Ansah, Mike Moh, Akira Koieyama, Togo Igawa and Mark Killeen (in particular) do a great job on the action front and deliver the required athleticism with skill while staying true to their characters. The fights are shot in a clean, aesthetic style with nice long takes showing several moves at a time, allowing viewers to appreciate and enjoy the action.

The cinematography is also slick and makes the whole production look immensely cinematic. In fact, the series could be enjoyed as a film if all episodes were viewed back to back. It captures the costumes, characters, stunning scenery and fight action in perfect synergy, with each element complimenting the others. To round it off, the music really amplifies the production and, at times, even ties the series back to memories of painful, blistering thumbs on Street Fighter II, with the familiar theme music and shredding guitar riffs. I, for one, felt very nostalgic!

I loved the frequent use of Japanese dialogue but felt that, in some cases, the Japanese actors struggled with long, heavy scenes in English. Also, at times, some dialogue felt a little clunky and expositional. Where the 'less is more' approach was taken, emphasising visuals and mood, the scenes came across as far more dynamic, I felt. It's a relatively minor point but one of the very few shortcomings.

In all, Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist breathes new life into the franchise and could even deliver a positive impact on the game series for Capcom. Speaking personally, the last time I was truly excited about a SF game was Street Fighter IV and, since then, just felt let down and a little cheated at the lack of proper sequels. Far too often, they seem to opt in to rehashed ‘editions’ basically offering sprinkles of DLC style content each time. Some reports have even stated Street Fighter V won't be ready before 2019. If that’s truly the case, apart from hardcore fans who still load up the earlier games, the likes of Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist is the only thing keeping the franchise fresh and front-of-mind for fans. If you take this into account, the filmmakers have done far more for this franchise than meets the eye, making this passion project all the more important.

To summarise, the series is a great result for fans and shows what’s possible within an adaptation when the source material is handled faithfully and with real passion and artistic integrity. Sincere congratulations to the team and I very much hope to see the series released on Blu-ray, hopefully with some nice extras.

These guys embarked on an incredible journey and, as fans, we hope there’s a lot more to come from the team, having shown what’s possible and, in many ways, having restored faith in the very idea of game adaptations. I’m sure there are many other games we’d all love to see brought to live through a quality film or series, treated with love and respect.

Joey Ansah and Christian Howard intimately discuss the making of Assassin’s Fist, including the origins of the series, as well as challenges they faced and overcame in my forthcoming book, Life of Action. Hopefully this will offer another nice insight for fans of the series.

The series is now also available on Blu-ray and DVD with exclusive extras.