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New Street Fighter live-action projects need to get this one thing right

The blueprint for success is right there

Key art of Ryu from Street Fighter 5 Image: Capcom

John Wick: Chapter 4 has been one of the biggest box office successes in 2023, as one of the premier action franchises in Hollywood continues to build upon previous wins to lay the foundation for a new era in action storytelling. There are plenty of lessons Hollywood should learn from the Wick franchise, and there’s a new, exciting opportunity for them to apply them: Street Fighter is coming back to your screens.

There’s no confirmation on what exactly Legendary Pictures, the production studio behind the new Dune movies and the recent Godzilla and Kong movies, is planning for the franchise, but it has acquired both the film and TV rights to the Street Fighter series. Street Fighter has been adapted a few different times: First, in the cult classic 1994 movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, and Ming-Na Wen, but also in 2009’s The Legend of Chun-Li, multiple animated adaptations, and a slew of fan movies and web series.

A new Street Fighter project would be the latest in a long line of high-profile video game adaptations. HBO’s The Last of Us just wrapped up its first season in March, The Super Mario Bros. Movie premieres this week, Uncharted and Sonic the Hedgehog have seen box office success, and there are upcoming projects adapting Silent Hill, Ghost of Tsushima, and Fallout, among many others.

No director is currently attached, but following the John Wick mold, Legendary would be smart to place someone with a background in stunt work in charge of the project. Action movies directed by former stunt professionals are all the rage, and for good reason: These people know what makes good action, from the choreography and blocking to the lighting and editing.

We know Chad Stahelski is more than booked (with a few video game adaptations in there as well), but having someone like direct-to-video stalwarts Isaac Florentine or Jesse V. Johnson, or Day Shift director J.J. Perry (who is involved with the action in the upcoming Blue Beetle), or Furies director Veronica Ngô, or any other of the litany of hard-working action professionals behind the camera could elevate Street Fighter to the kind of action-centric project the franchise calls for. And it’s not just John Wick that proves this can work: Netflix saw one of their big successes going in that direction with the Chris Hemsworth-led Extraction (and the sequel looks rad), directed by former stuntman Sam Hargrave.

Mehcad Brooks Major Jackson “Jax” Briggs points a frozen weapon at Joe Taslim as Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

That brings us back to the topic of major video game adaptations, and there’s one that any Street Fighter adaptation would be well-served to avoid: 2021’s Mortal Kombat.

In 2021, Warner Bros. released a revival of the Mortal Kombat franchise with the Simon McQuoid-directed Mortal Kombat. McQuoid, a veteran commercial director who made his feature film debut in Mortal Kombat, with a script written by Dave Callaham (Wonder Woman 1984, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) and first-time screenplay writer Greg Russo. Despite pulling together a terrific cast, including Hiroyuki Sanada and the incredible Joe Taslim, the movie was quite bad. Most of the fight scenes were edited beyond recognition, and the movie lacked the kinetic energy you need from a Mortal Kombat adaptation. Most crucially, it was a Mortal Kombat movie that literally did not have a Mortal Kombat tournament in it. I’m still mad about that part.

Two combatants ready to fight in Mortal Kombat, surrounded by smoke and some gargoyle statues. Image: New Line Home Video

It pales in comparison to the original, campy Mortal Kombat, which was filled with over-the-top, lavish production and costume design, and great fights that were central to the narrative.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson had a who’s who of action cinema luminaries working with him on the original Mortal Kombat. Jeff Imada (The Bourne series), Pat E. Johnson (The Karate Kid) ... the list goes on (Jesse V. Johnson, J.J. Perry, and Tony Jaa were all also involved, early in their careers). That’s because it’s not enough to just hire great fighters and put them on screen — having real martial artists playing Chun-Li, Ken, Ryu, and the rest is a bare minimum. You need to have people behind the camera and in the editing room who truly get what makes cinematic action sing.

So please, unnamed Street Fighter adaptation, have some fun with it. Include some street fighting! Hire people already doing the good work in the action business to do that same good work on your movie. It can make all the difference.

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