Review: Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist

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A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment.

Street Fighter is the world’s most popular fighting game franchise, and with good reason. Aside from the wildly entertaining titles that have graced arcades since the late 80s, Street Fighter also features an amazing cast of characters. As a life-long fan of a franchise, I was very excited when I heard about director Joey Ansah’s film adaptation of the series, titled Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist. Sadly, film adaptations of the series in the past have been major letdowns; would Assassin’s Fist fall into the same category?

Our story focuses on Ken Masters and Ryu, the students of Gouken, master of the art of Ansatsuken, or The Assassin’s Fist. Ken and Ryu have vastly different approaches to the martial arts, with the former lashing out violently and focusing on power while the latter is more calm and prefers to counter. As the two train to unlock their true potential, they learn more about not only one another, but also about the shadowy history of the practitioners of Ansatsuken. What will happen as Ryu and Ken move towards an inevitable battle with one another? And who is the dark figure who haunts the lineage of their fighting style?

Assassin’s Fist features a strong cast that play their roles deftly. It’s often difficult to find actors who are both physically skilled and possess acting talent, but this film features a cast that is strong on both counts. Christian Howard, who plays Ken, is definitely the star of the film, and does an excellent job portraying a young man who struggles against his anger and sense of isolation as an American training in rural Japan. Mike Moh portrays the quieter, collected Ryu well, and acts as a superb foil to the more brash and forthcoming Howard.

Master Gouken is brought to life by the talented Akira Koeyama, powerfully balancing the role of tough mentor and loving father to Ken and Ryu; Koeyama brings a great deal of emotion and weight to his role, from his facial expressions to body language during training. Gaku Space and Togo Igawa play the roles of Gouki and Master Gotetsu, respectively, and each does a fine job, especially during their fiery interactions with one another. The final standout is Ansah himself, who portrays the villain Akuma; the menacing air he exudes permeates any scene in which he’s involved. The remaining actors, while decent, do not receive enough screen time to really warrant any comments to the benefit or detriment of their acting ability.

A notable feature of the Street Fighter series is the plethora of colorful characters. Assassin’s Fist wisely focuses only on a few from the series, which allows all of the major characters to receive significant exploration and development. Ryu and Ken are certainly the core characters, but Akuma, Gouken, and Gotetsu also receive a stellar amount of backstory. Deciding to tell the history of modern Ansatsuken in pieces was a wise one, as we watch the events of history mirror the present state of Ryu and Ken. I also liked that there were two quick references to other characters from the series, acknowledging the wider world of the franchise without overextending the narrative to include everyone possible.

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Assassin’s Fist
is a long movie, but possesses excellent pacing. There was no scene that felt out of place, no moment where I wished the story would simply speed up or skip ahead. This is a testament both to Ansah’s directing as well as the actors’ work on screen; every conversation added weight to the narrative, every interaction taught viewers more about the characters involved.

Ansah’s dedication and love of the Street Fighter universe is clear throughout the entirety of Assassin’s Fist. The battle scenes are loyal to the source material, choreographed to resemble the video games without appearing tense or awkward. The fact that the actors have actual martial arts training certainly benefited the film, as did the special effects which portrayed attacks like the hadouken and shoryuken in an exciting manner.

Whether you’re a fan of Street Fighter since the arcade days or you’ve never been exposed to these characters, Assassin’s Fist is worth checking out. Strong characterization, combined with an intriguing plot and exciting action sequences, makes for a very fun and well-shot film. This movie has something a lot of video game adaptations lack: balance. Ansah ensures that those familiar with the characters are treated to some great Easter Eggs, but ensures that newcomers aren’t confused with tons of references. Furthermore, the choice to limit the cast was a wise one, as it allows the characters included to receive sufficient development. I’ve heard a sequel is planned, and am very excited for this prospect. Assassin’s Fist is a great film that I highly recommend.

Pros:

-great character development

-strong acting

-true to the franchise without confusing potential new fans

-every scene informs the narrative

Cons:

-plot itself isn’t anything deeply moving

-predictable twists

Rating: 4.5/5

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