Films based on video games are, for some reason, incredibly difficult to do well. Super Mario Bros., Assassin’s Creed, and whatever was going on in Doom are all perfect examples of how wildly successful properties can be completely mishandled. The Street Fighter movie on the other hand—with its frenetic fight scene editing, sprawling cast of unseasoned actors, and Belgian-born lead portraying an American special forces commando—is at least consciously bad, bordering on camp. According to a new tell-all article by The Guardian, it was also a financial success, which is surprising considering everything that went wrong throughout the production.
Things were a bit of a mess from the word go. Screenwriter Steven De Souza—who had successfully penned Die Hard, Commando, and numerous other action movies—managed to come up with a pitch that Capcom liked, but he also wanted to direct. The producers said okay but had a lot of ideas when it came to casting, including the need for an A-list action star (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a villain with gravitas (Raul Julia), and screen time for as many of the video games’ 19 principal characters as the script could bear. Van Damme didn’t come cheap and De Souza could no longer afford the preproduction fight training for the rest of the cast. But that’s fine, right? People probably don’t need to know how to fight in a movie called Street Fighter.
Things only got worse when the production arrived on location in Bangkok. Raul Julia was secretly suffering from stomach cancer and showed up on set looking “like a skeleton.” The Thai military closed all the roads amid rumors of a possible coup, and the actors were forced to travel by high-speed boat on canals at one in the morning. The location for for all their interior shots was a tin-roofed warehouse that was riddled with bullet holes and echoed with every raindrop that hit it. Adding to all this, their lead actor had a $10,000 a week cocaine habit.
“I couldn’t talk about it at the time, but I can now: Jean-Claude was coked out of his mind,” de Souza tells The Guardian. “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.”
The troubled shoot was followed by a troubled post-production wherein De Souza attempted to zero in on the perfect PG-13 edit of the movie, resulting in the film’s overly cut-up action sequences. Ultimately, though a critical bomb, Street Fighter raked in over $100 million and De Souza insists that people criticizing the film as “dumb” are missing the point. “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?”
You can read the whole story here, which includes the detail that Kylie Minogue was, of course, a dream to work with.
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