On Monday - not Tuesday, which would of course have been more appropriate - I made my way to YouTube HQ in Los Angeles to view the premiere of Machinima's new Street Fighter series Assassin's Fist, in movie form.
Well, most of it anyway. We were shown episodes 0-9, with 10-12 withheld so we couldn't spoil. And then I was told not to run this till opening day anyway, so how could I spoil? It's weird - with movies it isn't really kosher to review two-thirds of a film, but i guess what I saw is technically ten webisodes. Maybe the fairest thing is to call this an incomplete review.
"WTF? It's MONDAY????"
First, though, I got my chance to play Street Fighter IV Ultra, which marks the first time in literally years that I've played any version of this game. The backgrounds are now insanely busy, with stuff like hippos walking all the way from the background up to the edge of your fight, or graffiti artists spray-painting SF logos on a giant skate ramp.
The gameplay, though, was similar enough that I was able to win some fights. It did seem like the old trick of holding the joystick down and back at the same time to simultaneously charge either an up-down attack or a forward attack doesn't work any more - only when I charged straight back or straight down could I do a flash kick or psycho crusher. And I'm not sure all the buttons were arranged in the usual way, as it took a while to figure out which were punches and which were kicks. In the end, however, for Bison it was ass-kicking day.
Following some free tacos, it was time to watch Assassin's Fist. Essentially an expansion of the four year-old fan short "Street Fighter Legacy," Assassin's Fist is an origin story for not just Ryu and Ken, but also their master Goken and his brother Goki, who becomes Akuma (if that's a spoiler, I can't imagine you'd be interested in a Street Fighter fan film in the first place). After the first ten minutes, I was convinced I was watching the best live-action Street Fighter adaptation ever, which is admittedly not the hardest bar in the world to jump over.
Yes, Christian Howard's Ken has an awfully fake-looking wig, and the English actor appears to have learned all he ever needed to know about "acting American" from Keanu Reeves, but I never once pegged him for a Brit. And when he and Ryu get to sparring, it's totally out of the game. Howard and director Joey Ansah are fight choreographers, and they essentially developed a new martial art for the movie that incorporates all the game's signature poses and combos. It works amazingly well.
But then it starts to drag...and drag...and this is where I suspect maybe it does a disservice to watch the whole thing as a movie, for it is not paced correctly to be one. Ansah is a superfan of the games, which is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that he gets the characters right - the curse is that he wants to include everything. I, as a Street Fighter fan, don't need to see as much screen time devoted to Goki and Goken's training as I do Ken and Ryu's. The Akuma conclusion is foregone, and we can take it in broader strokes than here. Viewed as one movie, it's like the story forgets it's about Ken and Ryu for quite a while. As webisodes, the Street Fighter story will ultimately lend itself to multiple tales from different characters' points of view, but when you only have four major characters? Pick your protagonist and stick to it.
The fighting is leaps and bounds beyond the two Hollywood attempts, but for all the guff hurled at the Van Damme version, consider how many character origins it crams in to its running time, even though they're goofy. Now imagine two hours were spent on each one, including Captain Sawada and Blade. You wouldn't want to watch ALL of them, right?
Well, maybe some of you would. And you're the hardcore fans Assassin's Fist was made for. I'd love to see a good editor hack it down into the tight feature it ought to be. But then again...I don't know how it ends. That could change everything.
You can watch all the episodes below, right now. I have to move onto other stuff, because for me it's Friday.