“So your training in Hadô begins!”
A couple weeks ago, I posted the series trailer to Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, a 12-episode webseries distributed by Machinima and endorsed by Capcom. This past Thursday, Machinima dropped the entire 12-episode run on the internet, Netflix style. Binge watchers (myself included) rejoice! Needless to say, I bulldozed through the entire series in an afternoon, which wasn’t too bad at all, considering the episodes run between 10-13 minutes. Collectively, they comprised the total running time of your average feature film.
I had a few apprehensions going in after watching the trailer. Foremost, there was the fear of decreasing production value with each subsequent episode release. I’ll admit this comes from my viewing of Mortal Kombat: Legacy, the other fighting game webseries. Also, the acting in the trailer wasn’t… the best. Were my fears unsubstantiated? Well let’s find out.
Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist relates the story of Street Fighter franchise protagonist, Ryu and his hetero life-mate, Ken during their time training with Gôken. Gôken is the grandmaster of a martial arts style called Ansatsuken, or Assassination Fist. That’s not foreboding at all, right?
The series begins as Ryu and Ken have already been training with Gôken for many years. Ryu is the ever diligent student/adopted son of Gôken, and Ken is the hot-blooded American youth learning to temper his rage through the martial arts. When Shidoshi Tanaka’s son dies, Ken enters the Kumite as representative of the Tanaka clan, and wins by staying away from Chong Li’s right leg. Wait. What?
Anyway, after many years of training, and one final test, which includes meditating in a waterfall, Gôken agrees to train his pupils in the art of Hado. Yes, Hado like Hadoken. This opens up a whole other can of worms that delves deep into Master Gôken’s past, including his own tutelage under Master Gotetsu, his rocky relationship with his brother Gôki, and the very nature of Ansatsuken itself.
Here check out Episode 1.
If you’d rather have the entire playlist: Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist
[BEYOND HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. YAAAR]
Overall, Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist was rather well done, especially considering the rather limited (in Hollywood terms) budget. The project ran a Kickstarter campaign early last year, asking for £625,000 GBP, which converts to a little over a $1 Million USD. The campaign was cancelled when a private funder came forward, and presumably contributed at least that Kickstarter goal.
That being said, it was smart of the team to tell a simpler, quieter story that didn’t require as many sets, costumes, or vfx work as Mortal Kombat: Legacy. Because they released the entire season in one fell swoop, it’s assumed they shot the entire project at one time, like a feature film. Thus, we didn’t see the drop off in quality as the episodes moved forward. If anything, the locations, practical effects, and visual effects get a bit more ambitious later in the series.
Performances from several of the actors were quite enjoyable, in particular Akira Koieyama as Gôken, Togo Igawa as Gôtetsu, and Gaku Space as Gôki. Also, Hyunri, who plays Gôtetsu’s neice Sayaka, deserves a mention. Much of the rest of the cast is hit and miss. Mike Moh and Christian Howard (also the co-writer), who play Ryu and Ken, repectively, sometimes have a lot of good moments, but also feel stiff in some scenes. This isn’t to say the two lack the chops. Rather it points to problems in other areas of the project, which I’ll cover later on. A performance of particular note, not in a good way, was Joey Ansah (also the co-writer/director and I understand the difficulty) as Akuma. The character has little screen time, but in those few minutes comes off as trying too hard to play the bad guy, rather than the force of nature/evil that I believe they were trying to portray.
The photography looks good, particularly so in interior scenes. The sparing use of visual effects really makes each moment of their use feel special. And in those moments, the vfx work itself looks great. Costume designs look cool, somehow better than they came off in the trailer. Sure, could Ken and Ryu’s gis use a bit more aging? Yes. But they weren’t dealbreakers. And the period costumes: great. Ken’s wig though. Man. That thing has a mind of its own. I kept on thinking, “Tribble,” whenever he was on screen. There was just something about it that didn’t move like real hair, and it often clumped in odd ways when in motion. It’s kind of an important thing to get right, considering how much movement and fight choreography there is in the series. Also, for the love of Zeus, someone get the damn bangs out his face. About 80% of the time, his eyes are obscured by the wig, which doesn’t help Howard’s performance any.
The story itself was pretty darn entertaining. This was only helped by a great sense of pacing. I rather appreciated the fact that they didn’t feel like they had to rush through certain important moments. Character scenes were given room to breath, and action scenes had a nice sense of tension. There were a few missteps here and there, for example, the entire “Night Out” sequence of episode 4 felt rushed and a bit superfluous. I almost had the feeling they knew that’s what it was, but felt like they needed to get some usage out of the footage.
Fight choreography? Good. Great. Shot well. Thumbs muthafawkin up. I’m glad, in this capacity, that they got people with martial arts experience, because I didn’t have to watch sloppy form. Hells yeah.
I do have problems with the directing and dialogue though. It’s a great sophomore directing effort for Ansah, who only has Street Fighter: Legacy as the sole other credit to his IMDb-name. And hey, he basically directed a feature film his second time out as a director. That’s pretty fan-frickin-tastic. My problem lies in the lack of subtelty in much of the modern-day scenes. There’s a lot of telling, instead of showing. Too many times, thoughts and feelings are stated in dialogue, when a bit of non-verbal storytelling is all that’s needed. Characterization for our protagonists is on the nose, especially in the early part of the series. Yes, hit us hard with the characterization in the beginning, but you can taper that off quicker than you think. Once an audience is introduced to a strong character, the rest of their actions are already painted by that first impression.
Dialogue in the English scenes comes of wonky a lot, and left me asking, “Did that need to be stated? I already knew that.” As such, the actors are forced to deliver these lines that feel unnecessary to the scene, which makes the overall storytelling and performances suffer. As far as the scenes in Japanese go, though, I can’t really speak for the dialogue, as I’m not a speaker. All I can go on is the emotion evoked by the actors’ intonation, which as far as I’m concerned was spot on.
Haha but really… am I actually critiquing a Street Fighter webseries to this level? I know, ridiculous, right? But it’s what I do. While I may have my nitpicks, Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist is still a lot of fun. It’s entertaining and that’s what really matters. They did a great job of giving us tidbits of resolution here and there, while seeding stuff for the next season, which I hope will come sooner than later. So, is Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist worth a watch? I’d say definitely, especially if you’re a fan of the franchise. It really does justice to the source.