Double Dragon / Street Fighter

Double Dragon and Street Fighter

Film reviews by: Witney Seibold

doubledragon.jpgstreetfighter7.jpg            When I went to see the Peter Hyams-directed, Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle “Timecop” back in 1994 with a friend of mine (he was almost 15, I 13), we were treated to several audience-appropriate previews. Two new films were coming soon to a theater near us, both of them based on popular video games. One was called “Double Dragon,” and featured a grim gang-ruled future, which ended up being saved by the fighting skills of two wisecracking teenagers. The other was “Street Fighter,” also a Van Damme vehicle, and featured a UN-like military enclave bringing down a South American tyrant. I leaned over to my friend and whispered that I wanted to see “Double Dragon.” He scoffed at me, pointing out that “Street Fighter” was clearly superior.


As it turns out, I saw neither film that year. I grew up without many video-game-based films in my system, and, it could be argued, that I was a better person for it.


            In late 2006, after some nostalgic film discussions with co-workers, I was reminded of my old adolescent urge to see “Double Dragon,” and, by extension, to compare it to “Street Fighter.” I rented them both, and brought them home, intending to watch them back-to-back. I was proud of myself, having finally the moxie to fulfill this childhood desire. I brought them home in a stack to show to my girlfriend. “Look what I got!” I proudly exclaimed, and withdrew it: “Street Fighter!”


            “Why did you rent ‘Street Fighter?’” she asked. She looked at me as if I just blew my nose on her blouse. With equal moxie I proclaimed “So I could watch it back-to-back with ‘Double Dragon.’” We put them in the player. My loving girlfriend sat through both films with me. Luckily, we are still dating.


            Chris, if you are reading this, you were correct. “Street Fighter” is the superior film. But calling “Street Fighter” batter than “Double Dragon” is like saying it’s better to be hit with an aluminum bat than with a wooden one.


            Let me tell you what I experienced:


            “Double Dragon” was directed by a man credited as James Nickson (née James Yukich), a long-time music video luminary who has worked for greats like Pat Benatar and Mike + The Mechanics. Its story was by Paul Dini which people who grew up watching cartoons in the early ‘90s might recognize as the writer of “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Tiny Toon Adventures.” He was also one of the single minds responsible for “Freakazoid!” He’s since gone on to write for “Lost.” He also used to write for such great shows as “Jem and the Holograms,” “Mr. T” (episode: “The Ninja Mystery”), the short-lived “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” series, and “Ewoks.” I so exhaustively list his filmography as to give you an idea where “Double Dagon” started from. Incidentally, the actual screenplay was co-written by Michael Davis, who just created “Shoot ‘Em Up.”


            The story of “Double Dragon:” Los Angeles has been devastated by The Big One. The landscape is ruled by evil gangs and secret street fighters. These are brightly-dressed gang members, and are about one tenth as threatening as the goofball gangsters in “The Warriors.” The post-apocalyptic landscape looks less like a smoking, destitute hole, and more like a Universal backlot action spectacular set. High atop a tower in the still-standing downtown, a wicked corporate swine named Guisman (Robert Patrick) rules the cops and most of the gangs. He has got his hands on one half of a magical amulet that allows him to turn into a shadow. Not content with his new superpowers, he sets out to find the second half (I’m wondering why so many talismans in movies are so easily broken down the middle).


            The other half, as it turns out, belongs to an exiled kung-fu master named Satori (Julia Nickson-Soul). Satori has been raising two handsome smartass teenage kickboxers in and around L.A. The brothers, Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee (Scott Wolf and Mark Dacascos) are charming, have perfect hair, and are always in very good spirits. Their dialogue is less conversational, and more a string of action film clichés strung together in a creative way. They speak almost like random-action-film-phrase generators; “I make this look good” is followed by “I’ll take the big one.” You get the idea.


            Anyway, a hired thug named Abobo (Nils Allen Stewart, used to playing characters with names like “Mondo,” “Hammerhead” and “Gorilla”) breaks into the Lee’s lair, and kills Satori, who barely has enough time to hand over the other half of the magical necklace to her boys before they escape and go underground. Abobo is crushed in the ruckus, and is subsequently resurrected as a giant mutant (now played by vetran stuntman Henry Kingi).


            The Lee brothers soon fall in with some hippies. Or perhaps they’re just a non-violent gang. I don’t remember exactly. They’re called the Power Corps, and their lair is an early-‘90s-colored spraypainted skateboard park. They all dress like extras from an MC Hammer video. It’s an interesting time capsule. The chief fighter for the Power Corps is Marian (Alyssa Milano, at a career high) who dresses sexy, and is the daughter of the local police chief. She leads the bland Lee brothers to Guisman’s enclave where there is a big confrontation, the Lees get the other half of the amulet, and are blessed with super-fighting skills and brightly-colored video game costumes.


            The film also features two thugs named Huey and Lewis, leading to the golden line of frankly-delivered dialogue: “Huey? Lewis? Any news?”


            The film is cheap and dumb and confusing. The rules of the magical amulet are never really clearly defined, so it’s kind of baffling when it works. The two heroes, who are about as well-rounded as the lesser Ninja Turtles, don’t even achieve their superpowers until near the end of the film, implying a sequel was probably intended. There was no “Double Dragon 2.” The sets are cheap, the costumes cheaper, and the acting cheapest of the lot. Robert Patrick growls and tries to play the heavy best he can, but isn’t given too much to work with. What’s more, he is given a blonde pompadour and a slimy Frank Zappa moustache which would cripple his foes less with fear and more with derisive laughter. Alyssa Milano is game in her role, and this was long before she was to achieve soft-core porn fame with “Poison Ivy II.” Fans of “Desperate Housewives” ought to sit through “Double Dragon.”


            A video game is rarely a good place to start a film, so a little embellishment in transition is natural and expected. “Double Dragon” differs wildly from the source material, however. The original game featured a 10-second setup: a group of thugs punches a woman in the stomach, and cart her off. The characters you control (also called Billy and Jimmy Lee) appear on the screen and start kicking ass trying to get her back. Simple. It’s hard to see where the film’s supermutants and post-apocalypse stuff came from, but I suppose the poor screenwriters must have spent many sad hours over their typewriters, consuming vast amounts of whiskey before coming to the idea.


            So yes “Double Dragon” was a miserable film. And, here’s an odd thing, after watching it, seeing “Street Fighter” was like a bracing breath of fresh air. I can’t say for sure if “Street Fighter” is bad, because my eye was warped. But after the mishmash of “Double Dragon,” it seemed solid and the production values first rate. The screenplay really effectively incorporated all of the wacky video game characters (given little-to-no backstory in the game) into a giant international-army action thriller. Never mind that no real street fighting takes place.


            The characters: The evil dictator M. Bison (Raul Julia, in his final film role, poor guy) is generally causing a nuisance in an unnamed South American republic. He has numerous relief workers hostage and is holding them for ransom. Fighting against him is one Col. Guile (Van Damme) who works for a UN-like organization. Also part of this UN are Tammy (Australian model Kylie Minogue), and T. Hawk (Gregg Rainwater). A reporter is crawling around the unnamed republic, but is secretly seeking revenge on Bison for killer her family. This is Chun Li (Ming-Na Wen). She is being helped by a sumo wrestler and a boxer, E. Honda and Balrog (Peter Tuiasosopo and Grand L. Bush). A pair of good-hearted freelance arms dealers named Ryu and Ken (Byron Mann and Damian Chapa) are causing trouble for Bison’s own arms dealers Sagat (Wes Studi) and his masked lieutenant, Vega (Jay Tavare). Bison has kidnapped a benevolent Indian doctor named Dhalsim (Roshen Seth), and is forcing him to genetically mutate one of the captured aide workers named Blanca (Robert Mammone). Also in Bison’s employ is a big-ass Russian named Zangief (Andrew Byniarski), and a jive-talkin’ black guy named Dee Jay (Miguel A. Nunez, Jr.). Actually, I forgot how Dee Jay fit into all this, but all the others are correctly in place.


            The story essentially puts all of these characters into a cocktail shaker, and shakes gently, pouring them into a story that any fourteen-year-old boy can follow and understand. The good guys (led by Van Damme) all attack Bison from various angles, and he uses his bad guys to strike back. Van Damme eventually must go AWOL with his little team to take on Bison head-to-head. Ryu and Ken go undercover, Cammy and T. Bird attack from outside, and the kind Dr. Dhalsim begins injecting the mutant Blanca with love and kindness (there is literally a digital readout showing how much “good” and how much “evil” is going into his brain).

Eventually there is a battle royale and the enemy base (held in a giant stone Mayan-looking structure) explodes in a mass of fire. And, of course, there’s a fist-to-fist showdown between Guile and Bison, where Guile uses his, well, guile to beat up Bison, even though Bison has superflying boots.


            The film entire chugs efficiently along, the characters all eventually change into costumes resembling their videogame counterparts, and we head toward to silly climax. The fight scenes are done well, and the acting never overreaches the silly premise. I’ll probably have to eat these words, but “Street Fighter” is a decently dumb action flick. At the very least, it is a work of cinematic achievement when placed next to the horrid “Double Dragon,” which may be the only way “Street Fighter” can be tolerable.


             Must say, the very last shot of “Street fighter” is what made it for me. While the enemy base is blowing up (and that it blows up is not exactly giving away an important plot detail), we pan to our heroes, and very briefly, they all, in utter joy, each strike a heroic pose… each one exactly like from the video game! Freeze frame! And then the film’s title blasts into the middle of the screen, and the credits begin rolling over a noisy heavy metal tune, no doubt composed just for the film. My girlfriend and I were in such a wondrous candy-colored action delirium at that point, that we had no choice but to cheer.


            Oh, and there’s a pot-credit zinger you should stick around for.

             “Street Fighter” was directed by famed action film screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, who wrote such popular films as “Die Hard,” “48 Hours,” “Beverly Hills Cop” and “The Running Man.” This means his junky popcorn aesthetic shaped action pictures of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s like no other single man. If you’re a fan of any of the above films, be sure to see “Street Fighter” and appreciate the true purity of his pop junk.

Published in: on October 4, 2007 at 2:22 am  Comments (1)  

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