Some video games lend themselves handily to film adaptations. Despite the inherent issues in adapting an interactive medium into a non-interactive one, there are still good stories being told in video games, and good stories are good stories irrespective of their medium.
Which is why I'm constantly amazed that one of the gaming properties most frequently adapted for screen is the competitive fighting game Street Fighter. Don't get me wrong - as a game, Street Fighter (II especially) is a fun way to exorcise aggression between friends or siblings - but as a story? It's as light as Frogger: what story there is provides a reason for the action to take place, and little more.
That never stopped the producers of the 1994 or the 2009 film adaptations, though (see this Polygon article for a fascinating look at the making of the 1994 version), and it hasn't stopped Machinima and director Joey Ansah from bringing out their new live-action webseries Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist. Ansah is an actor and martial artist who has appeared in Batman and Bourne, making him now a strange martial-arts nexus between Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. He was also behind the 2010 fan film Street Fighter: Legacy, which in classic fan film form accurately replicated the fighting styles of core fighters Ryu and Ken while doing very little dramatically.
What makes for a successful dramatic adaptation of Street Fighter? The game is as close to pure gameplay as it gets - it's the combat equivalent of Tetris. Sure, there are plenty of characters with their own unique origins and fighting styles, but any actual story between them has to be inferred by the player. And in Legacy at least, there is no context. We just have to assume these two characters are rivals; they get right to the fighting. The fighting is the star. Fans of the games might be satisfied with a barebones, faithful recreation of the gameplay, hadoukens and all, and indeed, producer Jacqueline Quella explains they're trying to "stay true to the appearance, fighting techniques, and canon of the Street Fighter game". But how do you sustain a series-length narrative out of dudes punching each other?
One hopes Ansah and his crew take cues from the great martial-arts tournament films. Movies like Enter the Dragon, Master of the Flying Guillotine, and this franchise's Van Damme brother in fists Bloodsport present the fighting as the physicalisation of story. In order for that to work, the story needs to be about something other than the tournament. Quella maintains that Assassin's Fist will be "an emotion- and character-driven story," for which I'll have to take her word. The trailer makes it look the part - there are plenty of emotional brooding shots to complement the fighting - but it's hard to tell from a one-minute glimpse with no dialogue. It will be intriguing to see whether Ansah and co can create compelling drama from what is essentially a similar adaptation to Transformers - both properties, at their core, are extrapolated outwards from cool-looking characters you smack together. It's as close to a blank slate as you get in adaptations. Or is there more to this franchise I'm missing? I genuinely want to know.
All episodes of Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist will premiere simultaneously at some point this year on Machinima, so you can binge-watch the series late into the night just like you binge-KOed your little brother back in the Nineties. In the game, of course.