Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, most of us can remember playing video games on the NES and SNES. Each day on the school playground, we would fantasize about how our favorite games could one day become visual smorgasbords on the big screen. For one of Capcom's jewel franchises, Street Fighter, the results have been less than stellar, twice.
Let's face it -- Hollywood was never good at understanding anime/video game culture. The cultural divide between both worlds is so big, it often leads to visual disasters that fail to satisfy both critics or fanboys. There have been a few exceptions, such as the first Mortal Kombat movie or Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, that weren't complete train wrecks. But for an industry that prides itself on storytelling through visual and technological feats, Hollywood manages to produce one embarrassing picture after another. There's always room for improvement, but in the meantime, the void is being filled by fans through YouTube.
Asia Pacific Arts recently interviewed Jennifer Zhang, the maker of the fan-made Street Fighter High YouTube film. An aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker, Zhang created a 10-minute film that parodies and pays homage to the video game series. The concept struck such a cord with fans, that Jennifer was forced to create the sequel, Street Fighter High: The Musical. Hopefully, Hollywood executives can learn something about making video game movies from the one group they're trying to cater to -- the fans.
APA: The Street Fighter High films play out like one big promo intertwined with the story. Can you explain the reasoning behind this?
Jennifer Zhang: Initially, I wanted some people to be confused about whether or not the creators actually thought this was a good idea for a [TV] show. I wanted them to think this was a preview for something we were shopping [to TV networks]. We just thought it'd be hilarious to keep doing long trailers for something that'll never happen and should never happen.
APA: Street Fighter High seems to be influenced by the films and TV shows of the 90s. Stepping away from the obvious influence of video games, what films and shows about the high school experience influenced your writing?
JZ: It very much is. In my head, the 90s were the golden age of teen movies. I know people who were into John Hughes films, but I loved Ten Things I Hate About You and She's All That -- as cheesy as that was -- so I wanted to make sure we spoofed those. Say Anything was a bit further back, but I wanted to make sure that was covered too. As for TV shows, for the first movie I was influenced by Dawson's Creek, 90210, and Smallville. The first one was more spoofing television. The musical was spoofing film.
APA: Are there any personal high school experiences that influenced your writing?
JZ: My own high school experience didn't play into Street Fighter High other than the fact that we filmed at my old high school. It was weird to go back and be in the halls that I swore I'd never be in ever again. It retroactively sweetened my memory of being in high school because I didn't like high school, but now I have all these fond memories of shooting Street Fighter High there. If it had been influenced by my high school experience, all the characters would have been Goth.
APA: Do you see yourself in Juri in anyway?
JZ: I took an acting class right before shooting Street Fighter High, and what people found out was I did a lot better with psychopathic characters. If I had to play a scene straight, I couldn't. I realized there's a part of me that wants to be a psychopath, rage, and do whatever I want. Wow! This is recorded. One day, when I commit a terrible crime, this is going to be submitted as evidence!
APA: Do you consider your Street Fighter High films to be part of the growing genre of fan films? Lucasfilm has their Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards. Do you ever think there will be a Capcom Official Street Fighter Film Awards?
JZ: I do consider Street Fighter High to be a fan film. As for how much Capcom would encourage further fan films with official awards, I doubt very much they'll do that. The Star Wars fan films show up every month because the fans love doing fan films now that it's become easy to do light saber effects from your home computer.
I believe there aren't too many Street Fighter fan films. There's The Later Years -- which was on College Humor -- Street Fighter Legacy, Beginning's End -- which were serious -- and then there's us. There would be very little competition for an award show, but Capcom is very encouraging of fan participation. I'm grateful because they could have sued us. Although, I know these days people don't generally sue over fan films.
APA: Recently, there have been a lot of fan-made tribute projects like There Will Be Brawl and Street Fighter Legacy. Why do you think that is?
JZ: Part of it is that film companies have eased off. I remember not that long ago, there was a fan film called Batman Dead End that was insanely awesome. After that, there were a slew of Batman fan films. I believe the reaction of Warner Bros was to squash that, which ended up not being great for fan support of the franchise. I think the recent surge probably comes from the fact that fan film creators don't fear being shut down or taken off the internet, and it's free marketing for film franchises.
APA: Part of what I liked about both films were the love relationships and angst with matters of the heart. How did you come up with the love triangle between Chun Li, Guile, and Ryu? Was it a coincidence that you played off the Asian girl dating the white guy in the first one and then reversed it in the musical?
JZ: It was totally a coincidence. It didn't come up once during shooting. No one pointed out that it was yellow fever. It wasn't until we posted the video that we got those comments. I did a face palm. It would have been righteous of me to rectify that, but it was just the natural progression of the storyline for Ryu to get the girl because he's Ryu -- he's awesome.
APA: Would you consider resolving the relationship between Juri and Dhalsim in a third film?
JZ: There's no relationship. She's just going to terrorize him. The fact that he tries to be pure and focused pretty much says “target” for Juri. In my head, she wants to rip him to shreds.
APA: The fight scenes in the credits were pretty well choreographed. Would you consider incorporating them, or creating new fight scenes, in a new Street Fighter High project?
JZ: That's probably the comment we've been getting the most, in terms of suggestions if we do a third one. This is all hypothetical, but if we ended up doing a third film, that would be the natural progression of things. People would finally see them fight. The third film might be a lot more action based if we did it, but I have to put an asterisk on that one.
APA: Maybe there could be fighting during finals or graduation.
JZ: Yeah, there you go! Dan would fail and never graduate. He's already been held back like 10 years. That's the running joke with Matt Mercer, who played our Dan. He's also the voice of Fei Long. When we cast him, he told us in his head he was going to justify the presence as Dan because he said he was the Dan that was held back for years and years.
APA: Would you consider doing a similar parody project with another video game or anime series?
JZ: I'm collaborating with some cast members who have a background in film production. I wouldn't say they were inspired by this production, but they're firing on all cylinders now. We'll have to see how they pan out, but I've already pledged to help anybody on our cast and crew with projects they want to do. I'm focusing on writing and producing some of my original projects now, and shifting away from fan films for the time being.
APA: What did you think of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li?
JZ: I've heard through second-hand sources that the script was ultimately better than the final product. I don't know where it went wrong. The obvious problem is that it's a bad movie. They missed a lot of opportunities because what people want to see are the characters. They had Charlie Nash, Chun Li, M. Bison, and a hint of Rose. That's just like four characters. My opinion of it was thumbs down -- sorry everyone at Capcom. I actually enjoyed the Van Damme movie.
APA: Yes, we all did.
JZ: It was so bad that it was good. The Legend of Chun Li should have been really good, but it was clear during production that it wasn't, so they should have just made it cheesy as heck -- like bring Kylie Minogue back as Cammy!
This is off topic and it's kind of blasphemous, but I have to say my favorite fighting video game movie of all time is Mortal Kombat. Hollywood is doing a little better these days, but we still have films like Resident Evil, which is kind of a stinker.
APA: Were there any video game movies that did video game franchises justice? There was that terrible Dead or Alive movie. Then, there's that Tekken movie and the upcoming The King of Fighters movie where Kyo Kusanagi is played by a white guy. What do you think of white washing?
JZ: I'm opposed to it. If we were talking about the 1940s, when Asians were really hard to find in Hollywood, then maybe. These days there are no excuses. With the amount of diversity with everyone trying to break into the industry, it's a slap in the face of everyone already pigeon holed when they can't get those roles that were meant for their particular look.
APA: If you were in charge of casting for a new Hollywood adaptation of Street Fighter, who would you cast to play the main characters, beginning with Ryu?
JZ: Rick Yune? I don't know what he looks like these days. Ken... Reuben Langdon. He should be Ken. He is Ken.
APA: Chun Li? Please don't say Zhang Ziyi.
JZ: Never. She would ruin it. It would never happen, but I'd love to see Gong Li. I want to see her in the costume. It would be hot.
APA: What about Juri?
JZ: I think Asians that are favored by Hollywood tend to have a very demur, bird-like quality to their faces and are very sweet looking. Even when they try to pull off psycho, like when they cast Zhang Ziyi to play a psycho in Rush Hour 2, she wasn't able to pull it off. I don't know if there's any Asian female in Hollywood who is insane looking enough to do it. You have to nail the crazy eyes. Maybe Lucy Liu, but I would hate myself for saying that.
APA: What about Lady Gaga as Juri?
JZ: I would love to see that! She could do it. We'll over look the yellow face situation with her. We'll make her an "honorasian."
APA: And Dan?
JZ: In my head, Matt Mercer would be the perfect Dan. But if we're talking about the Hollywood elite, I'd like to see Ryan Reynolds in that role. That's weird, right? I'd love to see him in any role.
APA: I know at Comic Con in July, some members of the Street Fighter High cast members were invited to take part in a stunt at the Capcom panel. Are you and other members of the cast active cosplayers?
JZ: We were invited by Capcom's Seth Killian to participate in this stunt. There's footage of us attempting to attack the creator of Tekken. That wasn't just us being douchebag assholes. We were actually instructed to do that. So in that respect, Capcom has been really good to us and let us be a part of that.
The first Street Fighter High had just one cosplayer. Everyone else was cast right out of my acting class. It was kind of cool because they gave their own spin on the characters without really knowing much about them. Ultimately, it was good since it was more of an interpretation. The second one is about 50% to 30% cosplayers, and the rest was people doing us favors. It turned out really good, because the cosplayers know their characters and are used to masquerading as their characters in public. They didn't need as much direction compared to someone fresh off the street that you'd have to coach to be one of the characters. And they came with their own costumes, which was a very big cost saving measure.
APA: Excluding Justin Wong, who is considered the greatest Street Fighter player ever, who would you say is the best Street Fighter player in the cast?
JZ: Will Magno, who played our Guy and choreographed our fight sequences, is pretty damn good. He's been trying to teach me, but I'm not that great at it. Tim [Peter], who plays Hakan is pretty good. He's pretty diligent, and I've seen him in the zone. If we're talking chicks, I suspect Faye [Mata] is pretty good. She's on WGC Ultimate Gamer.