Neither the best nor the worst of movies derived from videogames, “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” at least gives action fans plenty to ogle besides the titular heroine (Kristin Kreuk), whose original incarnation, legend has it, was among the first distaff figures controllable by joystick. Well-adorned production, directed by “Terms of Endearment” d.p.-turned-action helmer Andrzej Bartkowiak, looks sharper and more colorful than the rudimentary revenge plot demands. Domestic B.O. may be modest in the week before “Watchmen,” but the pic, set and partially shot in Bangkok, should rack up bonus points internationally, despite dialogue unfit even for a vidgame.
Narrating in stilted voiceover, martially artful Chun-Li explains how the tragedy of her businessman dad’s abduction by crime boss Bison (Neal McDonough, from “Desperate Housewives”) turned her from a Hong Kong concert pianist into a vengeance-seeking Bangkok bone-breaker, a young woman who loses herself to the “pulse of the streets.”
Something like a female Batman for being rich, brooding and orphaned, Chun-Li was played earlier by “ER” co-star Ming-Na in the 1994 “Street Fighter” with Jean-Claude Van Damme (whose beret-sporting tough guy, Col. Guile, doesn’t show up here). Kickboxing combatants in the new pic include sharp-clawed assassin Vega (Taboo, from the pop group Black Eyed Peas), psychotically giggling henchman Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan) and gorgeous attache Cantana (Josie Ho), whose catfight with Chun-Li in a nightclub ladies’ room kicks off the pic’s action-packed second half.
Lead baddie Bison bids to seize control of Bangkok’s Shandaloo Corporation, as well as the city’s waterfront slums. In addition to heat-packing cops Maya (Moon Bloodgood) and Nash (a grungy Chris Klein, channeling Keanu Reeves), Bison’s adversaries include his own daughter — whom, as crude flashbacks reveal, he forcibly extracted from his g.f.’s womb by way of ridding himself of any and all remaining conscience.
Extensive wirework, choreographed by Dion Lam (“The Matrix” trilogy), is handled impressively by the cast, in particular Kreuk, who has a heavier workout here than her Lana of “Smallville” foretold. In a pleasant surprise, CGI appears only minimally, as when the heroine’s flesh wound is miraculously healed by her trainer, Gen (Robin Shou).
Bullet-strewn climax in Bangkok harbor finds Bartkowiak comfortably invading the territory of Michael Mann. Pace of the editing by Derek G. Brechin and Niven Howie gets a boost in this violent sequence, but in general is much less rapid-fire than one would fearfully expect.
Visual references to the Japanese videogame series (introduced in 1987) are imperceptibly subtle, if they exist at all. On the auditory side, the film, opened sans press screenings by Fox, gives its villainous Bison the leonine roar of the vidgame character — and of another studio’s mascot.