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Change Alone is Neutral

Rondo of Blog - Published: January 26, 2023

Today I watched Street Fighter: The Movie. The live-action one, where Ming-Na Wen is Chun-Li and Guile is French.

For the uninitiated, Street Fighter: The Movie bears a surface-level resemblance to its namesake (or, the sequel to its namesake, rather) but diverges dramatically in various ways. Balrog’s a good guy, Chun-Li’s a journalist, and Zangief’s… still a good guy, but he’s VERY confused & susceptible to propaganda - relatable, amirite?

Now, when movies based on video games get talked about, the prevailing narrative is that they would be just peachy were it not for how many pesky CHANGES get made in the process of adapting the source material.

The primary audience for a video game adaptation ought to be the fans of the source material, after all, right? No Street Fighter fans went to theaters to see Street Fighter: The Movie in hopes of seeing, I dunno, Ryu entering into a found-family with his small-town cop bestie.

That all makes some amount of sense, but the truth isn’t as simple as “is change good or bad?” That’s yet another binary contrived to make sense of a chaotic world that defies description at its most beautiful.

No - to get to the heart of this, we’re gonna have to take what I think I’ll call a “step into the grey.” Leave black-and-white behind and focus on what’s in between it all.

So Street Fighter: The Movie is different. So what?

For one, it means we have an hour and 42 minutes of Balrog getting the heroic turn he’s not gotten in the games in his 30+ years of character history. What they did to poor Grand L. Bush’s hair in the film aside, I’d call everything in his depiction in the film a step up.

Gone are the constantly bugged-out eyes, gone is the characterization that (in the words of the Street Fighter fan wiki) paints him as a “greedy American boxer who loves booze, gambling and women.” In the film he’s a consistently-sympathetic figure who the audience is meant to root for, along with Chun-Li and E. Honda.

Now, is there anything wrong with Balrog being a villain in the actual Street Fighter games?… Not on its own but, in lieu of opening that can of beans, I’ll just say it was refreshing to see him portrayed so positively.

The film setting itself apart from the games also means that the face of the damn series, Ryu, gets sidelined in favor of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Guile.

Now, am I gonna sit here and say I didn’t enjoy Guile in the film? Of course not - he gets some of the best lines in the film and has an absolutely-magnetic presence on-camera, and Van Damme does an excellent job with the material.


Guile has never mattered like Ryu has mattered in Street Fighter. Ryu is the one on the covers, front-and-center, and would it have killed the film to let the big Hollywood name actor take the role of a memorable side-character (à la Ben Kenobi) while a fresher face - in this case, Byron Mann - takes the lead? I don’t think so!

Just look at the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie! I hear it did pretty good doing pretty much that!

Does every movie need to be the same, then? Obviously not, and Street Fighter: The Movie would inevitably have been very different if Ryu took on a more central role. Could it have been closer to the games? Perhaps. Would that have made it better? Were the writers on the film even equipped to write a good movie centered around Ryu?

All questions I will happily shrug in response to, because I wasn’t there and I can’t know about things that never happened.

That’s just two examples of where the film made changes to the source material as it adapted it into a movie, anyway. One positive and one negative, at least as I’ve presented them so far. But, getting back to the grey, let’s take another look at both.

Balrog’s heroic turn is nice and all, but it’s not automatically good on its own. Its execution is what truly makes it great. Conversely, while I dislike the principle of him being sidelined, Ryu is still a lovable character in the film - even as he and Ken are randomly con men.

This is all very basic stuff, I realize. “Thing isn’t bad on its own, it can be good if it’s good” isn’t exactly setting the world on fire for philosophizing. It’s good to talk about this stuff anyway, I think, since it can be so easy to forget the simple things sometimes.

As far as change goes, has something I like ever changed to be something I didn’t like? Of course! Several times!

When people get bogged down in rigid binaries though, which I see happening often, it can be a pretty awful scene. Conservatism is founded on a resistance to change, flatly painting any change taking place as straying from a grand old path - or ‘GOP,’ if you dig acronyms… and enemies of basically everything good in the world.

When something changes, that can be an opportunity to take a look at what you liked about it before so you can figure out why you don’t like it now. Did it change, or did you change? If it changed into something you don’t like, does that make it worse or just different? All questions that can lead to a better understanding of what you love.

I don’t ask that you love every change that comes your way, all I ask is that we not flatten the conversation. Real-life exists on more than two dimensions and, while 2D can be fun for video games, I like it better this way. :)

Originally-published on January 26, 2023