By Michael Varrati
With powerful punches and fireballs flying, Machinima took YouTube Space LA by storm this past Monday night to unveil the hugely anticipated series, “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist.” Premiering today, the series, based upon the popular video game franchise of the same name, is the culmination of over five years of work, and a collaborative partnership between Capcom USA, Lonely Place Productions, Evropa Films, Glouchester Place Films, and the newly formed Assassin’s Fist Limited.
With so many entities fighting to make “Street Fighter” a reality, the battle to bring the multilayered series to life has been one full of blood, sweat, and tears….but also one of creative triumph. As such, Machinima’s premiere event played out like a champion’s victory lap before the official unveiling, allowing the cast, crew, and a select audience to take a moment to celebrate the nitty-gritty of visceral combat.
Walking the premises of YouTube Space LA while waiting for the event to kick (the combat puns will continue, be forewarned) into gear, I was instantly taken by the fact that Machinima had stationed video game terminals around the venue. As a tip of the hat to the franchise’s roots, celebrants were encouraged to play the latest iteration of the “Street Fighter” video game, allowing those gathered to really become part of the action.
For many, the opportunity to play the game before the screening gave the audience the chance to be transported back to childhood and be reminded why they fell in love with “Street Fighter” in the first place.
Later, when I caught up with the cast of “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” on the red carpet, I discover it’s this sense of nostalgic reverie that fueled the project from the get-go.
“I’ve always been a gamer, and ‘Street Fighter’ is the game I’ve always been most passionate about,” Joey Ansah, the series’ creator and director, tells me. “These characters are so beloved, and people feel an ownership over them, that if you get them wrong, there’s a massive, passionate backlash. We’ve seen that with the last two films [1994’s ‘Street Fighter,’ starring Jean-Claude Van Damme & Kylie Minogue, and 2009’s ‘Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li’], and to be honest, we’ve seen that with just about every video game movie ever made. No one has really gotten this genre right, and I want to be the first person to really nail it.”
Whether Ansah is successful in his endeavor is, of course, up to the discerning audience to decide. However, with as much commitment to narrative and character development as there is to action, “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” certainly does not fall short in delivering the dramatic goods.
Sharing the coming-of-age story of iconic characters Ken and Ryu, “Assassin’s Fist” highlights their journey to become the hardened warriors of the game, as well as the deeply personal sacrifices they made to get there. The series doesn’t shy away from showcasing extreme sacrifices and loss in the lives of these warriors, something that has been next-to-impossible to portray in the confines of the game.
“It’s a story,” says Gaku Space, who plays Goki. “It’s a whole background of the street fighters, and there’s a lot there, it’s not just about the action.”
Further driving home the commitment to story is Hyunri, who plays Sayaka, whose pining for Goki is not meant to be. “My story is all drama, and no action,” she tells me, “so I tried to make my emotions raw and real. It’s a very powerful story.”
But, lest you think it’s all tears and feelings of longing, don’t forget that this is “Street Fighter” we’re talking about. With ample action delivered, Ansah and his collaborative partner/series writer Christian Howard certainly pull no punches when bringing the brutality of Ken and Ryu’s world to life. Furthermore, they manage to do so in a grand cinematic fashion that seems to exceed one’s normal expectations for a web series.
This, as Howard is quick to point out, is not a mistake.
“The way media is changing, and the way everything is accessible online, it’s a good avenue for us,” says Howard, who also plays Ken. “That’s why we made it multi-format, so we’re not really restricted by one medium. You could watch this in theaters or on DVD. You could watch it anyway you wanted to watch.”
“We’d like to do another season, possibly longer format, and then go to a movie,” Ansah adds.
Watching the series’ run with the audience gathered at YouTube Space LA, it is hard not to imagine the silver screen as the next logical step. Introduced by Machinima’s own Khail Anonymous, the screening opened with the type of prestige reserved for a Hollywood premiere. Furthermore, what was being projected on the screen had such a cinematic flourish that, had I not known better, I’d have assumed I was being treated to the first installment of an epic.
“Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” is a deftly constructed piece of material, and it’s evident that Howard and Ansah didn’t take its creation lightly. However, when I ask Mike Moh, who plays Ryu, if he felt any pressure in bringing the much-loved character to life, he merely smiled.
“When I was 12, I remember having ‘Street Fighter II’ for my SNES, and I’d get blisters on my left thumb playing,” says Moh. “It’s a lot of tough work, playing video games to study for a role, and that’s exactly what I had to do. I sat down, grabbed some protein shakes, and played ‘Street Fighter IV.’”
…and ultimately, that’s what makes the project such a success. While everyone involved took the material seriously, they never forgot that the key to “Street Fighter” is that it’s serious fun.
With the premiere event a smashing triumph, and the series poised to be unleashed to the world in tandem with the release of this article, I couldn’t help but ask Ansah what he had in store next. In keeping in line with that sense of fun and fandom, what he had to say was a definite TKO.
“The next story will progress to the stage of the World Warrior, which will be the story of Chun-Li, Guile, and Bison. Most of the characters we know from ‘Street Fighter II.’ That would be the next step, and I’d like a series to develop those characters before the movie,” Ansah says, in closing. “But most importantly, if people walk away and think, ‘I want to play the game now,’ that’s a good thing, because then we’ve got people wanting to learn more about the rest of the mythology. We’ve done our job.”
All 12 episodes of “Street Fighter’s: Assassins Fist” season one are available on Machinima now.