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EXCL: Justin Marks on SF

05.06.2008

To my mind, Justin Marks hasn't given that many interviews. But since he's been charged with writing three incredible geek properties (STREET FIGHTER, HE-MAN and VOLTRON) I'm pretty sure everyone wants to hear what he has to say and/or possibly shank with a prison shiv. I was fortunate enough to speak to him recently, about the nature of the script that he wrote for STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI, and provide him with the opportunity to clear up a few mis-conceptions...

Note: I was not allowed to ask Marks about any of the other projects that he is involved in.

Justin Marks

Well, let's kick it off with why you neglected Ryu/Ken and focused on Chun-Li. Way to piss people off with your first major movie...

Yeah, I want to make a WHEREZ RYU t-shirt. I think it'll be a big hit.

Honestly Chun-Li was the main reason I was first interested in writing the movie, and she's the reason why this movie is different. Everyone knows the stigma that comes with the typical game adaptation, and saying we're going to do this story from a unique perspective within the STREET FIGHTER universe was a way of saying, right off the bat, that this wasn't going to be your ordinary game-to-film venture.

As to why Chun-Li in particular, she's a really great character to root for. If you're to consider Ryu or Ken the muscle of the SF world, then Chun-Li is the heart and soul. She's the one whose father was taken from her. She's the little girl who everyone wrote off. Muscle's great, don't get me wrong. But a movie hero is the unexpected hero, the one who catches you by surprise, who defies the odds.

Plus, it afforded us a chance to explore a pre-Ryu, pre-Guile angle, which to me was a great way to kick start a bigger exploration. We're dealing with a universe filled with many threads, and I think you'll see a lot of those threads beginning in this movie. A lot of details, large and small, have been put into place specifically so we could take them in a further direction down the line. The director, Andrzej Bartkowiak, has been really great about paying attention to that.

In the first STREET FIGHTER and in the games, Bison can fly and has funky electrical powers and shit. In this movie is he more grounded in reality?

Definitely more grounded in reality. Although we do have a few moments that are going to be a little more "out there," the rule we established was that anything in this movie has to come from character. So, for example, Bison flying or shooting electrical beams is pretty hard to believe. But there are other things he does that come from a true place of evil. A small portion of the film devotes itself to Bison's origin, so we begin to understand how he became what he is.

Did you develop that origin story specifically for the movie?

It's based on a number of accounts. All of it is canon. Of course, Bison's past is veiled in secrecy, so there was room to finally invent and shed some light on it. We know he originated in Thailand (hence why the movie's set in Bangkok), and we know at some point he gained his power by committing an awful act. What it was, and what he got from it, is kind of a fun mystery that the film explores.


Yeah, absolutely. There was a story a while ago that Jean Claude Van Damme had been offered a part in the movie. I also heard that was nonsense...

I think it was just a "lost in translation" snippet where he thought they were asking about a sequel to his movie fifteen years ago. But no, he was never offered a part in THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI because there is no part for him. I am really excited for UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 3 however.

Did the first STREET FIGHTER film have any bearing on what was done in this one?

No, the original film had no bearing on what we did. Just in case it wasn't clear, this is a movie that takes place entirely in its own world from the last one. There is no overlap. Think BATMAN BEGINS to BATMAN AND ROBIN.

While you were watching the old STREET FIGHTER, how many times did you attempt to take your own life? I've heard that only navy seals and superheroes can sit through it without stabbing someone...

I would be tremendously impressed with anyone who has made it all the way through, let's just say that. I was always more of a fan of the STREET FIGHTER 2 anime. That was really a good story done right, although it wouldn't have worked as a feature film. Fans will notice a few shout-outs to that film tossed in for good measure. The Chun-Li / Vega fight is a personal favorite.

I'm glad you mentioned the anime. If you're a real fan of it, I have to assume you wrote in a Chun-Li shower scene. For the purists of course...

Yes, about that shower scene...

No this is actually a good moment to mention something about Chun-Li's depiction in the movie. Basically there are two factors at work. First, I've never seen a successful action movie (in my mind) that blatantly sexualized its female lead and succeeded for its audience. CATWOMAN, ELEKTRA, the list goes on and on, and I just get a lot of eye-rolling. Then I think back to THE TERMINATOR, or possibly my all-time favorite movie, ALIENS, and I think of how Ripley is depicted in that film. She's a tough woman, but not because she came from a place of wearing tight pants and beating up men. She's tough because she had this core emotional story about a life that could have been and never was. To me, that's the way you write a woman in these kinds of movies.

The second factor is Kristin herself. She's really something special, a fantastic actress and very selective about what she will and won't do, because she knows that lots of girls out there are really impressionable. So we've gone to great lengths to make sure Chun-Li is not just a sex object fantasy for people's desktop backgrounds. That was something Kristin made very clear, and we're honored that she's willing to go that route, because it's one of the factors that's going to elevate this above adolescent video-game adaptation.

That said, did I mention Kristin is gorgeous? And there's one very steamy night club scene where she does... awesome things... to get the information she needs.

I see straight through you, man. Don't try to hide the absence of a shower scene by waxing philosophical about the nature of the accessible female action lead.

Congratulations; you just lost 30% of your opening day audience. And my support. In fact I'm pretty sure I hate you. A Kristin Kreuk shower scene would be like a Babe Ruth rookie card and you squandered it. Positive role models are way overrated.


Just wait for the Chun-Li / Vega fight scene, my friend...

Yeah, that'll be the same. I guess the thing that got me was the casting of Gen. First you had Rick Yune and now you have Robin Shou. What made you decide to make him so much younger?

Genís age varied from draft to draft as we progressed, but very early in the process we got a sense that the "wise old master" thing was just feeling a little played out. Obviously it's a standard kung fu movie convention, but we wanted to find a new way into that role while staying true to Gen's character. The answer was to make him a badass, and since this is obviously very early in Gen's life, we get to see how he began as a middle-aged man.


Plus, trust me, you don't want to see an eighty-year old man take on the likes of Michael Clarke Duncan. That would not be a pretty fight.

Gen's back-story is a pretty cool one, and for some reason I always saw him in the game as a man trying to redeem himself for the sins of his past (and setting himself up for the tragedy of his future). Like Toshiro Mifune in RED BEARD. The violent killer who's turned over a new leaf and been softened by the soul of a young girl.

Speaking of Michael Clarke Duncan as Balrog; in the anime he fights on Bison's side, as does Vega. Do they fight on his side in THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI?

Oh yes, they fight on Bison's side for sure. It's a pretty straight-up crime story in that way. Of course, they've got their own things going on on the side that we'll get to see more of in later films.

So there are plans for sequels?

There are always plans. We've seen this as being a really drawn-out way to explore the Street Fighter world. Start small, then go bigger and bigger, bringing in more characters and eventually spinning it horizontally to explore other threads and origin stories.

Hang on, I thought of an awesome sexual, female-driven action movie that totally engaged the viewer: DEAD OR ALIVE. Based on a video game too, no less. I heard that movie was so good every girl that saw that film on the big screen left the cinema pregnant.

Ah yes. DEAD OR ALIVE. Another reason why these game adaptations are so beloved...

Hopefully STREET FIGHTER sets a new standard. I certainly believe it will. It's a game adaptation that takes itself seriously, because the material actually deserves to be taken seriously for those of us who were paying attention to the story and the anime series. Of course, there are those out there who just believe STREET FIGHTER is lots of kicking and Hadoukens, and they'll be pleased too because there's plenty of fight sequences. And the fight scenes don't disappoint. I was lucky enough to see a few of them when I was out there a few weeks ago, and Dion Lam, the fight choreographer, has come up with some incredible stuff akin to his work in the MATRIX movies.

Are there any nods to actual moves from the games? Or is the fighting more kind of situational pragmatism?

Yes there are many nods to signature moves. Fans won't be disappointed, because as a fan I personally sat down with Andrzej and Dion and we talked about fighting styles for each character and which moves were the best to highlight. Their reverence for the source material has been awesome. Dion did a fantastic job going through the game and finding what fans have known all along, that some of those fighting styles have never been depicted on film before. Then he added his own flavor and brought them to a whole new level. I know the producers have been releasing some storyboards online, but man you haven't seen the half of it.
Source: JoBlo.com

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