Joey Ansah's vision of Street Fighter: Legacy

When FLAREgamer staff caught a glimpse of Street Fighter: Legacy, our hopes for an accurate live action adaptation of the game were instantly rekindled. Within the confines of a short trailer, director Joey Ansah showed the world that a labor of love is what it takes to do Street Fighter II justice.

Note: Joey Ansah's project was greenlighted by Capcom in 2012 and filming was complete in 2014.
For more information, visit the series' official site at Street Fighter: Asassins's Fist.

Over the years, we gamers have found creative ways to cope with the endless slew of embarrassing game adaptations. When we're not blaming a lack of funds or finger pointing the cast and crew, we're subconsciously lowering our standards. It's "just about a game", right? It's "just for kids", right? According to Ansah, Hollywood couldn't be any more wrong.

Co-directors Joey Ansah and Owen Trevor were able to do what other big budget films based on Street Fighter couldn't. They made Street Fighter: Legacy, a live action fan project that faithfully recreated the game's world and main warriors.

'Street Fighter-Legacy' a Streetlight Films production

Co-directed by Joey Ansah and Owen Trevor, produced by Jacqueline Quella. Starring Jon Foo as Ryu and Christian Howard as Ken.
Officially endorsed by Capcom.

Sheila: After watching the video, it's not hard to realize that everyone working on the short film is a Street Fighter fan. Your deep respect for the source material resonates with us simply because you're one of us. How long have you been a fan?

Joey: I have the faintest recollection of SF1 at the arcades, but I strongly remember when SF2 hit the arcades... including the bugged arcade units where you could fire multiple Sonic Booms on screen at the same time. When the SNES version came out I was all over it. I was more of a SEGA guy, so when SF2: Championship Edition came out on the Megadrive/Genesis I got that. Then when SSF2 came out I was obsessed and SEGA brought out the 6 button "3 on 3" layout pad. I loved that pad; it's still one of my favourite SF pads. I never liked the SNES pad for SF. I never entered official competitions but I played obsessively and was good.

Sheila: 6 button pads were great, especially since the arcade joysticks were really noisy and annoyed parents. My favourite was the Capcom released SSF2 Turbo 6 button controllers for the 3D0. The spacing was weird but the directional pad felt great, unlike PSX or SNES which left imprints on my thumb since I use Zangief a lot.

Joey: I've always been an Ansatsuken user, so Ryu, Ken and Akuma when he came in have been staples. I'm a big Guile player and he is probably my best character performance-wise. I can play with all characters to a pretty good level but the above mentioned players are who I've used the most over the years.

I also saw and owned Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie when that came out. It has the most epic opening ever. I subsequently saw all the other SF animes and read the UDON comics series.

Sheila: The movie was epic for my family, too. We had our friends all watch it and then listened to the soundtrack over and over. To this day, my brothers and I sing the opening lines to Big Life - Cry (played during Chun Li's apartment fight) to mess with each other. There were so many cool things going on during that era for Capcom. The Animated Movie didn't rely on star power and bloated special effects budgets - something that has ruined many adaptations. What do you think has prevented game adaptations from being given the right treatment?

Joey: Well, it is all down to who is creatively behind them. It's absurd because most of the script writers of these movies write the most heinous scripts, as though they have no knowledge of the original source material. The Legend of Chun Li's writer professes to be a huge SF fan, and hearing stuff like that makes me want to commit seppuku.

Okay, so the script is where it starts going bad. They often take a generic action film script then transplant the game characters and a few light narrative arcs from the games to 'please the fans' whilst keeping the story generic enough for non-fans to get involved. This is their reasoning, not mine. Then a director is hired, who knows even less about source material and nine times out of ten has never even played the game. He then takes an already derivative script and characterization even further off-piste.

It is a truly frightening process when you break down how these films come to fruition and execution. Almost no one involved knows anything, much less cares, about the game. By feeling pressured to include 'stars' to make the movie bankable they end up often grossly miscasting the much-loved game characters. Van Damme for Guile, anyone? My ethos is that if you nail perfect casting of the characters with no name actors, then you already have your star power. The characters were already stars in the game world; you just gotta faithfully bring them to life.

“My ethos is that if you nail perfect casting of the characters with no name actors, then you already have your star power.”

Sheila: Caving into pressure from various directions has adversely affected the art of movie making for not only games but other genre adaptations as well. It seems we are back to square one when we look at Airbender and Prince of Persia. Do you have any thoughts on what seems like retrograde movement in casting, especially for game movies? There's a perceived need to cater to the 15-year-old white male demographic.

Joey: Yeah, it's a tough one... With caucasians being the biggest consumers of movies in terms of box office demographic, studio execs primarily concerned with financial return will always cater to this first by trying their best to have caucasian leads, even if the character being portrayed by all rights should not be fully caucasian. Sometimes the issue is that the source material artwork for these characters depict them to look more caucasian than Asian. So as a director you are faced with the conundrum, 'Do I cast to match the look? Or do I match the established race/ethnicity of the character and maybe not get the look as accurate?' Often, both of these are thrown out the window and they cast someone of the wrong race/ethnicity who also bears no resemblance to the character either - the sum of all evils!

To be honest, it depends on the director and film making team. Some get it, keep it real, and make it work even if they have to fight the studio power, whereas others don't care and succumb to the usual stereotypical casting blunders. But hey, when a fair-skinned black guy like Will Smith is Hollywood's most bankable star... we are in a good place and things are changing.

Sheila: It's easy to imagine an ideal live action adaptation of a game, but it's nearly impossible to make it actually happen. What made you take up the challenge?

Joey: Well, I think out of frustration of all the very disappointing game movies coming out, I felt justice had to be done. Films like 300, Watchmen, and Christopher Nolan's Batman films really show that you can bring loved comic characters to life in live action and make it work. Zack Snyder, in particular, with 300 created a surreal looking live action world in which the larger than life comic characters would work and be believable.

I love martial arts and have dedicated my life to it, thus I have big plans for showcasing my vision and abilities in cinema. My work in the Bourne Ultimatum was a small showcase. I wanted my next martial arts related project to be something I loved, controlled and had a vision for. I love and know the SF universe inside and out. I know SF can be done right in live action and has the potential to be the most epic martial arts movie/series project ever done. If people could see the vision in my head for what I have provisionally planned they'd be hysterical. My job is to continue to bring those visions out of my head and into tangible reality. A great team of talented individuals formed to help support and execute my vision for the promo, and many of them would carry forward to any future Legacy projects.

“If people could see the vision in my head for what I have provisionally planned they'd be hysterical.”

Sheila: I'm hysterical just thinking of what might be in your head. What were the immediate reactions from friends or family to the project?

Joey: What was really great about assembling the amazing team we had for this project was that everyone loves SF. For example, co-director Owen Trevor played SF2 on the SNES back in the day so he came onboard the project already a fan. So many people were so excited to be making a live action SF and as a result were willing to bend over backwards to help. A lot of crew wanted to be involved because it was SF. But we had to work hard to keep this project a complete secret until release. Most of my friends knew nothing about it.

Sheila: That's pretty awesome that everyone supported you. And damn, I know I wouldn't be able to keep that a secret. Your vision of a live action Street Fighter also has a very dark and raw aesthetic. It hints at the possibility of psychological character arcs instead of a face value story. Is this a reflection of the times, now that the arcade generation has grown up?

Joey: Ah! Psychological character arcs! I'm glad you picked up on that from a measly 3 minutes. Yes. It's all about narrative, character arc/journey and emotional content (as Bruce Lee would put it). Christian Howard (Ken) and I co-wrote the promo as well as future material. That is our definite mission statement when writing. Owen Trevor, my amazing co-director, really shared and brought the execution of that dark and raw aesthetic. It was his idea to backlight the rain at the end... it looked so epic.

Sheila: Thankfully, your trailer wasn't an exposition of the whole plot. It's like the Inception movie trailers. I liked guessing at what the plot is going to be about. I came to this conclusion because of the dark firey dream sequence contrasting with the bright snowy view of Ryu travelling. Plus there's a reflective manner to his thoughts and actions which is very Ryu.

Joey: Obviously, the fights are going to be the major set pieces but they are nothing and worthless without the emotion and narrative building them up and continuing through them. For the Legacy short it was important to focus on an epic fight between Ryu and Ken. This is something fans have wanted yet oddly never received, and we backed it up with a little bit of narrative setting the scene.

Die-hard SF fans who know the UDON comics and all the animes will instantly get loads of subtext from the narrative infused within the short. For example: While Ryu is wandering he is haunted by Akuma. Akuma is trying to lure the Satsui no Hado and ultimately Dark Hado out of Ryu, so he will finally have an opponent worth fighting.

Then there is Ken's situation. Ken is a man who has returned to the USA is trying to have a family and business life. He wants to leave fighting behind but can't, because despite all the fights he has won, he knows he can't hang up his gloves and move on - not until he knows who is the better fighter between him and his best friend (and bitter rival) Ryu.

Sheila: The story is authentic SF, just like the look and feel of Legacy. Never before have there been actors with the right builds capable of re-enacting the game's choreography with precision. Was this the most important balance you tried to achieve?

Joey: Again, thanks once again for being perceptive and seeing the details I worked so painstakingly to put into the choreography. The Designing the Fights behind the scenes featurette on the streetfighterlegacy YouTube channel explains it all.

Of course, the special moves had to be recreated and pulled off, that's a given, but I wanted even the basic fighting stances and basic martial arts techniques in the choreography to be true to the style Ryu and Ken fight with in the game. This kind of thing is utterly overlooked by fight choreographers on other game movies. They don't have a clue. Watch the featurette to see direct comparisons between in game moves and the choreography in the short film.

“I wanted even the basic fighting stances and basic martial arts techniques in the choreography to be true to the style Ryu and Ken fight with in the game.”

Given the small amount of prep time we had, we did our best to get the physiques right. Remember, this is a young Ryu and Ken pre SF2 so they are not fully grown men yet. Look at the artwork for Marvel vs. Capcom 2 for Ryu and Ken. That is a more realistic look for them at this age muscle-wise.

Some narrow minded fans complain, "Why are they not John Cena sized like the silly steroided up art work of SF4?" For a start, this is chronologically set way before SF4, thus they are younger and less built. Secondly, in SF4 Ryu is now the size that Zangief was back in SF2. People shouldn't take the physique models of SF4 as gospel for what the character's bodies should look like. The good news is that for a future series, there would be much longer prep time for the actors to train and put on the necessary size to get the ideal look.

In Legacy, I thought Christian's size was perfect for Ken. Ideally, Jon Foo could have had an extra 5-6kg to look just right, but hey, next time. Also, my actors and I are not prepared to take steroids, so it takes a little longer doing it the natural way. But look at the photo shoots, none of us are exactly small!

Sheila: The thing with character appearances is finding the happy medium. If a character looks too much like the game or anime, it's ridiculous. If the character looks nothing like it, it's not good enough. Finding actors who do martial arts and look like the characters is as good as it can get. But you're right, this isn't The Expendables. You should be proud of your stance on steroids, it's nice to see an action cast that's natural. Heck, they even sounded natural. When I heard the trailer from a distance it sounded like what I might hear floating across a crowded arcade at the height of SF Alpha, very nostalgic.

Joey: Sound design and music was as important as everything else. It was important to have the vocals and iconic sound effects faithfully recreated, along with huge impact noises that reflect the slowed time in the speed ramped sections.

The music in Legacy I am so proud of. I worked on it as a producer but the real talent lay with my composer, Patrick Gill, who executed what I feel to be amongst the best SF music out there. We even managed to get Hans Zimmer's number 1 violinist to lay down the lead string melody in Ryu's track. My brother actually did the Guitar sections for the Ken theme and Ryu theme.

Sheila: As someone who studies music, I'm happy to learn that what we heard in those 3 minutes was made with great respect and care - not simply background music for the sake of background music. The level of all around authenticity is noticed and by fans. They also appreciated that this wasn't a fight relying on strings, camera tricks and CG. Exactly what was real and what wasn't?

Joey: Again, I hate abuse of wire work. There was only one wire gag in the whole piece. That was Ken doing the dragon punch and going up 20 feet high into the tree canopy. Also, we set Christian's hand on fire - for real - for the ignition shot of the Dragon punch, as seen in the Hair & Makeup featurette. We CGed the flames for the impact shot and wide shot, but in the future with more R&D time I'd do all of it with real flame.

Ken being knocked back by the Hadouken wasn't actually a wire gag. We had one of the inflatable air floors dug in under the leaves and covered with black pond liner, then covered with leaves and mud. Christian sprinted then slid along the mat holding the blocking position. No easy feat. Everything else was real, the side kick from Ryu in Ken's throat was real and full force. The Tatsumaki was real. Jon has an awesome cheat 720 double kick, so no need to wire it. That is my ethos, keep as much of it real and tangible as possible. That way, it's far more inspiring and stunning when you see the end result as a fan, because you know this some of this stuff is actually possible with a lot of talent, skill, training and bravery.

“Everything else was real, the side kick from Ryu in Ken's throat was real and full force. The Tatsumaki was real.”

Sheila: Everyone's smarter nowadays. Kids know what a blue screen is. Grandparents know what a stunt double is. Throwbacks to the 'old way' of making movies, especially action sequences, is a respectable (and risky) move because your actors are doing the stunts.

Joey: I grew up watching Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies. What I was seeing was real physical human endeavour and achievement. As incredible as the onscreen moves and stunts looked, I knew that with enough training one could do these things, too. That real inspiration was responsible for me doing what I do now. Had I grown up watching Jet Li in Romeo Must Die flying about on wires, I'd know, even as a child, that all these cool martial arts moves were fantasy and impossible no matter how hard you train. That is not inspiration. That is cheap augmented illusion replacing actual real world ability.

Sheila: I also grew up watching Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Knowing they put themselves at risk to make a film was part of the spectacle. Legacy also went to another level of detail normally unheard of, that even most cosplayers ignore. Like the eyebrows.

Joey: For styling, we went for the SF2 look. This means brown worn traditional Ansatsuken gloves (which we had made custom) rather than the gaudy red and yellow MMA gloves of more recent SFs (which aren't as cool in my opinion). You wanna get the feeling that Gouken has passed these gloves down to Ryu and Ken, and that they are decades old with a lot of history and combat behind them. The eyebrows are essential. With more time we will experiment with multiple sizes to get a perfect compromise, but yeah they are in there.

We wanted Ryu's gi to be more worn and tattered than Ken because Ryu virtually lives in his and sleeps rough like a vagabond, whereas Ken only fights in his. We also referenced the 4 elemental kanji on Ryu's belt. Akuma's costume is awesome and I have it here with me. The beads, the gi, the rope belt and his super worn gloves are a thing of beauty.

Costume designer Emily-Rose Da Silveira is great and she really took the effort to research, understand and be passionate about the intricate details of the costumes. All the gis were custom made and tailored to fit each of us. They had to be professionally broken down to have the natural lived-in and aged look. Just cutting shark teeth out of gi sleeves is not enough to make it look right or authentic, which is why a lot of cosplay efforts look a far cry from the costumes in this.

Sheila: It's funny because at a glance the costumes look "simple". Although fans are impossible to please, the consensus is that they would pay to see whatever you make next. Even after they picked apart the short, there were only two minor complaints that are always brought up. One being Ryu's young appearance, and the other being the momentum of the last kick shot. Do you have an explanation for those?

Joey: In response to the flying kicks, I wanted to freeze on an iconic image - like at the end of Street Fighter Alpha: The Animation. Due to the rain machine, which had turned the muddy ground into slush, Christian and Jon couldn't get any purchase to jump off one foot - as you normally do in a flying side kick. We were running out of time, and had 2 takes to get something for the end shot. Yeah, they are travelling up and not forward enough. I can see why people think it looks like they are playing footsies.

“Due to the rain machine, which had turned the muddy ground into slush, Christian and Jon couldn't get any purchase to jump off one foot - as you normally do in a flying side kick.”

With more time we would have improved that and not had them trying to essentially do dual synchro flying side kicks out of a swamp - which either kills your jump or makes you slip on your ass. But hey, they got mammoth height considering the conditions underfoot and in minus 1 degree Celcius. I promise there won't be any freeze frame footsies in future live action SFs I helm.

Sheila: The kick explanation makes perfect sense. It's hard to remember the conditions they were in because the actors make it look so effortless.

Joey: As for Ryu looking young... haha! Some people are complaining that Ryu looks too old! Too Mexican! Too white! Too Asian! As mentioned before, Ryu and Ken in this short are meant to be around 19 years old. Jon makes a perfect Alpha era Ryu at his current age. Those who thought he looked old are seeing drawn eyes from his constant nightmares and travelling.

People complain about ethnicity all the time, so I'm going to address this issue here. Ever since the end of World War 2 with the Americans occupying Japan militarily for some time after its surrender, there was a mass influx of American pop culture into Japan. With the loss of national pride and identity from being defeated, the pop culture imagery of Japanese artists and cartoonists hugely changed. The sense of identity and what was attractive in terms of looks became confused in some ways and heavily Western influenced. In particular, the way Japanese characters were depicted in anime as being very westernised, with brown or blond hair, blue and subway tunnel shaped eyes.

Now the artwork of SF is no exception to this phenomenon. Ryu has always been drawn looking Eurasian at best. Jon is Eurasian (mixed Chinese and Irish heritage) and I feel bears a strong resemblance to the Alpha Ryu. Watch the featurettes for direct comparison photos of Jon and Christian to the anime artwork of Ryu and Ken. The resemblance is quite staggering.

If I were to cast a full Japanese for Ryu, I'd likely get complaints that he looks "too Asian" or doesn't resemble the character enough. If I were to cast a Caucasian as Ryu (which I never would) I'd be attacked for being racist and making the character white. So I settled in the middle to best replicate the artwork look of Ryu that we all know and recognise.

“I settled in the middle to best replicate the artwork look of Ryu that we all know and recognise.”

I shall be tasked with the same issue when it comes to casting a character like Sagat. Sagat doesn't look Thai in the slightest - both facially and in terms of his hulking 7'7" muscular frame. While on that subject, a little known fact is that the Thai villain from Kickboxer - Tong Po played by Michel Qissi - was actually Moroccan! They added prosthetics to his face. Michel Qissi also played the fighter in Bloodsport who got his shin bones smashed out his skin by Chong Li!

Sheila: I've never seen a Japanese man who has a closer build and face to Ryu than Jon. Still, even the most purist SF fans will be closely watching everything you do no matter how disgruntled they react, and that in itself is an accomplishment. Other than moving forward on a series or movies, were there some things you wish you could have done differently on the Legacy short?

Joey: Oh, more time. More pre-production time could have been used to rehearse and do R&D on the Akuma hair and face, which was a last minute first try deal. As you can see from the Fight Training & Choreography featurette, we had more choreography planned. There are lots of cool acrobatics and flips which didn't make it in due to time and circumstances. The nightmare sequence would have been longer in an ideal world, but overall I'm very pleased with what we pulled off for the time, money and roadblocks we faced.

Sheila: I would have liked more on the nightmare scene, but keeping it a tease makes sense. At this point in the storyline we shouldn't be getting so much Akuma all up in it. Suppose you get the greenlight for a series or trilogy, do you have any castings in mind?

Joey: Yeah I have lots in mind, and some locked down already. I cannot comment any further on that.

Sheila: Are they all martial artists, too?

Joey: Yeah, something really important to me, is that the actors portraying each of these iconic fighting characters are phenomenal martial artists and athletes. Now for the most part it is almost impossible to find actors that happen to have that level of MA background of disciplined training lifestyle or find phenomenal athletes/MA practicioners who can actually act to a sufficient level as not to embarrass the project. But there are a collection of individuals that I feel can really pull it off - physically fight-wise and performance-wise. Some of them are already phenomenal as fight performers but will need to workshop and work hard on performance in prep and some are more experienced actors but will have to work double time away in advance to level up physically. But let's wait and see, if more projects get the green light, then it's worth talking about.

Sheila: How did you feel when Capcom officially sanctioned Street Fighter Legacy?

Joey: It's great. I sat down with them a while ago to discuss my intentions. I wanted for the parent company to be happy with my representation of their mighty brand and give me a thumbs up to do it right in live action. I thank Capcom for their permission. I subsequently have a good relationship with them.

Sheila: Do you think SF Legacy: The series: The Game would ever happen?

Joey: You know, as you said I have a very dark epic take on the SF world, not a campy or frivolous one. If SF Legacy: The Series happens and that does well, and then maybe a movie happens that also gets well received, then I'd love to push for a game that follows the visual and musical tone of Legacy. I personally wish they'd get rid of this techno obsession with the music in SF and go epic orchestral instead. That's what I'd do.

This is utter speculation and just my wishes of what a Legacy game would be like: It would stick to the regular SF game format but would have serious deep dark narratives behind the characters for prologues, endings and such. Level design would be darker, meaner with more interactable environmental elements. Like wind and rain arriving at random, or when players are channelling supers/ultras it would be cool if it was interacting with their costumes in real time. Also tweaking some of the move abilities. For example, having the option for Ryu to utilise Satsui no Hado, thus changing his moveset and power but maybe sacrificing some life in order to do so. Things like that I'd love to see in a SFL game.

Sheila: What's the current state of SF Legacy?

Joey: I have plans for a series. I'm doing my best to see that it reaches a greenlight and happens. This is something I really want and I know what many fans who have got behind and supported this project really want! So keep showing your love, comments and 'likes' on the official YouTube channel and make your voices known to Capcom on the Capcom-Unity forums! You do your best, and I'll do mine.

Sheila: Thank you for your time Joey. We'll do everything we can to make SF Legacy happen!

More Information
Street Fighter: Asassins's Fist
Street Fighter Legacy on YouTube
Joey Ansah's Official Site

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