Making 1994’s Street Fighter movie involved real swords, a near coup, and so, so much cocaine

“I just stopped thinking – they just told me what to do and I followed instructions.”

1994’s Street Fighter was not a good film. It was often a jarring mess with little connection to its source material. Instead of frenzied stereotypes beating each other up on the streets and punching perfectly good Acura Legends to death as god intended, the movie tossed a handful of the game’s characters into a plot that involved drug lords, genetic editing, and the vaguely-racist made-up south Asian nation of Shadaloo.

None of it made any sense. But that’s OK, because its production didn’t make much sense either.

Director Steven de Souza, the man responsible grinding the bones of a proud video game franchise into a fine powder Jean-Claude Van Damme could easily snort, opened up about his horrible movie in an oral history of Street Fighter published by the Guardian. He and a handful of the actors who took part in the ordeal explained that every terrible thing that showed up on film was somehow preceded by much more awful things behind the scenes. Like, for instance:

None of the actors got any real martial arts training

De Souza budgeted for all his actors to undergo a three-to-six crash course in training from famed kickboxer Benny Urqiduez, but bringing Van Damme on board meant that no one really got much hands-on experience until the day their scenes were shot. And Urqiduez wasn’t versed in Street Fighter lore, so he had everyone fight with the same exact styles and strikes.

Since there was only one of him, he was stretched pretty thin. So actors turned to locals for help. Byron Mann, who played Ryu, learned about his knife fight scene hours before he was set to film it and asked a Thai stuntman for guidance. Mann then shot the entire scene with a real, bladed sword — somehow not killing anyone in the process.

Thailand was a poorly scouted location

According to author Keith Stuart’s interviews, the real grind of the shoot came in Thailand, which was lined up for six weeks of filming. Intense heat and humidity meant the actors lost substantial weight during the shoot — something that becomes noticeable in the movie when they gained it all back during scenes shot in the air-conditioned studios of Australia.

The weather wasn’t the only problem. Rumors of a military coup meant the cast and crew couldn’t travel on the streets, and instead were whisked around Bangkok through canals at 1 a.m. each night. The main building acquired for Thailand’s interior scenes was a tin-roofed military structure that made too much noise to film during rainstorms. Sun was a problem in the building too; a multitude of bullet holes in the walls and roof scattered beams of light throughout the set. Each of these problems tacked extra days onto what was supposed to be a six-week schedule.

So how did de Souza deal with the overages? By, uh, just cutting random scenes from the script.

After 10 days in Bangkok we were six days behind schedule – it was tortuous. The producers said: ‘You’re running behind!’ So I did an old John Ford trick: I just opened the script and ripped a page out and said, there, we’re back on track. – Steven de Souza

Van Damme was a nightmare

Van Damme was a bonafide star in the early 1990s, based solely on his ability to do the splits in situations that in no way called for it. That gave him an air of invincibility on a set with several character actors and young stars, and the Timecop-turned-Guile took advantage of all the leeway he could take.

“Jean-Claude was coked out of his mind,” de Souza told Stuart. “Jean-Claude was calling in sick so much I had to keep looking through the script to find something else to film … On two occasions, the producers allowed him to go to Hong Kong, and both occasions he came back late – on Mondays he just wasn’t there at all.”

Van Damme also got his own suite with a personal gym at both locations, so it wasn’t unusual for him to abandon the set telling PAs he had to “pump up [his] muscles.” He also told actor Robert Mammone that he “had the stink of Tony Curtis,” which Mammone thinks was a compliment.

Raul Julia was awesome but tragically ill

Julia was a pro on set and by far the best part of the movie. Unfortunately, it would be the last in his long career. He arrived in Thailand well underweight after undergoing treatment for stomach cancer, and his scenes had to be delayed while he regained his strength. He did so by sneaking off set each night to gamble in Thai casinos while smoking massive Cuban cigars.

Raul Julia is awesome.

The actors knew this was all hot nonsense

Aside from Van Damme, Julia, and Australian pop sensation Kylie Minogue, there wasn’t a lot of star power in the film. But even though many of the roles were played by fledgling actors, everyone pretty much knew the movie, and their characters, were just complete bullshit.

Mammone, who played Blanka, knew his character would have to undergo a transformation to become the green-skinned beast from the video game, but didn’t realize the post-modification Blanka would be played by an entirely different actor until the two met at a pre-shoot party. Despite that, Mammone still had to spend three hours every day in makeup most days to shoot seconds of close-ups for the character, which left him on set, painted green, and spending most of his day reading Kerouac.

Roshan Seth, who played Dhalsim, was less understanding of his character.

I was supposed to be a mad scientist. I thought: What sort of science am I supposed to be doing and what am I mad about?’ There’s a scene where my character has to pull out his hair in anger – they spent all day fitting me with a skull cap so I could literally pull my hair out. I just stopped thinking – they just told me what to do and I followed instructions.

“They just told me what to do and I followed instructions” has been an excuse behind all sorts of human atrocities over the history of mankind. Add Street Fighter to the list. Like, the very bottom of the list, but still.

Anyway, if this at all caught your attention, please read Stuart’s full history on the filming, which was both horrible and great at the same time.

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