It's been so many years since Street Fighter: Legacy [Ansah's film short]: did the awfulness of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li inspire you to push forward with a live-action series?
Joey Ansah: That's the words out of my mouth. That was the genesis behind Legacy. Funny story that a bunch of people don't know; the plan was never just to do that short. My original pitch to Capcom was to do a full series. and we were going to start with the World Warrior. But through the pitching process I realised Capcom weren't, off the bat, able to find the money to finance a whole series. So I figured "how about I counter pitch?"
Super Street Fighter IV was about to come out, so I thought to do a counter pitch [with Legacy] and maybe get some support from Capcom marketing, and release it at the time. That's how Legacy came about. it was quite a quick rejig and script to do this short.
After the success of Legacy, we thought "let's get our full feature-length series hat back on". But we thought that rather than doing World Warrior, let's go back in time about the story, pre-Legacy. The result is this: Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist.
That was for two reasons. One, it was a cool story. it's very dark. i think the origins of Ryu and Ken, and the history of their fighting style, is a much more classical story. It's got a lot more Star Wars elements to it, it's got very defined characters. And it's not too zany. For newcomers or people not familiar with the Street Fighter universe, jumping onboard, that's a good place to start. Before you start throwing Blanka and all this crazy stuff at people.
The second is that it's cheaper to do. In that the setting, the Japanese mountain wilderness, you don't have thousands of extras from a big urban scene. So we could, for a lower budget, still do something very cinematic, and if that was a success, then we can go onto the World Warrior, which uses far more varied international locations. It's a long-winded answer for you.
So even if it's a budgetary concern, there's enough meat to bite into with this smaller cast of characters?
If you look at the previous Street Fighter films, Legend of Chun Li, Street Fighter: The Movie, they lack any real presence of Ryu and Ken. The first Street Fighter movie, they're relegated to two-bit smugglers.
So I thought what fans desperately need to see first and foremost is Ryu and Ken in action. Their storyline is one of the most exciting and well-developed. If you look at game prologue and epilogues, and the animes, it's that storyline that has most character development, and characterisation. If you're going to do a series that has twelve characters in it, you still need key central protagonists that have been developed. And Ryu and Ken are your guys.
Moving forward to World Warrior, Guile and Chun Li would then also become major protagonists as well. Because the story goes that way. With Guile working for the U.S C.I.A, Special Forces, and Chun Li working for Interpol - both have a common objective. You can see why then we'd have four main protagonists.
How many episodes are we talking here? How long is each one and where is this going to air?
I can't unfortunately announce the exact distribution plan yet. It is in place, but there will be an official announcement by our partners in that respect soon enough. But I will say that it is going to be a series format, and it's feature-length. So in total, you're looking at two hours of content. Although it's a series, I always wanted it to work as a movie, so you can think of it as a chapterised movie.
Have you guys got this storyboarded out already, and doing it beat for beat, or is the story evolving as you're filming?
On Legacy we had a hell of a lot of storyboards, because it was a short thing. But on this, no. We're not working from storyboards much at all.
But the script, we've had the benefit, unlike a lot of films, to have been working on this script for about three years solidly. It's been redrafted and refined. So I know it, along with Christian [Howard, co-writer and who plays Ken in the series], like the back of my hand. A lot of films - and being an actor I work on a lot of films - you realise how much of the script is being rewritten as you go along.
Most feature films you see are nowhere near finished script-wise when principal photography starts, but they have a long enough schedule and big enough budget to do reshoots. They often have writers working around the clock rewriting pages and entire sections of the film, as you go. It's an uneconomical way to work.
This is multi-generational story. We know Ken and Ryu after two decades fighting alongside them. But outside combat, how do you get into their headspace?
Where does one begin? ...We wanted to create the definitive backstory. The story in the Street Fighter universe is very fractured. You had Street Fighter and that tournament, Ryu beating Sagat at the end, so you've a bit of narrative there. The anime then retro-fitted in that [Sagat] got the scar from Ryu. Then they retro-fitted that in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Akuma comes in. And they say "okay, he killed Ryu and Ken's master, and was that master's brother". Then there's a long time before Gouken, Ryu and Ken's master, is given a name. So the story's been retro-fitted as its moved forward.
So we've tried to take what's regarded as canon by Capcom, what appears in the prologues and epilogues of the games. The Capcom-endorsed and sanctioned animes, although they are official Capcom stuff, they're not regarded as canon, all of what's in there.
We found a way unify those narratives into one definitive back story, so hopefully moving on when people watch this, this is the history of Ryu and Ken, and [that story].
Back to your original question; with Ryu, with any character that has conflict in that esoteric, internal, mental way... Ryu as we know has a lack of a real known biological father or mother figure, and was adopted and raised by Gouken. Ryu also in his formative years holds back, you don't know why, but he has some sort of 'ism' about him, that stops him fully unleashing his full potential. A good analogy with Ryu is that he's not actually ever competing with anyone else; he's competing with himself.
Whereas Ken is driven fiercely by competition. A lot of Ken's conflict comes from his relationship with his father. Without giving too much away, we learn in this series how Ken came to be in Japan, in Gouken's dojo. Why was he dropped there? Where are his mother and father, why aren't they raising him? Why has he been dumped with Gouken for ten years?
Are we talking Alpha era? So who's got the red band, and are we going to see the iconic handover of that between fighters?
We're going into slight spoiler territory, but fans can be happy to know they're going to see - you're right in saying this is there Alpha period - characters will look as they should look in the Alpha period. When that period comes to an end they'll look how they should look post that.
So is Christian having to grow his hair or wear a wig?
Trust me, he looks exactly as you'd hope and dream Alpha Ken to look. And um... yea [laughs].
If you're wondering if "they're going to be brave enough to pull it off, and do Ken's hair that long"... yea. We're not shying away from accuracy in any way. It's just a system of making it work.
And the good thing for us was that Legacy was like a dress rehearsal. So things like the eyebrows, maybe we were a bit overboard last time, so let's dial certain things back, how can we improve hair and makeup. The costumes are pretty bang on anyway, but what areas can we improve - the mitts, the gloves - everything. There's been no compromise, at all, in being 100% faithful in how the characters should look. None.
How are you handling the special effects?
We want to do as much practical as possible. I'm a real fan of old school practical effects. Growing up watching Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee... it's all real. And that's what captures your imagination. And we wanted to do the same here. When someone's doing a Shoryuken five meters high in the air, they're actually doing that - in that location, under a tree, not green screen, or being 3D mapped and being done CG, the person is, for that split second (be it on a wire or not) there.
Even the fireballs, of course they're going to be CG, they're augmented, but, and I won't explain how, but there is a real fireball shooting across the set when we do Hadokens, which is very epic to see in person.
You're not doing the score as well are you?
Luckily no. Patrick Gill who scored Legacy is, I'm happy to say, returning to score Assassin's Fist. And he's a composer to look out for. A lot of people loved the two tracks we did on Legacy and my brother is a musician, is a fantastic guitarist. He did all the guitar work on the tracks on Legacy, and he's contributing heavily to the score here as well. You've heard elements of the Ken theme in the Comic Con video that was released, so people are keeping a little taste.
Do you want to keep building on this if its a success?
I look forward to continued development with them, behind the project, and yea I hope we can dip something that hasn't been done for Capcom and do, at the least, a very critically acclaimed series. Of course any filmmaker hope their film makes lots of money and is a financial success, and be the biggest indicator of whether you do more, but to do a piece of work that the audience, the fans and the wider audience say is great: that'd be reward enough.
You can keep up to date with the production of the series through the official website.