Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chun Li: Capcom's female pioneer in the video game industry

I was so impressed by Arttronik's blog article Ryu: A Study on Design and Inspiration it motivated me to write a similar article for Chun Li! I have been playing Street Fighter since Ryu wore red slippers and when Street Fighter II hit arcades in 1992 I discovered I had a very competitive streak in me. I remember my friend Krogenar from Buried Planet bringing me to an arcade where there was 5 or 6 SFII arcade cabinets right at the front doors with over 30 people crowded around them cheering and jeering, waiting for their quarter to be up next. I must've waited almost 20 minutes for my first time to play, I had watched plenty of matches while waiting my turn and I remember seeing many people try and take down the guy playing Ryu...most choose Ken or Guile. When I saw some guy play Chun Li and make the Ryu player really work for his win I knew exactly who I was going to choose when my turn came! Thru the years and the many iterations of Street Fighter I have played almost every character in the franchise's lengthy roster, but I always return to the first lady of fighting games* I seem to enjoy playing Chun Li the most. And apparently I'm not the only one, Ryu may be the poster child for Street Fighter and one of the top ten most recognizable video game characters in gaming history but I'd be willing to bet Chun Li isn't far behind!
So what is it about Chun Li makes her such an iconic, popular character? What inspired her creation?
I've scoured the interwebs for as much info I think may be relate-able to the stimulus of Chun Li's creation as possible. I know there are many fans of Chun Li out there and they may posses worthwhile knowledge that I'm unaware of so feel free to share!
Street Fighter II's predecessor laid the ground work for what would become one of the most influential video games in history. To many the original Street Fighter is thought to be the forefather of fighting games but that is not the case, before Ryu hit the streets Oolong was fighting in the streets in Konami's Yie Ar Kung Fu!

Many similarities can be seen between Yie Ar Kung Fu and Street Fighter. In YAKF Oolong faces has 10 unique martial arts masters Buchu, Star, Nuncha, Pole, Feedle, Chain, Club, Fan, Sword, Tonfun and final boss Blues.
In Street Fighter Ryu faces 10 unique fighters all over the world, Retsu ( Kempo) Geki (Ninjitsu), Lee () Gen(Sou-ryuu and Ki-ryuu)  Joe (kick boxing) , Mike (boxer),Birdie (bouncer) Eagle(Street Fighter), Adon (Muai Thai), and the final boss Sagat (Muai Thai).
other similarities include stage design...
Ok history class is concluded, so Capcom saw potential in YAKF and
built their fighting game using ideas from Konami's fighter. But YAKF had something SF didn't....female fighters! Yie Ar Kung Fu had 2 Star, a young ninja girl in a pink outfit who uses shuriken to slow Oolong down along with fast punches and kicks and Fan, a female warrior who wears a cheongsam, she throws steel fans at Oolong like shuriken and attacks very fiercely...Sounds like the blue prints for Chun Li and Mai Shiranui.

 So at some point between 1987 and 1991 Capcom began development of a sequel to Street Fighter, the roster would grow to 12, 3 from SF would return, Ryu, Ken and Sagat, the remaining 9 would be brand new fighters. 8 of the 12 characters would now be playable in 1v1 each with unique and special moves. Street Fighter II improves every aspect of it's predecessor, graphics, sound effects, game play, controls, soundtrack.
Street Fighter II also introduces us to *The First Lady of Fighting Games Chun Li. The reason I've astrik'd that title twice already is because historically Star and Fan from YAKF should be considered the first women of fighting games. But they certainly didn't have the impact that Chun Li has had, at the time women in video games were portrayed as damsels in distress, Jessica in Final Fight, Princess Peace, and Zelda are great examples.
But Chun Li was no damsel in distress, she represented a very rare characteristic, one that is seldom seen in other forms of media....the strong woman, determined, intelligent, beautiful and physically powerful. Chun Li wasn't fighting in the second Street Fighter tournament for some nonsensical reason, she was an Interpol agent investigating a shadowy underground criminal organization and she was driven by the murder of her father.
With that in mind I did a little investigating of my own on the interwebs and I believe I have found the inspration behind Chun Li.
In the 1970's martial arts films were a dime a dozen and women were primarily portrayed as victims, it was unheard of to have a woman in the lead role in a kung fu film, In the late 60's Huang Feng, an action film director discovered 17 year old Angela Mao Ying (Hong Kong Movie Database , ).

As a child Angela studied ballet and performed at the Fu Shing Peking Opera and studied Hapkido under master Whang In Sik.

With her acting and martial arts skills Angela was just what Hwang Feng was looking for for the lead role in The Angry River. After starring as Bruce Lee's sister in Enter the Dragon Angela Mao gained international recognition and continued to star as the lead role in many Martial art films throughout the seventies. Some of Angela Mao's more notable films are The Tournament Plot:Angela's father has a kung fu school in modern Hong Kong, but after her brother, Carter Wong, is defeated in a kick-boxing tournament in Thailand her father is disgraced, so Angela and Carter strive to restore the honor of the school. (Sounds like Mao's storyline)

Hapkido Plot:Angela and her friends establish a hapkido school in China, but a rival Japanese judo school won't leave them in peace 

Broken Oath Plot:Angela tracks down the killers of her father, aided by her pet scorpions.(aside from the scorpions that sounds like Chun Li's storyline)

Stoner Plot:In modern Hong Kong, Angela and Lazenby seek to smash a drug ring which uses a Taoist temple as a front.(coughShadaloocough)

Lady Whirlwind  Plot:Angela seeks to kill Chang Yi, who is responsible for her sister's suicide, but she grants him a reprieve so that he can take revenge against a gang leader.(  

When Taekwondo Strikes Plot:Japanese seek to capture the leader of the Korean resistance movement, who is a friend of Angela's

I'm not sure if it's a coincidence but in every fight scene above Angela in wearing some shade of blue.Chun Li's outfit is a variation of a qipao, a popular Chinese gown that. Traditionally long and form fitting, so when Capcom was designing her they wanted an outfit that was instantly recognizable as chinese but also had some sex appeal but nothing to slutty, so where did they look? I believe Akiman, Kinu, Nin Nin and Sensai may have been fans of Super Dimentional Fortress Macross...

I've always believed the character Lynn Minmay from SDFM was influential in the design of the Chun Li character and another possible source of influence in the design of Chun Li comes from the 1976 film Master of the flying Guillotine, in fact many aspects of Street fighter II can be seen in the Master of the Flying Guillotine movie...most notably the character Dhalsim. But the daughter of Wu is aesthetically similar but her fighting style has no similarities to Chun Li.

Of the the 8 original World Warriors Chun Li has gone thru the most upgrades to her character, not visually but ability wise, betwwen SFII The World Warriors and SFII Turbo she received her Kikoken.In the Alpha series she learned the Tenshokyaku, in SFIII she learned the Hazanshu. This constant evolution of the characters' moves and abilities might suggest that Chun Li is a low tier character that constantly needed to be buffed to be competitive but that couldn't be further from the truth, throughout the series Chun Li has almost always been a top tier character. Every new move or ability has added depth to her fighting style without coming off as a cheap or broken move, they all seem like a natural progression of the characters abilities, the below video gives a good demonstration of some of Chun Li's evolution:

Next to Ryu, Chun Li has been in more games than any other character in the Street Fighter roster starting with her debut in Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, with her popularity cemented she went on to appear in:
Street Fighter II / CE/ Turbo / Hyper Fighting/ 
Super Street Fighter II/ SSFII Turbo / Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, 
Street Fighter Alpha / SFA 2 /SFA2 Gold / SFA3, SFA3 Max
Street Fighter III Third Strike, 
Street Fighter IV, SSFIV, SSFIV: AE/2012
Street Fighter EX+@ /SFEX2 /SFEX3, 

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo / Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix
Xmen Vs Street Fighter 
Marvel Vs Capcom, MVC2, MVC3
Capcom Vs SNK, CVS2, 
Tatsunoko Vs Capcom, 

Breathe of Fire
Namco X Capcom
Street Fighter X Tekken, Tekken X Street Fighter
Final Fight2

Chun Li Ni Makase China slot machine! (see below)

 Aside from games Chun Li is the only Street Fighter character to get her own live action film, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li starring Kristin Kreuk, the movie was bad but not as bad as the 1994 live action Street Fighter movie starring Jean Claude Van Dam where Chun Li was played by Ming Na  

And then there's Jackie Chan's 1993 movie City if you see for yourself..

Good to see Chun beat Ken but karma does have a way of coming around when you least expect it...poor Justin

Chun Li's life, and the people that affect her and in turn she effects are also explored in print media such as the Street Fighter II manga,                                                                                                                                                                    

the Sakura Ganbaru manga where she investigates an underground fight club where she meets up with Gen.

Udon has also done a fantastic series of comics based on different Street Fighter characters, The Street Fighter Legends: Chun Li series looks incredible (I need to get these)!

Malibu Comics also did a Street Fighter series back in the day...based on this one clip I'm kinda glad it was never completed...gag reflex!

But after a bit of Interwebs excavating I discovered that this whole Ryu/Chun thing wasn't a one time booty call that Malibu Comics dreamt up!
Behold the horror!


Chun Li's future looks bright thou, Udon is localizing a new manga for us here called Street Fighter Gaiden and look who is gracing the cover of volume!

 Aside from her strong presence in video games, movies and print media another way to know Chun Li is a highly recognized part of popular culture is how many people Cos Play her! Look no further than former co host of Attack of the Show Olivia Mun!


Oh yeah and this lil lady..ULTRA KAWAII!!!!!
In closing Angela Mao Ying  was a pioneer and the worlds first female action star, Chun Li is a pioneer and the strongest woman in the world, she is the gaming industries first lady of fighting games, they both broke into a predominantly male form of entertainment and built a bridge for future women like Sigourney Weaver and Meryl from the MGS series,  for this reason they deserve a legendary place in film and gaming history! 

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