STREET FIGHTER ASSASSIN'S FIST
INTERVIEW WITH JOEY ANSAH
We recently had an interview with Producer, Director and Co-writer Joey Ansah about the recently announced Street Fighter Assassin's Fist, a live-action origins series based on Ryu, Ken, Akuma and Gouken.
SFD: First I'd like to personally congratulate you on the success of Street Fighter Legacy and the announcement of Street Fighter Assassin's Fist!
JOEY: Many thanks SFD, appreciated. It's been a long hard road to get to this point, but my core team and I are super excited about what's to come, as are Capcom!
SFD: What was your initial reaction to the viral success of Street Fighter Legacy? Was the community's response what you expected?
JOEY: A big sigh of relief was my first reaction! It's fascinating to be sat there reading youtube comments as they come in on a piece of work you've created and dreamed up. Making a live-action SF is a double edged sword. On one side, because fans have hated the previous 2 efforts I saw an opportunity: to be the first person to nail it and do it right. There is an opening to do something no one has achieved before. On the other hand, fans have a bad taste in their mouth where live action SF is concerned so their default stance is to be pessimistic and expect the worst... which is natural. I'd probably feel the same way if I heard someone else was taking a pop at it.
I see myself as a huge SF fan, not just of the games but of the wider mythology, the same goes for Christian Howard who played Ken and co-wrote Legacy with me. We both came up with the story/plot for Assassin's Fist and also collaborated on writing the scripts/screenplays together. We figured, we are designing this thing in terms of narrative, look, choreography etc based on how, as fans, we'd want to see SF in live-action. So we assumed the majority of other SF fans would feel the same way and dig it as much as we did. Luckily we were on the money. The 98.8% approval rating we had on youtube was great to see along with the passion in fans' excited comments. To know we'd created something that was a long time coming for the fans is a great feeling. The Videogame and movie press really dug it as well, so it gives you the confidence to press forward with the bigger picture.
Of course you always get the haters who just want to nitpick, see the glass as half empty, but that's all good. Believe me when I say Legacy was made under great duress, time pressure and constraints. There are things I would have changed or improved about it, if we had the extra time, money and resources, but overall am extremely proud of it. It's good to hear what fans loved and didn't love so much so in planning Assassin's Fist we can make sure we've listened to any minor criticisms people may have had, and try and make the viewing experience more sublime the next time round.
SFD: For the fans who haven't heard, can you tell us a bit about what Assassin's Fist is?
JOEY: Well Assassin's Fist will be a feature length series, distributed on multiple formats that delves into the origins of all the 'shoto' characters, but more importantly the history and legacy of the Ansatsuken style, which they all practice original or derivative forms of. It's a coming of age story for Ryu and Ken. We see what their daily life and training is like in the secluded Japanese mountain wilderness of Gouken's Dojo. We find out where they've come from, their personality complexes and internal issues to overcome as well as their motivations. When we join them in the story they are yet to have learn the Hado techniques. So we really go on that journey/process/training with them as they cross that point of no return and start wielding this incredible power. We start to learn about Gouken's mysterious past, and his fears. This opens up the gateway to a whole parallel storyline in the past where we see the origins of Gouken, Gouki (Akuma) etc. Gouken is essentially the bridge between the previous generation and the new. In writing this series with Christian Howard we really wanted to tell the story from different characters' perspectives. So for some episodes you'll be living vicariously through Ryu and Ken, then later through Gouken, then perhaps the often Demonised Gouki to see things from his side and understand his code and rationale. It's very layered and full of detail. The epic fight action everyone is going to want is there, but more importantly this is a real character story. If we pull this off right, people will love the action, more so will love and obsess over the characters and really relate and emote with them.
SFD: Will it be a web series or television series? When and where can we watch Assassin's Fist?
JOEY: Both is the simple answer. Think of this as TV series that will be distributed online, on demand, DVD/Blu ray and TV. Although a web release is what he have planned first to really hit the target audience where we know to find them. I can't say too much about the release schedule etc at this stage as we are still confirming the distribution order of things. Let's just put it this way in its original script format: each episode is 22mins long which minus commercial breaks is what's known as a commercial half hour. For the online release those episodes could be split in half to 11min episodes. But in total there is plenty of narrative and length.
SFD: What was the process like to get this series a reality?
JOEY: I don't think you want to know! Don't take me back to that dark place... Perhaps one day in a book I'll regale in detail the full twists and turns of the battle to get to this place. *laughs* It'd make for interesting and informative reading. You often hear the term of films or series being in 'development hell' for years before they come to fruition. My Producer, Jacky Quella, and I know the full meaning of that only too well. It's all in the game as they say. The stars have got to align and the timing be right for things to fall sweetly into place. In short, to make a series like this based on a popular brand, it's a big licensing deal with the IP owner, in this case Capcom. We have a great relationship with Capcom and understand the workings of the corporation well, and look forward to continuing to work with them as we move forward. They have some fantastic IP's as you know, that would be so cool done right in live-action.
SFD: What are some of the inspirations for Assassin's Fist?
JOEY: Hmmmm good question. We haven't seen a good warrior's tale in a long time. Something that really shows the evolution, growth and development of a fighter from cub to the end product. So that aspect of many old martial arts films was an inspiration as opposed to one specific film. Oddly I use Shawshank Redemption as inspiration. That film really makes you feel like you are serving time with the main protagonists. You go through the journey and experience of incarceration with them, and when Andy finally escapes at the end you feel so elated and emotional, because you have done the time with him, and crawled through the 4 football pitches of shit with him so you know what it truly means for him to feel freedom and tear off his top as the rain comes down. The ability for that film to make the viewer go on the journey viscerally with the characters and 'do the time' is rare and amazing. In Assassin's Fist I want you to feel a similar process. By the time you see Ryu and Ken unleashing Hado in full glory you are going to feel like you've gone through the training with them. You, along with Ryu and Ken, will have to earn the Hado. Visually, films like Last Samurai, 13 Assassin's, Warrior's way are great reference points. I'm a big Nolan fan, and 'The Prestige' is one of my favorite all-time films. I love clever, non-linear story telling, that jumps back and forward in time, and makes the viewer work like a detective to try and see what is coming, before sucker punching them with a twist that only the most observant and in-tune viewer would see coming. Assassin's Fist is, as a script, non linear.
SFD: What did you think of the Van Damme and Kristin Kreuk films?
JOEY: Not a fan. Next question.
SFD: *laughs* Fair enough. In Assassin's Fist, how do you plan to address fan criticisms from Street Fighter Legacy? One of the most common comments we've heard was, "Ryu wasn't Asian."
JOEY: Good thing you're bringing up the Ryu race issue because its an interesting one. Ever since the cultural fall out, and muddled sense of identity and self image in Japan after their defeat in WW2 Japanese art work has never been the same. In all Japanese Manga art, Japanese characters are drawn with the most caucasian features and looks. In fact its nigh on impossible in an anime or Manga to find a Japanese character that looks truly ethnically Japanese. So let's take Ryu. Meant to be full blood Japanese. In the art work he looks either fully caucasian, or eurasian(mixed) at best. So in casting him in live action you are faced with an issue. For me the happy medium is to cast a eurasian actor who is at least half Asian. Jon Foo for example. Half Chinese, Half Irish ethnicity. Facially he is a dead ringer for how Ryu is portrayed in the Marvel vs Capcom 2 art work. With the surname 'Foo' you think it'd be clear that this guy has at least partial Asian heritage. Yet you still get numbskulls commenting "Why is Ryu White? Why is Ryu Mexican?" I shake my head in dispair. I guess I'm lucky I live in London, the most cosmopolitan city on earth, so am no stranger to every possible combination of mixed ethnicity (I'm mixed myself). I guess some audience members have a difficulty recognizing different ethnicities. In their eyes "If they don't look like Jacky Chan then they can't possibly be Asian!" I tend to ignore people like that as they don't know what they are looking at.
Believe me I'd like to be true to the character's heritage and cast a full blood Japanese actor, but if he doesn't facially resemble Ryu, then great he is Japanese Hooray, but now he looks nothing like the Ryu you and I are used to looking at and you alienate fans who want the character to look as he does in the game. You cast a eurasian then people are shouting 'racist' why'd you cast a white guy. You can't win. For the record I'd never cast a full caucasian for the role of Ryu. That would be absurd. He is going to be mixed or full Asian ethnically. Its really tough casting these characters because you need someone that (1) facially, strongly resembles the character (2) Has the ability to build in relatively short time a suitably impressive physique (3) Has the martial arts ability in terms of great clean basics and some high level acrobatic/tricking ability (4) Can act, emote, do accents, have and ear for other dialects etc. It narrows down casting for the main characters to a very slim pool of potential people.
Art and entertainment is so subjective. You can never please 'everyone'. As master and commander of this ship sometimes I have to make tough creative decisions. But everything most fans worry about us getting right. I worry about getting right too. So it's in good hands. As in my response to an earlier question, we have listened to some legitimate criticisms of Legacy. There definitely won't be any flying side kicks that look like they aint gonna hit each other *smiles*
SFD: Some fans believe it is easy to produce a short film with lots of action and little story, but Assassin's Fist is a full-out series. How do you plan to keep an interesting plot?
JOEY: Legacy was a mere taster of my vision for SF in live-action. We had limited time to plan and shoot it but what fans needed to see most urgently was Ryu and Ken in all their glory fighting one another in an Epic setting with the Classic music Epically re-scored etc. We gave them that. But that was 1% of what I wanted to show. Wait and see with Assassin's Fist.
SFD: Who can we expect to see in Assassin's Fist?
JOEY: Well I've already mentioned Ryu, Ken, Gouken and Gouki. Any others you'll have till wait and see.
SFD: Do you plan on using American or Japanese character names, and why?
JOEY: Good question. The Answer is both. Since Gouki and Akuma are both Japanese words/names Gouki meaning 'strong spirit' and Akuma 'Demon'. I'm having it that as in Japan he is always Gouki and refers to himself as such, but once he has fully transformed into his ultimate form others refer to him as "an Akuma".
SFD: Do you plan on including any original characters? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?
JOEY: Yeah there are a couple. A very entertaining one in particular, but no spoilers!
SFD: Do you plan on reprising the role of Akuma?
JOEY: Yes, in his full blown adult state. A Japanese actor will play the younger Gouki prior to becoming fully immersed in the Satsui no Hado. A gradual transformation will occur resulting in me.
SFD: Will any iconic tunes from the video games make it into Assassin's Fist?
JOEY: Well you heard the epic orchestral re-workings of Ryu and Ken's themes we did in SF:Legacy . My awesome composer Patrick Gill will be returning to create an Epic score. So expect an OST with references and re-workings of some of the classic melodies you know and love.
SFD: How do you think Assassin's Fist will compare with The Mortal Kombat Legacy series?
JOEY: I guess people will naturally attempt to make comparisons, but I'm not. MKL was a series of short stories focussing on each of the principle characters in their lead-up to the tournament. As opposed to a cohesive continuous narrative. Also the episode length varied and were often very short (anywhere from 6-12 mins depending on the ep). I know Kevin had a tight budget to work with as will we, and he had a lot of different characters and locations to fit in. No easy task! I look forward to seeing his movie. Assassin's Fist is much bigger in terms of the length of narrative. It's a very different beast.
SFD: We'd like to know more about you as a Street Fighter fan! What was your first experience with Street Fighter?
JOEY: I was born in 1982. I was aware of SF1 but didn't play it in the arcades from what I recollect. I jumped onboard SF2 when it hit the arcades and then later the SNES. I strongly remember that weird version of SF2 arcade where you could bust out multiple Sonic Booms onscreen at once [Rainbow Edition]. Super slow ones oscillating up and down. I was a Sega guy back then, so when SF2 Championship Edition hit the Genesis/Megadrive I was all over that. I can remember buying Super SF2 with great excitement. The 6-button genesis pad really made SF for me. I always hated having fierce punch on top of the Dpad. Never got on with the SNES button layout. On the Sega Saturn I was all over Alpha 1 and 2. I loved Alpha 2 and the custom combos. I loved the level in the stormy fields with the tall grass based on the opening of the Anime [Street Fighter II The Animated Movie] Ryu vs Sagat. I left SF for a while. Dabbled in Alpha 3 a bit, but almost totally missed out SF3 (shame on me). Marvel vs Capcom 2 had me hooked. Christian Howard and I played that game to death, going through several PS2 pads in the process. Still prob our fav incarnation of the game. I play MVC3 now, SSFIV AE and SF x Tekken. I hated SFIV at first. I think the transition from MVC2 to SFIV was tough. It felt so fucking clunky and slow. I didnt like the cartoonishness of it and how roided up everyone had become. In storyline most characters like Blanka and Guile had been turned into a joke and parodies. But you gotta hand it to Ono......love it or hate it at first you WILL love it eventually as I did.
SFD: Who is your favourite character to play as? Are you any good? *laughs*
JOEY: I can play with just about anyone, but my A-team would be Akuma, Ryu, Guile, Bison, Evil Ryu. Christian naturally loves Ken. Yes we are good.
SFD: How has Street Fighter personally affected your life?
JOEY: Well ha! Massively. It's taken it over for the last 3 years! SFAF will be the culmination of all my skills as an actor, film maker, writer, fight choreographer thus far. SFAF will be the biggest and most significant professional undertaking of my life. Even whilst working on 'Snow White and the Huntsman' I was in my trailer in costume on my Macbook script writing. Whilst filming 'The Numbers Station' with John Cusack late last year, on downtime I was working on SFAF. It's nonstop.
You could say my life already has, and will further be defined by SF. Kind of crazy when you stand back and think about it. The game and mythology is just too damn cool not have it done justice in live action. I've given up the majority of my free time, energy and money into making this happen for everyone to enjoy. Let's hope its not the end of me. Also in the early days, SF fuelled and maintained my obsession with martial arts. I've been doing martial arts obsessively for 24 years now. The desire to get into martial arts tricking was also motivated by playing the games. It's nice knowing I can Flash kick, Tatsu-maki and somersault in real life.
SFD: Joey, it has been a real pleasure speaking with you!
JOEY: SFD it has been my pleasure. Thanks for asking some interesting questions. To all the SFD readers and fans out there, please support the series and join the official FB page for updates as they happen!
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