Game Heroines: Chun Li

Posted: September 3, 2014 in Game Heroines, Gaming
Tags: , , , ,

Chun Li
First appearance – Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, 1991, Capcom

Chun Li profile

While the first Street Fighter game came and went without much notice Street Fighter II: The World Warrior rewrote the book on beat ‘em ups and revived the fading arcade scene. However it wasn’t just the stunning graphics, fluid controls and introduction of combos that were revolutionary. The game introduced a new challenger to its then impressive eight player roster, Chun Li, who became an instant idol in gaming. Capcom’s bold move challenged many preconceptions – boys would not play as a female character, girls would have no interest in fighting games or that it would be too uncomfortable for players to see a lady getting punched in the face. Their risky venture was a complete success and Chun Li would go on to appear in almost every subsequent instalment and media spin off. Several dozen street fighting girls have appeared since and virtually every tournament fighter that followed SFII included at least one woman, though few could hope to rival Ms Li’s popularity. She not only made her mark on the Street Fighter franchise, she kicked open the doors for countless other game heroines.

Chun Li kikoken

Chun Li (‘Spring Beauty’ in Mandarin) went through several drafts following Capcom’s decision to include a female fighter. She began as a small, cute girl in traditional Chinese dress as a sharp contrast to the beefy street brawlers she’d be up against. Later the designers experimented with a wholly different direction, showing a distinctly ‘harder’ character in militia garb. (Did Capcom recall this concept when they created Jill Valentine of Resident Evil? Just a thought.) Eventually the original design was revisited with the all-important addition of combat boots, wrist spikes and modifications to the dress to allow for her trademark kick moves. The result was one of the most iconic characters in the fighting genre.

Chun Li ending 1

Chun Li’s tale was one of loss, vengeance and justice. Her father (an Interpol agent, like herself) was murdered by M. Bison, leader of the crime syndicate Shadaloo. Distraught but determined, she tracks Bison down to the tournament and enters undercover in a bid to face her father’s killer, avenge his death and finish the job of taking down Shadaloo. It’s a far richer back story than most of her tournament rivals, out “to show the world that [insert fighting style here] is the greatest”. Beat the game and you’ll see her take an emotional moment at her father’s graveside, acknowledging that her mission was a success and laying his memory to rest. The glory of winning the tournament doesn’t affect or corrupt her at all – instead she makes a well earned return to the carefree life of a young, single woman. It’s a satisfying and uplifting ending to her story.

Chun Li ending 2

Getting there is no easy ride. To truly harness Ms Li’s power, namely her speed and agility, requires nerves of steel and the reflexes of a cat. Considerably outweighed by her opponents (well, we think so – her profile stats usually list ‘Weight’ as ‘She won’t tell’), one heavy punch to the gut can do critical damage to her energy bar. Winning a round as Chun Li takes time and patience as you’ll spend as much time dodging attacks as landing your own. In the end it’s about outwitting the foe and there are few things in this life more enjoyable than a David vs. Goliath style victory as you knock another lumbering juggernaught to the ground. She’ll celebrate the win with a dignified bow or by jumping up and down and laughing ecstatically. Copying the latter in the arcade was fun but not so good for your street cred.


Sadly, the big screen has not been kind to Chun Li. There was the laughably bad live action movie released in 1993, which changed her from an Interpol agent to a television news reporter and at one point got her dressed up in a pretty Chinese dress for no good reason whatsoever. It made about as much sense as the decision to cast Jean Claude Van Damme as the all-American Guile. While this film avoids harsh criticism on the grounds of sheer silliness, there’s absolutely no excusing the shambolic effort that is Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. Why they would attempt to reboot a movie franchise that bombed fifteen years previously is baffling enough, how they could screw it up so badly is beyond human comprehension. It took itself seriously as one of those dark, gritty origin stories that everyone tried to do afterBatman Begins. Although it kept in the dead Dad stuff (sort of), Chun Li became a Chinese-American concert pianist (was the Interpol work really too dull?) up against an Irish M. Bison and his dastardly property development scheme. It’s every bit as bad as it sounds. Chuck in some appalling special effects (particularly the Spinning Bird Kick) add a cringeworthy sub plot with Chris Klein (who DOES get to be an Interpol agent) and throw in fleeting references to Ryu and the forthcoming tournament after she kills all the bosses – seriously, she actually snaps Bison’s neck – and that’s the supposed “Legend” of one of the greatest women in gaming history. Utter nonsense.


Chun Li is unimpressed with these live action Street Fighter movies

Thankfully Chun Li has been better represented through anime. Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie stayed faithful to her original back story and teamed her up with Guile, which made sense as he shared her vendetta against Bison following the murder of his war buddy Charlie. Despite the cheap effort at fan service in a gratuitously long shower scene, the movie does a far better portrayal of her character and is one of the better adaptations of the game. She also appears in the Alpha series, set prior to the events of World Warrior, and her sixteen year old self features as one of the main protagonists in the Street Fighter II V series, along with her teenage buddies Ken and Ryu. While not strictly canon – this time she’s a tour guide as well as a martial arts student – it’s still an entertaining series and she’s fun to watch, particularly when she’s being chastised during training for booting her opponent in the nads.

Chun Li kick

What was great about Chun Li was that she was all things to all players – she had a serious mission, was tough as any other fighter but was still ultimately likable. She managed to be feminine without being overly girly and took her lumps in battle as one of the guys. Nobody has since managed to take her crown, not Ryu’s fangirl Sakura or Cammy, the brainwashed blonde with her swimsuit permanently wedged up her backside. Twenty years later and there’s no question, she’s still the strongest woman in the world.


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