From ALPHA to ZERO: A Conversation with STREET FIGHTER: ASSASSIN’S FIST’s Christian Howard & Mike Moh

From ALPHA to ZERO: A Conversation with STREET FIGHTER: ASSASSIN’S FIST’s Christian Howard & Mike Moh

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Friday, May 23rd, saw the return of Marvel’s mighty mutants to the big screen in director Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. The same day, director Joey Ansah’s Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist hit YouTube like a raging Shoryuken. What does a Street Fighter webseries have to do with X-Men? Someone obviously hasn’t played X-Men vs. Street Fighter… (or Marvel vs. Capcom 2 or Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3… But I digress.)  While their budgets are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they both seek to right the wrongs of previous entries and reassure fans there’s still a story to tell.

     Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, a 13 episode, live action webseries, is the latest incarnation of the video game series-turned-mammoth multimedia franchise. Since going live, episode 0 (appropriately titled Alpha), has reached over one million views. It is a passion project for director Ansah, who produced and co-wrote the series with creative partner, Christian Howard. The two English-born martial artists/filmmakers also star as Akuma and Ken, respectively, along side Korean American actor Mike Moh as Ryu. Rounding out the main cast (of playable characters from the game) is Japanese actor Akira Koieyama as the wise sensei, Gouken. Like the combatants of the games themselves, Assassin’s Fist’s cast is appropriately international.

The webseries is the first of a cross-platform release that will include a television edit, and uncut, feature length Blu Ray release. While Assassin’s Fist is a completely entertaining experience on its own, its success is even greater if one goes back to the beginning and realizes its place in the franchise’s history. Along the way, we will be joined by Ken and Ryu themselves, Christian Howard and Mike Moh.

Press Start

     Street Fighter (1987) was the brainchild of director Takashi Nishiyama and planner Hiroshi Matsumoto, who were assigned by Capcom to develop the company’s first fighting game. To set it apart from the generic, one-on-one karate games that had been released up to that point, the two men developed a fighter that was filled with distinctive characters and hard-to-execute special moves that, if performed correctly, could obliterate the opponent’s healthbar.

In Street Fighter, Player 1 commands Ryu, a young, Japanese, karate pro, who travels the world seeking a variety of rivals to test his skill. Flying from Japan, to the United States, England, China and finally Thailand, Ryu meets a colorful cast of opponents before going head to head with the one-eyed, reigning Muay Thai champion, Sagat.


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Long before a selectable character roster, fans going up against each other could only choose from the vanilla, white gi’d Ryu as Player 1, or his red-garbed, American counterpart, Ken Masters, as Player 2. Their identical moveset included the now famous Hadouken (ki fireball,) Shoryuken (dragon punch,) and the Tastsumaki Senpuukyaku (hurricane kick,); however, as the special moves were never readily documented on the cabinet, players had to discover them by mistake.The arcade version of Street Fighter was successful enough to produce a side scrolling spinoff in Final Fight (originally titled Street Fighter ’89); but the franchise’s real fist to the face of pop culture wouldn’t come until 1991’s Street Fighter II: The World Warrior.

     The World Warrior saw the return of Ryu, Ken and Sagat in a game that featured crisp graphics, smooth, strategy-based gameplay, memorable music and even more colorful selectable fighters. New characters included Chinese Interpol agent and self-proclaimed “Strongest Woman in the World”, Chun Li, green-skinned, Brazilian beast man Blanka, and fire-breathing, limb stretching yogi, Dhalsim.

Among the earliest fans of the sequel were the men who would eventually reinvent the series on film.

Christian Howard: The first time I remember playing Street Fighter was Street Fighter II in the arcade. Back then it cost only 20 pence for a game and my brothers and I spent all our money on it. Then we got it for the Sega Genesis and mastered some of the characters. Ryu and Ken influenced me with martial arts.

Mike Moh: (My first exposure was) playing the original Street Fighter II in my basement on my SNES! I remember getting really frustrated because I wasn’t very good at inputing the commands for Ryu’s special moves. I eventually learned.The mammoth success of the sequel was unlike anything seen before; Street Fighter II created a (sonic) boom in the fighting game genre and transcended it to become a cultural force that crushed any opposition like an old car.

Hadoukens Over Hollywood

     In the early nineties, with the Street Fighter II logo plastered all over toys, board games, posters and pinball machines, it wasn’t long before Hollywood beckoned. Universal Pictures was granted the rights by Capcom and approached writer Stephen de Souza to come up a treatment. The veteran screenwriter of Die Hard and Commando agreed – but only if he could direct the project as well. Universal accepted the first time director’s offer.

At the time, there was little story in the games to go by, save for a couple of sentences and a still image or two after you beat the boss. It was up to de Souza to take Super Street Fighter II’s cast of 16 characters and craft an elaborate adventure film around them. When Street Fighter: The Movie became a starring vehicle for Jean-Claude Van Damme, cast as the strangely accented American colonel, Guile, Ryu (Byron Mann) and Ken (Damien Chapa) were reimagined as petty hustlers and given supporting roles.  

MM: It’s hard to fault Byron Mann as he could only depict what he was given to work with. Unfortunately, Ryu was an afterthought and misrepresented in the JCVD Street Fighter film. I can honestly say I did not take anything away from watching those films that would help me in Assassin’s Fist.

     Street Fighter was released in December of 1994 and was a modest box office success worldwide. However, critics and fans panned it for its G.I. Joe-style storyline and intentionally comedic tone. The same year, Japanese production company, Toei released Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. This anime adaptation was darker and far more violent than its live action counterpart, but its visual style and characterizations would be a major influence on the games that followed.

CH: The Van Damme Street Fighter has its kitsch appeal but by no means would I ever use it as research for what we are doing. Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, for me, had the best character portrayals, Ken and Ryu’s rivalry and bromance were evident and the flashback scenes influenced me in writing the characters for Assassin’s Fist. It was more about being very familiar with the characters and their drives and attitudes, that way I could look at each situation and think ‘what would Ken do?’

The franchise’s next attempt at a live action feature was director Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li (2009). As the title suggests, Chun-Li, the First Lady of Fighting Games was given the center stage, played by Kristen Kruek. Meanwhile, Ken and Ryu are nowhere to be seen with Ryu getting a mere name drop before the credits roll. The 20th Century Fox production, lacking the franchise’s colorful visuals and a coherent script, ended up looking like a generic, direct to video action flick, and bombed at the box office, making only $12 million on a budget of $50 million. Was Street Fighter as a live action property KO’d for good?

Here Comes a New Challenger

     Street Fighter: Legacy blew up on the web in the summer of 2010. The three-minute short stages an elaborate fight scene between Ryu and Ken, recreating their signature moves with stunning fidelity. Approved by Capcom and released to coincide with the then impending release of Super Street Fighter IV, the film has since gained over 5 million views on YouTube.

CH: It was more than we could’ve hoped for. We wanted to prove this concept would work with fans and a wider audience at the same time; the reaction was overwhelming. Breaking various YouTube records too gave us ammunition to push Assassin’s Fist forward but it was still a long road to realizing it. All in all, the fans seemed to really dig the passion we had for making the characters as true as possible to their game counterparts.

Using the short as a springboard for a more ambitious follow-up, Ansah and Howard took to Kickstarter in 2013 to raise funding for Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist. Fortunately, they were able to secure the rest of the funding from outside sources, prematurely ending the Kickstarter campaign.

CH: Legacy became the proof of concept for our original idea, which was a full Street Fighter II series with Bison and Chun Li and Guile etc. Having been burnt by the other two Street Fighter movie attempts (despite their turning a profit) Capcom were reluctant to allow us to tackle this series, so we focused on the Ryu and Ken origin after Legacy, as that had never been done before in live action, and delving into the history of Ansatsuken (Ryu and Ken’s fictional art, which translates literally as “Assassin’s Fist.”)    

     Assassin’s Fist is as much about Ryu and Ken’s early years as it is about their master Gouken, and his turbulent relationship with brother Gouki. Impulsive and impatient, Gouki succumbs to the Satstui No Hado; a forbidden killing art so powerful, it transforms him into the demonic Akuma. The series is a period piece, with the “present” portions set in the late eighties and much of the multi-generational story told in flashback. To add to the authenticity, the filmmakers chose to present much of the dialogue in Japanese.

While the smaller scaled story is a far cry from the global scope of the games, finding the perfect backdrop for the Antsatsuken training ground took some globetrotting of its own.

CH: Bulgaria is a stunning country. We first went there for a location scout about three years ago in the winter, where it was an alpine wonderland. We looked around the existing studio sets at Nu Boyana and tried to see what we could make work. The Dojo from the film Ninja (2009) was still standing and we had it in mind to be Gotetsu’s compound, but by the time we were ready to go, it had been converted into Turkish bath houses for another project out there. This probably worked in our favour in the long run as we got to decide exactly where to put our Dojo for maximum effect, Goken’s hidden in the forest and Gotetsu’s looking over a stunning vista.   I spent a lot of time with Antonello Rubino, our production designer, coming up with the style and size and shape of each Dojo. Pepe from Europa films was our guide around Bulgaria, showing us the remote and beautiful locations not many people would know about, we got to see the waterfalls and lakes and the amazing cave that Akuma resides in. It was a monumental structure, so high and wide you could fit a cathedral inside, truly awesome. All these elements doubled so well for Japan with the pine forests that Japanese have asked us which parts were filmed in Japan!

     With a tight schedule, Howard and his crew went out of their way to make the most of their bucolic, “Japanese” countryside.

CH: I was directing second unit when we went to the more remote locations like the waterfalls, which was a 3.5 hour journey each way from our base camp near the Dojo, it was tough and we only had one day in the schedule to film there so we had to get it all, trekking up and down the falls to get those stunning shots that add so much production value to the series. All the travelling shots in the gorge and cliffs were all one day adventures, I was making poor Gaku (Space, who plays the young Gouki,) climb the cliffs in his traditional sandals but we got it and it looks fantastic.


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Blood Brothers

While the multi-talented Howard reprised his role as Ken from Legacy, Mike Moh earned the part of Ryu when Legacy’s John Foo became unavailable.The quality of Legacy was one of the factors that attracted Moh to the role.

MM: I was a big fan of it. I must have watched it 100 times! I never felt like a newcomer because Assassin’s Fist felt like a fresh start for everyone. Joey and Chris always made me feel like an important part of the team.

To more closely resemble their pumped up, video game alter egos, Moh and Howard spent months bulking up their already athletic physiques.

CH: When we were coming up to filming Legacy, I had put on muscle mass to embody the role, even at that point people thought we were too small. For Assassin’s Fist I had the benefit of the lead in time to get size and ability ready before the shoot. I put on more size and tried to get as cut as possible for filming, training gymnastics twice a week to keep nimble and able to flip. One thing I noticed from Legacy was somersaults and jump kicks felt a lot harder now I was heavier, so training at the new weight I got accustomed to it and all the sumis and tatsumakis you see Ken doing, I was able to perform myself.

MM: It’ absolutely affected my movements both negatively and positively. I underwent a large body change in a short amount of time. The extra mass made all my aerial and acrobatic moves more difficult to do but I made sure that I kept up with that type of training throughout my bulking-up process so I did not lose any of those skills. On the flip side, my increased strength enhanced the look of those same moves along with all of my basic techniques. Now that I’m used to my size, my skills are better than ever!

CH: Everyone trained really hard and I am particularly proud of Mike for committing to the project and doing what it took to put on size and keep his abilities. Even through injury, he kept going like a pro. Joey also came back from injury to play his part, we all had to make it count as there were no reshoots!


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The series pulls both visual and narrative inspiration from the Street Fighter Alpha trilogy (1995-98) of games. Taking place in the years between Street Fighter I and II, Alpha gave gamers a deeper glimpse into the backstories of some of their favorite fighters. For the younger version of Ken, Howard based his look directly on the yellow gloved, pony-tailed version from Alpha.

CH:I insisted on keeping it accurate, we really wanted to stick true to how the characters were in the games, and give reasons for costume choices. I will admit wearing it for two months had its challenges and fights weren’t made any easier. I know the wig might get a lot of stick but I liked being able to put it on and get into character.

A blond wig was far from Howard’s only attention to detail.

CH: Having a big hand in the design of the series I was constantly on call to address the look of things, from painting the Kanji on the back of Akuma’s gi with our costume designer to melting Ken’s glove after the final Shoryken. Our props department was great and Severina (Stoyanova, the prop master) came up with so many wonderful pieces to create the world. Thanks to Togo Igawa we managed to keep things as authentic as possible, even when that meant he and I spending our night off painting the name boards for the Dojo in his room! We also worked on the correct Kanji for the grave stone of Gotetsu, a surreal experience to be working on your own grave!

As fans of any comic book or video game adaptation can attest, looking the part is only half the challenge. For Howard and Moh, it was just as important to get their characterizations right.

CH: The evolution of the story and writing has been a long process for myself and Joey, we worked out all the story points and knitting together the mythology to make sense in chronology. I suppose we were lucky to have the lead up time in retrospect, although frustrating that it took years to realize it meant we could revise the script more and tie up loose ends. Some things we invented like thinking well why is Ken so angry and undisciplined so coming up with his mom’s passing would explain this character point, it was a difficult but rewarding process.  

MM: Ryu is so pure and his intentions are so honest. All he wants is to be the best practitioner of Ansatsuken he can be. He doesn’t have much worldly experience so he is very naive as well. Joey and I thought that the best way for me to portray Ryu was to be the yin to Ken’s yang. I feel this really helped differentiate our characters.

CH: Ken was always my favorite character from when I first started playing Street Fighter, I suppose he represented the American dream to me as a kid, and I wanted to identify with him and Ryu, I started Kung Fu and Karate, and was quite into Japanese culture. As Ryu and Ken’s move set diversified in later games Ken really won me over, playing Marvel vs Capcom 2 day after day when Joey and I lived together, Ken was a staple of my team. I suppose Mike Moh and I embody Ryu onscreen the way the characters are but ironically in real life we are something of opposites, I like the scene where Ryu and Ken enter the night club and Ken is off trying to party and talk to people and Ryu is more apprehensive, Mike and I joke about this as he would be the one running in and dancing!

With the games’ and anime’s trademark style, it was easy for many of the Asian characters to appear ethnically ambiguous; But for Moh, it was very important to keep Ryu close to his cultural roots.

MM: I’m thankful to Joey and Chris for making Ryu 100% Japanese. It’s a reflection of the perception of Asian males in our society. Besides Bruce Lee we had no strong role models in media. Video game characters like Ryu were being made to look Caucasian and that can negatively affect how Asian kids perceive themselves. Hopefully I can restore some confidence and help Asian kids be proud of their heritage with Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist!

Fight For the Future

With a vast universe of characters and stories to pick from, the two stars are looking forward to donning their sleeveless gis for a second round.  

MM: If the series continues and I’m fortunate enough to continue as Ryu, I’d love to see Ryu eventually face off against Sagat and ultimately AKUMA!! It would be cool to portray Ryu as less naive and more of the tortured soul/wandering warrior he is primarily known as.

CH: There is much more story moving forward into the Street Fighter II tournament, there is also his relationship with Eliza that will be interesting, I’ve always seen it like a sort of Rocky and Adrian love story. His ongoing relationship with Ryu as his brother and greatest rival with become more epic as they grow. We would definitely address the elements of the Street Fighter I game and tournament, As there were in the Street Fighter II animated movie, the Ryu/Sagat fight in Australia is a must! The Udon guys have definitely gone places with the backstories too, so don’t worry we will being doing justice to all parts of the journey while fitting the chronology of the games.

If a sequel is as well written, beautifully shot and engaging as Assassin’s Fist, Street Fighter fans can be sure the franchise is in the right filmmakers’ hands.


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About the Author

I'm a writer and filmmaker from Fort Worth, Texas with a background in film production and journalism. I graduated from Texas Christian University, and have had a lifelong passion for movies, monsters and superheroes. I also made a movie about the Phantom of the Opera and enjoy Philly Cheesesteaks. For info on my current projects, please visit