Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Guile in the 1994 Street Fighter movie, but he was far better suited for Ken Masters. Street Fighter debuted during the 1994 holiday season, becoming a box office hit, but earning mostly negative reactions across the board. Street Fighter featured many of the most recognizable combatants from the popular video game franchise, and attracted equally recognizable names from Hollywood also.
Street Fighter debuted at the height of the Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie boom, with Van Damme playing Colonel William Guile, leader of the Allied Nations forces opposing General Bison. While Van Damme’s popularity and martial arts skills made him a logical choice to appear in Street Fighter, he was ultimately miscast as Guile. The Street Fighter character Ken Masters, on the other hand, would have fit Van Damme very well.
Guile Was Not Van Damme’s Ideal Street Fighter Role
While the success of Capcom’s Street Fighter II had taken the world by storm in the early 1990s, video game movies were still an unknown quantity at the time. Casting big stars like Van Damme went a long way towards strengthening the box office pull of Street Fighter, but it also placed Van Damme in the role of a military commando leader. Sadly, Van Damme’s affable, lighthearted personality did not lend itself well to a military top dog like Guile.
Despite Van Damme using a worthy martial arts style, Street Fighter also changed Guile, who is a supporting character in the games, into the movie’s lead, while putting the Street Fighter franchise’s main characters, Ryu and Ken Masters, into supporting roles. Even Guile’s over-the-top hairstyle from the games simply did not translate to the red-haired crew cut Van Damme donned in Street Fighter. Despite all of this, Van Damme’s career backstory and martial arts history made Ken the better Street Fighter character for him to play.
Why Van Damme Could’ve Been A Good Ken
Van Damme rose to fame with low-budget martial arts films like Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and Cyborg, with his helicopter kicks and flexibility becoming his trademarks. Coupled with the animated personality Jean-Claude Van Damme showed in his early career, these attributes made the actor well-suited to portray free-spirited martial artist Ken Masters. Van Damme’s Belgian accent would have made his portrayal of Ken somewhat of a reinvention, as was also the case with Guile. Nonetheless, Van Damme’s screen persona was far more in sync with the innate liveliness of Ken compared to Guile.
Of course, Van Damme playing Ken would not have compensated for the many other issues afflicting Street Fighter, and Damian Chapa did a passable job in the Ken role, considering the script’s cartoonish tone. 20 years after Street Fighter, both Ryu and Ken made a major comeback with the web series Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, with Mike Moh and Christian Howard doing both characters proud, respectively. Guile may not rank highly on the list of action heroes portrayed by the Muscles from Brussels, but Van Damme playing Ken Masters could have brought a touch of the Bloodsport magic to Street Fighter.
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