Interview: Joey Ansah on ‘Street Fighter: Resurrection’

Joey Ansah split time growing up between England and Ghana training in various martial arts and playing video games. Just over a decade ago he would break into acting with roles on BBC television shows, as a shadow warrior in “Batman Begins,” and perhaps most notably, he’d live out Jimmy Fallon’s birthday candle wish and punch Matt Damon in the face, on camera, repeatedly.

Ansah’s love of video games, specifically the “Street Fighter” franchise would endure into adulthood and bubble to the surface with a short film titled “Street Fighter: Legacy” which he wrote and directed. Ansah was able to obtain the screen rights to the franchise and continued his take on the mythology with a web series titled “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist,” in partnership with Machinima, which pulled in over seventeen million views online.

Due to the popularity of “Assassin’s Fist” and with “Street Fighter 5” on the horizon, Ansah and team have taken another at bat to continue the adventures of Ken, Ryu, and co. on screen with the new series, “Street Fighter: Resurrection” premiering March 15 on Verizon’s go90 streaming platform. We spoke with Ansah on the phone about his experience developing “Street Fighter” for the screen, his thoughts on the new game, and what’s coming down the pipe.

BSR: When I think about games that have a rich back story and lore to be adapted to screen, “Street Fighter” is not necessarily the first thing I think of. At this point you’ve done the short film “Street Fighter: Legacy,” “Assassin’s Fist,” and now this. What is it about “Street Fighter” that made you want to explore the narrative?

JA: I just think it’s such a big world to spend, it’s the thirtieth anniversary, this game is a real part of pop culture that has accompanied some people from coming out the womb to full bore adulthood and having their own kids. There aren’t many video game franchises with that legacy. Having grown up with it myself and kind of seeing the game evolve and the universe begins to slowly expand with the manga and the animated movie and comic book series. It’s a very convoluted universe, it’s a universe with huge narrative potential but it needs straightening out. The chronological order of the games is like, the alpha games then “Street Fighter” one, then two, then four, then five, then three. So, you’re getting narrative even in the games in non-linear order and there are gaps in the narrative where canon has made a brief mention of something but then it’s never been expanded upon. Then perhaps one of the animes has expanded upon and fans like it but Capcom is still like this isn’t official canon because we haven’t put it in a game. But for lack of there being any other explanation people latch onto one of the animes for example.

So “Assassin’s Fist” was a big job of taking what is established as strict canon and also taking the elements that people love about the animes and the comic books and whatnot and binding it into one cohesive, coherent, definitive kind of backstory. Now that’s been done there is a stable bedrock to launch off to the world warrior story line. It’s just a huge story to tell, I mean the direct sequel to “Assassin’s Fist” narratively will be “Street Fighter: World Warrior” a series that needs to be told at the U.S. cable TV level, hour long episodes, big budget. I’ve been developing that since “Assassin’s Fist” wrapped.

But the opportunity came up, the license for the rights to “Street Fighter” that we had for “Assassin’s Fist” we had the option to do a sequel and Capcom was like, we want you to exercise that option and give us another “Street Fighter” web series. And I was like, why would I do another web series when I’m developing this TV show? And they were like, well we want something to come out around the game. Well that’s a very quick turnaround, that gives us like six months or something. So I thought, okay, I can’t touch the World Warrior narrative because that’s all been mapped out for a TV series and needs long episodes to tell it properly, let me tell the prologue of “Street Fighter 5.” I want to know and expand and explore what’s happened between four and five and what has led to this. It gives me a chance to present a very different environment to “Assassin’s Fist” which is a very romanticized, idealic, Japanese wilderness. It’s a period piece with old dojos from the fifties or whatever and nice kitsch nostalgic throwback stuff but “Street Fighter 5” is contemporary and modern and urban in a lot of ways. So I thought wow, this will be a good challenge to present characters you know from “Assassin’s Fist” but grown up by ten years in an urban, technological world and see how they gel, how they get on. It’s easy in isolation to tell the story of Ryu and Ken when they’re not really surrounded by anyone and they can walk around in their gis all day. But to really make this universe work, we have to see these characters interacting with normal people that the viewer can relate to and this is what this series does.

BSR: What sort of research did you do to bring the Shadaloo villains into the story?

JA: Decapre was introduced in “Ultra Street Fighter 4,” she was one of the new characters who was one of Bison’s dolls, contemporary of Cammy, known as Killer Bee back then, before she was liberated from being sort of an evil Shadaloo assassin and became a force for good. So I thought, Decapre is an interesting character that we’ve only just been introduced to, whether or not she’s going to be in 5 we don’t know. She could well be a DLC character coming down the line. I’m like, she’s definitely will factor in as an agent for Shadaloo into what’s going on in this time period that “Resurrection” deals with. And “Resurrection” deals with the question, is Shadaloo as an organization, back? Because they were all but destroyed and dismantled post the events of “Street Fighter 2.” If you remember in “Street Fighter 4” it’s S.I.N. is the organization that’s really the main villain. Bison kind of reveals at the end that he was behind it all along, type thing. “Assassin’s Fist” was very male dominated, a lot of people were like, I wonder how Joey and team will tackle the female fighting characters, their costumes, their fighting styles, who are they going to cast? How is it going to look? So in this series you have Decapre and Laura Matsuda, female fighting characters. Again, it’s a challenge, it would be easy to say, Oh I’ve only got six months so let me just give you more of the same, another little vignette of Ryu and Ken in the mountains doing stuff, that wouldn’t challenge me. I wanted to bite of something completely new that is really going to do something and move the narrative forward, create new ground.

BSR: What are your thoughts of “Street Fighter 5” as a game so far?

JA: Like any new version of “Street Fighter” your reflexes and senses have become so tuned to the play style of that game, when a new one comes out that’s got different timing, different hit priorities there is sort of a teasing period to acquaint yourself with the new game. “Street Fighter 5” on first early plays, feels more like the original “Street Fighter 2: The World Warrior” in its speed. There’s a sort of solid, clunky, robustness to the hits that the original “Street Fighter” had. The Alpha games had a lighter, flurry type feel to and really brought the combos to the forefront. This has dialed it back a bit, you can’t spam out attacks to chain these long sticky combos in the same way you could. So I’m still getting to grips with it. I’ve been so busy making this, I haven’t had much time to play the game. But hey, post production on “Resurrection” officially finishes tomorrow night so I’ll be getting some “Street Fighter 5” gaming on thereafter. I mean, I’ve played it but I haven’t spent hours and hours and hours playing it, I can only give you first impressions. The game is not complete, it’s an early release, Capcom has still yet to release the cinematic story mode and all the other modes that fans are clamoring for so in a way it’s good I haven’t been on it yet.

BSR: Aside from the characters you’ve mentioned already, are there any other new characters we can expect to see this time around?

JA: Various other characters are referenced. In terms of world building, some characters are referenced by name. Yes, aside from Ryu, Ken, Nash, Laura, Decapre, there is another iconic character people can expect to see but you’re going to have to wait and see the series for that. It’s too juicy to even talk about it, let alone put it in the trailer, it will be a nice reward for fans that tune in to see who this extra character is.

BSR: Fair enough. How will the release of the series work? Will it be released all at once so people can binge watch it or will it have a weekly release?

JA: I think it’s weekly, go90, Machinima have done an exclusive debut deal with Verizon’s go90 mobile streaming platform, which is an app. You don’t have to be a Verizon customer. Anyone in the United States with a smart phone or a tablet can download the app and it will debut on March 15. From what I understand it will mostly likely be one a week over a month period. Obviously for our international fans, everyone is wondering how they can see it if they are not in the United States and can’t access go90.  We’re waiting to hear; I understand Machinima are working on an international distribution plan but I don’t have details at this time to give you. Hopefully before long there will be some news on how our international fan base can see it.

BSR: Is there anything you can tell me about the TV series you’re working on?

JA: A lot of the creating has been done. A hyper detailed treatment that covers season one in great detail has already been written and outlining what season two is as well. I pitched to all of the major Hollywood studios last year and there was a great response. It’s taking a long time to do because for this series to work the way that I want it to it will have a big budget. We’re talking “Walking Dead” type scale and budget, or Netflix original series type stuff like Marvel are doing. Finding the right production partners to put it together and making sure the deal with Capcom is all squared off. Previously it’s just been my party, me and my producers dealing with Capcom and we have the rights directly and make the piece and distribute to whoever or through our sales agent license it to people. When doing a TV series of that scale you have to get a studio partner on board so now the deal isn’t just my team and Capcom, it’s my team, a studio, and Capcom, and eventually whatever network it will be on, do you see what I mean? It’s many more layers of legal and complications to get it to all line up where everyone is happy and it can all move ahead. But know that it’s being planned at the highest, biggest possible level, and that’s why it’s taking time. It’s not something I want to rush into. This “Street Fighter” journey has already taken up the better part of a decade of my life, if I’m going to do World Warrior which is the most iconic storyline in the whole “Street Fighter” universe, it has to be done right. You only get one shot and it needs to be done the right way or not at all.

“Street Fighter: Resurrection” premiers today at 9:00 a.m. PST on Verizon’s go90 streaming platform. A preview of the first episode is below.