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Profile: Street Fighter’s Chun-Li

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Profile: Street Fighter’s Chun-Li

The ultimate bad guy is a lady.

Arjan Terpstra

27 Mar 2020 ⋅ 4 min read

Few female game characters are as iconic as Chun-Li. The street fighter with the infamous Spinning Bird Kick speaks to many when it comes to female leads in video games. Today we may be used to strong (and playable) female game characters - Horizon’s Aloy, Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, Bayonetta - but all pay homage to ‘bad guy Chun-Li’, as rapper Niki Minaj christened her in the 2018 hit song ‘Chun-Li’.

Super combo's
And a bad guy she is. As one of eight playable characters in Street Fighter II: World Warrior (1991), she was the only woman in a roster of impressive male fighters. And yet players - male and female - massively flocked to her, selecting the ‘Chinese girl’ as their fighter of choice. Her speed and agility suited players with rapid play styles, while her super combos allowed button-smashing players to score points, too. Unsurprisingly, she became one of the most beloved characters in the ever-expanding roster of Street Fighter heroes and a staple in the Marvel vs. Capcom crossover games, fighting the likes of Spider-Man or Hulk.
Promotional art for Street Fighter

Over time, Chun-Li grew to be a symbol of girl power and an all-time favorite with cosplayers around the world. And rightly so. What is not to love about this Chinese martial arts specialist and Interpol agent? Donning a blue satin qipao dress and large spiked bracelets, her looks are equal parts elegant and dangerous, a contrast that informs every part of her design. There’s puffy, girly sleeves on her traditional Chinese dress and silk ribbons in her hair, but also aggressive-looking ‘ox horn’ braids. There’s an elegant white waistband, but it’s set off by white combat boots.

Expressiveness
The same contrast of girly elegance and aggressive strength informs her physical appearance. Her upper body is fairly regular for a young woman (in a manga sort of ‘regular’, admittedly) while her lower body looks disproportionately strong - especially her thighs are of body-builder size. There’s a good reason for this. The artists responsible for in-game animation felt stronger legs increased the expressiveness of the fighting animations, eventually ballooning them to sub-human proportions.
Portrait by Kinu Nishimura - detail


It left Chun-Li with highly unrealistic body proportions. But then again: neither are Blanka’s or Ryu’s. Their cartoon bodies speak of their functionality in a video game built for entertainment. Capcom’s game developers admitted as much in interviews. After the first Street Fighter (released in 1987), game director Akira Nishitani and his team wanted the sequel to be ‘more entertaining’ than the first game. Introducing Chun-Li was a huge part of that idea, said game artist Akira Yasuda. “Having a female character in the game completely changes the game’s dynamic, she brightens up the entire palette.” At the same time, the team struggled to make her fit the ‘plain’ environment of rough fights, Yasuda said. “Ordinarily, you don't see women participating in global martial arts tournaments. Just by adding her we were starting to push things to the 'fun' side. I didn't think about it at the time, but thinking about it now, from the moment we put Chun-Li into the game we were already pushing things towards the full-on entertainment side."

Back story
Alas, it would not just be fun and games for Chun-Li. Just like the other fighters, she was given a back story that explained her motivation to engage in martial arts from a young age, and join Interpol as a young adult. In her youth, her father was murdered by M. Bison, leader of the Shadaloo crime syndicate, and she was on a quest for revenge. Which in proper comic book fashion she would get, over and over again, as players beat up her evil nemesis M. Bison, one of four computer opponents in Street Fighter II.

NB: all Chun-Li art in this article is on sale as fine art print. Click the Chun-Li gallery below for details on individual images, print details and pricing!
Portrait by Akiman/Akira Yasuda

Chun-Li Street Fighter Art Print Collection

I'm the strongest woman in the world