You know ham is a food one can mess up. It is easy to over cook a ham if you leave it in for far too long. Some ham also can just taste a little poorly say if it contains a little too much fat making it far too chewy. There is that treasured ham though that one will search through an endless desert, or traverse an imposing mountain to find. This ham has all the seasonings just right, it is cooked just the right amount of time, and that honey glaze is to die for. With a ham like that it does not matter if it is next to a pile of mush which must have been never alive, or some sort of odd Belgian dish that was invented in Brussels that always tastes a little strangely unless of course it happens to be served on a plate that shares the same name.
Enough about bizarre metaphors this is about Raul Julia whose work allows him to sit in two exclusive clubs. One of the clubs is the allowance to overact, something not all actors can do, but one can usually do if they make compensation with a great realistic performance like the one he gave in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Julia also finds himself in the club of actors who are able to thrive in a terrible film. Now its true there are those bad films that are made just for a performance which sometimes result in a good performance, but that is not what I mean. Julia thrives in an environment that has no real desire for a great performance within itself evidenced by horrendous line readings found in other cast members as well as the general tone of the picture.
Sometimes it is a bit of test of good actors in how they work in bad movies some like say Robert De Niro don't even try, but some take what they do have and make the absolute most out of it. That is the case of Raul Julia who finds no reason not to have a good time when playing a wannabe dictator with a giant cape, an over the top symbol on his hat, and armor made from red leather. From his opening scene Julia makes it clear that the scenery will be eaten whole by his absurdly wide eyes, and that grin of some sort of maniacal brilliance. In many reviews this might sound like I am getting ready to critique but there is no reason to do this because everything that Raul Julia does in this performance is absurdly entertaining.
You know though this is not a case of Julia just going over the top because he just does not care, no he pains over great detail in this performance, and never does he let M. Bison be just a standard over the top villain in a bad action movie. Oh he'll be the villain sure, but Julia seems hard bent on making sure we as the audience are going to enjoy every scene that he is in because he just does not stop with the energy he brings in this amazingly over the top performance. Of course I don't want to peg him as just over the top though, as just being one note wouldn't quite work, no there is such dedication here that Julia will even quiet his performance down for the need of the character, and yes Julia does bother with character here.
One of my favorite moments of Julia's performance has to be when Bison delivers his Pax Bisonica speech about how and why he wants to rule the world. Honestly I could listen to the speech all day. Julia's delivery of it is so brilliant in his conviction he gives every line of it no matter how insane every line may be. The intensity of it all is outstanding, and the passion he gives every phrase he could almost sell you on that Pax Bisonica. The part I love the most is why he slows down at the end almost like he is Kiss of the Spider Woman and says "And peace will reign and all humanity shall bow to me in humble gratitude." is as Zangief says beautiful.
This movie can be pretty bad at points, but whenever Raul Julia is on screen a smile runs across my face instantly. Now its true sometimes one can get a kick out of a bad performance because it is just so bad, but Raul Julia knows exactly what he is doing here. He knows exactly how to play every scene to just be incredibly enjoyable. If a line is as cheesy as proclaiming "GAME OVER!" when defeating his enemy, Julia doesn't care he'll make it awesome just because he can. Something else that is just spectacular is that he will steal scene, just for the fun of it. The best example of this being when Ming-Na has a long speech about her father being killed and Julia shuts her up completely through that so perfectly self indulgent delivery of the immortal line "For Me it was Tuesday".
To all the actors looking for a quick pay check in a stupid movie by playing the villain of the picture, they should all examine this performance to see how its done. They should know that when you have a line like "This is merely superconductor electromagnetism" you don't half-ass it, no you sell it to the back seats. Or if you have just plain fantastic lines like his last set of lines about Bison viewing himself as god, but will allow one to keep your own god since you should probably pray to him soon, you better give them all the epic qualities that they deserve as Julia does. He takes every line to eleven, and he never stops entertaining when doing so.
Like the rest of the film Bison, even if had been played by an actor who usually is good, could have been dull or just kinda boring. Julia will not allow that and I don't have any hesitations in saying Raul Julia gives the greatest performance ever in a movie like this. I know this is a performance that is not mentioned often or at all when people mention the great swan song performances, but you know that's just being stuffy. Sure the film is no Kiss of the Spider Woman, or even The Addams Family, but so what Julia's performance shows he did not care that he was in Street Fighter the movie of the game. He was going to give a great performance no matter what the film was about. Now I could complain that Julia has no one to work with here as well as technically speaking he doesn't save the film. But why do that, although he does not make the film worth watching he does make an element within the film worth watching for all its glory.