Remembering Old Friends: Chun-Li

Welcome to “Remembering Old Friends”, a column where the writers of Girls Got Game do spotlights on video game characters that have rocked their worlds. Join us in our feelings!


Anyone who knows me might find it odd that my first entry for this column is on a Street Fighter II character. I’m unapologetically biased towards RPGs, action/adventure, and real-time strategy. My allergy towards competitive/co-op play is real: I blame it on douche moves (hello, Older Brother No. 2!). Visiting Game Over PH made me remember that my actual gateway to video games was Street Fighter II. In that same vein, the character who told me that girls could be whatever the hell they wanted to be was Chun-Li.

Chun-Li, Street Fighter II
A profile of Chun-Li from the Street Fighter II art book. Everyone knows her face even if they don’t know her name or her story. Everyone knows she’s a BAMF.

It’s impossible to talk about what Chun-Li means to me without highlighting the fact that I’m a third culture kid. After trying to tough it out in L.A., my family settled down in West Vancouver. This was before Vancouver became Hong Kong version 2.0.

This is not to say that there weren’t any Asian immigrants whatsoever. There were big communities from Asia – but they weren’t in our town. West Van was white as hell. I’d later learn that my brothers were bullied at school for not fitting in (we weren’t Asian enough, we weren’t Latino, and we definitely weren’t white). My parents had to deal with similarly shitty treatment on more than one occasion.

The milieu wasn’t the only problem. This period was the height of the exotification of everything Japanese: there was close to no stories with Filipino characters. Furthermore, memorable ladies in shows that weren’t specifically made for girls were rare – the big exception was Trini Kwan, the original Yellow Ranger in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Finding them in games of that time was even harder.

I was too young to know what “token female” meant. I couldn’t fully comprehend what it meant to be a colored kid in a white world. But the longing for a hero I could relate to or try to be was real. This is probably why I kept bugging my mom to rent the VHS tapes that had Miriya’s introduction in Robotech for me. I needed to watch my mecha pilot queen in action over and over.

Enter Chun-Li.

Chun-Li, Street Fighter II
Chun-Li, the strongest woman in the Street Fighter world. We affectionately call her “thunder thighs”.

I didn’t know shit about fighting games back then. It was obvious to anyone who played the game that she was the only girl in Street Fighter II. What I didn’t know was that Chun-Li was one of the youngest characters in the lot, and she was the quickest. I also didn’t know that she was the first playable female character to appear in a 1-on-1 fighting game; what I zoned in on was that she was a girl, she was amazing, and by holding that controller, I could BE her.

In this sense, Chun-Li was better than the likes of Trini, Miriya, and Psylocke. Chun-Li could be all girls, and all girls could be cute as fuck Lightning Kicking badasses taking their villains out with the trash any damned day. I think it helped, as well, that her origin story didn’t involve romance. She was a magical girl before magical girls were a thing to me, and an avenging warrior of justice. She didn’t need no Prince to save her.

Chun-Li, Street Fighter II
…Let’s be real here. Princes probably need Chun-Li more than Chun-Li needs any of them.

I have left fighting games behind outside of listening to my bros at What’s a Geek fanboy. Chun-Li, however, stays on in my heart in the oldest tier of my pantheon of heroines. She is a part of my subconscious measuring stick by which I judge pretty much any martial arts lady in stories by – which means, of course, that the bar has been set really high. They serve as a glaring reminder to all creators that there is a market for awesome girls, that gender stereotyping in marketing and the stories we tell helps no one. In a world where violence against gender and race is on the rise and immigration is a thing, this is more important than I could ever hope to give words to.

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Pamela Punzalan
30, female, not in Narnia about anything. Games, writes, DMs, watches shit, reads shit, loves cats. Answers to Kae, Pamela, Pam, Pam-Pam, Pammy, Pammeth. Pamera, and Pammu. Also part of the admin team of What's a Geek, over at http://www.whatsageek.com!

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