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Sonny Chiba's Street Fighter Night

26th Jan 05

Bruce Lee has a lot to answer for. When he mysteriously died at the peak of his fame in 1973 he left a huge gaping hole in the Asian kung-fu market and, before you could say “boards don’t hit back”, every wannabe action hero was roundhouse kicking their way out of the woodwork claiming they were the next big thing. But forget about the Bruce Li’s, the Bruce Lo’s and the Bruce Le’s of this world; Bruce Lee left a pair of very big shoes to fill and the only man around at the time who came even close to filling them was a certain Sonny Chiba with his eponymous Street Fighter Trilogy.

And now, for the very first time in the UK, the whole trilogy is available in a brand new wide-screen, uncut transfer in its original Japanese with English subtitles. Special thanks, then, to our new friends over at Optimum Releasing for sending us a sneak preview of this Street Fighter Trilogy box set and making this very special Zombie Club happen.

Street Fighter Return of the Street fighter The Street fighter's Last Revenge 


Street Fighter (1974)

Plot
Cool 70s Japanese karate man is hired to defend millionaire heiress from the mafia.

Jim
In the first of the set we’re quickly introduced to Terry Tsurugi (Sonny Chiba) posing as a monk giving the last rights to a guy on death row – the ‘last Okinawa karate master’ actually. To cut a long story short, Sonny (I'm not all that comfortable with Terry) promptly uses the ‘delayed asphyxiation’ punch on the dude to get his execution delayed and ultimately rescue him. Nice guy, eh?

Well, err, no. When the karate man’s brother and sister who’d hired Sonny turn up with news that they don’t have the money to pay him, he goes suitably nuts. The brother gets off lightly as Sonny kung-fu kicks him out of the window onto a can of red paint (funny that) but the sister – poor thing – gets roughed up and is then sold into the slave trade as a prostitute. This is the first time we realize just how mean Sonny can be, but it’s certainly not the last. Wait a minute – is Sonny’s character in this film just a hired thug?

Apparently yes. Soon enough Sonny's approached by the mafia to kidnap an oil baroness, but when they can't agree terms Sonny walks out. Yes - on the mafia. Now considering him a liability, the mafia send a brute squad to sort him out, but Sonny sends them all packing and, feeling betrayed, decides to switch sides. When he finds out that this oil baroness is hiding in a well respected dojo downtown, he literally walks in the front door fists a-blazing, mashing his way past all and sundry to have a cool mid-movie showdown with the fat dojo master. After that’s all over, and with his skills suitably demonstrated, Sonny practically demands they hire him. After all, he does think like a thug for hire, so he's probably the best person for job. Right.

From here on in the film develops into a succession of fight after fight after fight. First Sonny protects the oil heiress, then she gets captured and he has to mount a daring rescue, then he's protecting her again, then she's captured again and he's rescuing her again, and so on. Interspersed amongst those fights are other fights with the random mafia hit man still on his tail and these grow increasingly more gory as the film builds to the inevitable climax with that karate man from the intro - no surprises there then.

But the high level of gore is a surprise. In one scene, we're treated to a split-second X-ray cut of a particularly well dressed goon getting his skull smashed in, which got quite a cheer from our assembled audience. Next up a would-be rapist gets his genitalia ripped off, then soon after Sonny jams his big fat fingers into a few guys’ eyes. It's no wonder, actually, that this film was the first movie in the States to be granted an 'X' certificate, as some of the gore on show is pretty shocking for '74. Those crazy Japs.

Anyway, that’s Street Fighter for you – it’s about fighting and more fighting. And gore, of course, but that’s by no means a bad thing as Street Fighter is just so much fun to watch. It sn’t exactly Shakespeare, but it certainly packs a punch - if you can excuse the deliberate pun. And to think, I've not even mentioned the varying sidekicks, the albino, the blind guy, the guy who looks like he's chewing a wasp or even the bizarre Mexican TV personality. Jesus, you guys have so much to look forward to...

"Bollocks. My father was one man. I am another."

Street Fighter

Director
Shigehiro Ozawa

Cast
Sonny Chiba
Waichi Yamada
Tony Cetera
Yutaka Nakajima
Teijo Shikeharo
King Stone
Masashi Ishibashi
Akira Shioji
Osman Yusuf

Rating
Jim

Runtime
87 mins

Available From

Amazon UK
Amazon US
CD WOW

Click on the icons above to purchase this title and support Eat My Brains!


Return of the Street fighter (1974)

Plot
That cool 70s karate man is back to do more side switching then fight everyone who survived the first film. And some who didn't.

Zomblee
Jim’s right, you do have so much to look forward to. Trying to keep abreast of the hard-to-follow plot is pretty futile though, so I advise that you sit back comfortably and let the fighting commence, as the first Street Fighter sequel more than compensates for any over-ambitious plotting / story set-up.

Sonny Chiba is a pretty indestructible guy. “Give up. You’ll never beat me” he says to an adversary, who really should’ve listened. A great deal of showmanship is on display here, as Chiba grimaces, spits, tenses his muscles and generally out-does Bruce Lee on the facial expression front. There’s a certain expression he likes to adopt, and its one he’s taken from the aforementioned founder of jeet kune do – the happy / sad face. You can’t quite tell if he’s pleased to see you or if he’s going to gouge out your eyes. I like that.

These films are from Japan and one can’t help but think that it’s a Japanese reaction to the Bruce Lee phenomenon. Perhaps it was their revenge for how he portrayed them in Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection), because the year after he passed away, all of a sudden, here we had a meaner, more violent and generally quirkier version of Lee with a dubious moral code. In other words, he’s a bit of a shit, whereas Bruce Lee played men of honour. Leaner however, Chiba is not. We got the impression he would really love to have Lee’s physique and, while he’s a pretty tough looking character, I reckon Lee could have him spitting teeth in 10 seconds.

I love 70’s movies, and these are very 70’s. This is big-collared karate. The fashions and sets taste gorgeous and are a feature in themselves. Check out the bad guy in the first film wearing a purple suit with an orange big-collared shirt – one can only dream of looking that cool. If that guy died after finishing the film then he should have been buried in that suit, but he’s probably still alive so let’s talk about something else.

Return of the Street Fighter is much like Street Fighter - the basic plot set-up is secondary to the crazy karate man action. You just know, when not 5 minutes into the running time there’s already a conveyor belt of various martial arts-associated weaponry on show (sai, nunchuka, kon, etc) that we’re in for a similar experience to the first film. Well, I don’t think we would have it any other way. This time, he has a new sidekick, or should say sidechick - yip, this time it’s a girl, with a great fashion sense. Like Street Fighter (and like the third in the set, Street Fighter's Last Revenge, which, trust me, is by far one of the most entertainingly strange films I’ve ever seen), the trashy kung-fu action is as addictive as it is violent. There's real skill on show here too, exemplified by some fight scenes featuring not as much editing as one would expect. That some of the fighting is obviously filmed in one take is pretty damned impressive.

Return of the Street Fighter has the edge on the gore front compared to the first instalment. Sonny has a special move, a kind of skull-crushing blow to the top of the head, which results in a lot of blood pouring down over the victims’ face. Sonny will only crush your skull if you’ve been really bad though. Aside from this, there’s more amusingly over-the-top gore, including a hilarious eye popping scene which is going to make you laugh, hard.

The most far-out instalment in the series however is The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge, where he goes all James Bond and Dracula instead of fighting. We had no idea what was coming next...

Return of the Street fighter

Director
Shigehiro Ozawa

Cast
Sonny Chiba
Claude Gannyon
Yôko Ichiji
Masashi Ishibashi
Masataka Iwao
Masafumi Suzuki
Kô Tanaka
Zulu Yachi
Shingo Yamashiro
Katsuya Yamashita
George Yirikian

Rating
Zomblee

Runtime
79 mins

Available From

Amazon UK
Amazon US
CD WOW

Click on the icons above to purchase this title and support Eat My Brains!


The Street fighter's Last Revenge (1974)

Plot
More fighting, double-crosses and bone crunching as Sonny takes on one last job.

Rawshark
By the time we reached the third part of the Street Fighter trilogy, we were all starting to notice certain trends; namely that Street Fighter Sonny is hired to carry out a job he doesn’t want to do, refuses, and is then chased by a number of Mafia / hit men who want him dead, thus paving the way for several highly entertaining Martial Arts and gore-filled fight sequences, whilst occasionally pausing for breath by showing a flashback of Chiba’s father being executed. And if the second film merely retold the first film’s story, yet with more fighting, nudity and gore, then the third film mostly ups the ante on all counts yet again.

Starting off with another mercenary plot (to capture, kidnap, protect someone? Something? In all honesty I've forgotten the specific details), this time the price for Chiba’s services has risen to one Billion Yen! Well, that's inflation for you. After one or two double-crosses, Chiba is confronted by a gang of goons and makes a crowd-pleasing exit through a ceiling. So far, so good.

It’s about this time that things go slightly off the rails. After about ten minutes of the film, we cut to a shot of a programme on a TV set, and without any hint of irony, the TV presenter states quite clearly (read the subtitles yourself) “When I pee on the worm, my penis swells.” It’s such a surreal moment it had all of us in tears of laughter, but it is immediately superseded (on the same TV programme) by the appearance of a man dressed in extravagant Spanish costume who speaks in clear English (“.. but it’s all nonsense!”) who proceeds to laser beam a metal chain with his eyes! I mean! What the Fuck!? Has Sonny Chiba suddenly gone all James Bond here or what?

From here on in, it’s a case of anything goes, and it pretty much does. At one point the film veers into Vampire territory as one of the characters pretends to be Dracula, and for a while, we weren’t really sure whether to believe it or not. This sort of genre-hopping shouldn’t really work, especially when the film is not meant to be a spoof, but somehow it does, and keeps you involved, cheering the Chiba on his chop-socky adventures most of the way to the end. It’s a case of the film being both annoying and exciting at the same time – for every ‘No!’ we shouted out at the TV screen in disgust, there was a ‘Wow!” moment waiting just around the corner.

It’s not the best of the series, that accolade surely belongs to the original Street Fighter film, but for pure entertainment, The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge runs it close. It’s more surreal than the first two put together, and although it uses ‘modern’ gadgets a la James Bond, it actually feels more dated than the previous films. It’s perhaps best viewed alongside the first two, for such scenes as when the same flashback that appeared in the first two films reappears in the third (we all cheered when we saw it again!) and the reference to the ‘delayed asphyxiation’ punch from the very first scene of the very first film.

Unfortunately Sonny was probably getting a little tired by this point, as there are not nearly as many fight scenes. But hey, Chiba’s snarl is still in tip-top condition, and even if I can’t remember exactly what happened at the end, it was still a great finale to a smashingly fun triple bill.

The Street fighter's Last Revenge

Director
Teruo Ishii

Cast
Sonny Chiba
Frankie Black
Cathy
Tony Cetera
Willy Dosey
Tatsuo Endo
Seizo Fukumoto
Reiko Ike
Chiyoko Kazama
Eizo Kitamura
Fuyuki Murakami
Yutaka Nakajima
Etsuko Shihomi
Tsuyoshi Ôtsuka
Akira Shioji
Masafumi Suzuki

Rating
Rawshark

Runtime
79 mins

Available From

Amazon UK
Amazon US
CD WOW

Click on the icons above to purchase this title and support Eat My Brains!


Conclusion
And then it's over and normality comes back in to focus. Ashtrays are emptied, wine glasses are cleaned and coats are put on as we stumble to the door, albeit with great big smiles on our faces.

After all, what a ride. Available in this country uncut for the first time, these films are full of energy, gore, humour (both intentional and unintentional) and the best Martial Arts sequences outside of a Lee film. Undoubted cult classics, and worth seeing, even if only to satisfy your curiosity at Tarantino’s True Romance claims (Clarence’s first date with Alabama takes place at a Street Fighter triple-screening) that these are the perfect first date movies.

Smashing stuff!


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