Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Street Fighter (Unrated Version)

The Action Mutant…
is more like a Number 2 man!

The Street Fighter

review by Joe Burrows

I usually wouldn’t thank another guy for having a hard on for another guy. I’m not a homophobe or something; it’s just not my business. But, in all honesty, I must thank Quentin Tarantino for his hard on for Sonny Chiba. Up until the mid-90s, Chiba and the Street Fighter trilogy were mysterious entities in American action cinema. Made in 1974, The Street Fighter was the first film to be rated X in America due to its violence alone. Therefore, it (and its subsequent sequels) didn’t see the light of day in its original 91 minute form in America for more than 20 years. The only version available in America during that time was a 75 minute R rated version put out by New Line Cinema (its American distributor), which is perhaps the most atrociously edited piece of sanitized swill I’ve ever seen. Literally all of the blood was excised from the film to an extreme degree and was even fit for TV airings (despite the fact it was rated R, technically)! Fast forward to 1994, where QT is the hottest thing in Hollywood due to his Pulp Fiction success. He has all the pull in the world, so what does he do? What any obscure film nerd with pull would do…he gets the Street Fighter trilogy (and its female offshoot, Sister Street Fighter) to be released in America in their original formats! Based off of New Line’s success with these reissues and the advent of DVD forthcoming, other small video companies began to follow suit and started to release them as well. And just like that, Quentin Tarantino saved Christmas! And now I get to review the 4 films in all of their blood soaked glory.

The Plot, as it was:
Sonny Chiba is Terry Tsurugi, a karate fighter that will do anything…for a price. He gets requested by the Mob to kidnap the daughter of a recently deceased oil magnate so that they may share in her new found fortune. However, the mobsters pitch Terry a price below his standards so he ultimately refuses. That sends Terry and his goofy sidekick Ratnose (Waichi Yamada) on the run while the mob assembles several killers to do away with him. One of those killers is an escaped death row prisoner named Junjou (Masashi Ishibashi) who wants revenge on Tsurugi for the death of his brother (Jiro Chiba) and his sister Ishi (Sue Shiomi) having been forced into prostitution (both occurring because they didn’t pay Terry up front).

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Chiba was thought of as Japan’s answer to Bruce Lee and, if anything, he surpasses his more famous counterpart in the “reality” aspect. The violence is brutal and uncompromising, as Chiba makes for a most unusual and absorbing anti-hero. Not many heroes would beat up people that hire him or force themselves on women but you’re drawn to Chiba anyway because he’s such an intense, bubbling cauldron, you are wondering just how badly he is going to blow up on those that do him wrong. The karate is not on the complicated level of a Yuen Woo-Ping film but is still very action packed, though in the “bone breaking” sense. The production values are a notch or two above what genre fans are used to, which makes this a higher quality martial arts film in many aspects. There’s even an attempt to put a little bit of back story to Tsurugi though his memorable encounter with karate master Masaoka (Masafumi Sukuki). The dialogue may not always be great and the film is obviously dated but there are so many great elements, from the catchy 70s guitar theme to Chiba seemingly heaving up hairballs before he kicks ass, The Street Fighter is a memorable martial arts film to marvel at.

Body Count/Violence: 42. This film really sets itself apart from most other martial arts films of the era by the amount of brutality involved. Chiba is the Japanese equivalent of Steven Seagal, as it’s obvious that Tsurugi revels in his work. We’re talking skull cracking punches to the head (with X-Ray views), gouged and stabbed eyes, cracked teeth, snapped necks and ribs, ripped out throats and testes (!), vomit inducing body blows, tosses over balconies, sword slashes, etc. Tons of blood-splatter with all of the blows, including some gunplay involved. The body count could have been even higher but, just like Seagal, Chiba prefers to make his enemies suffer.

Sexuality/Nudity: There’s an implied rape and an attempted rape (which leads to the testicular torture mentioned above) but nothing on the nudity front.

Language/Dialogue: In describing Junjou: “He’s…a mean bastard, from Okinawa!” Not much aside from that old chestnut.

How bad was it?:
Most martial arts critics give it high praise, especially for it being different in its approach to violence. The mainstream critics are so-so about the film, pretty much because of the same aspect. Pussies.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
New Line released The Street Fighter in the U.S. in November of 1974. No box office figures for it (or any of the sequels) but you can find it on DVD from many different home video companies.

Film: ***/*****
Entertainment value: *****/*****

Copyright 2007 The Action Mutant.

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