Monday, 27 September 2010

The Street Fighter (1974)

Following the tragic and untimely death of Bruce Lee in 1973, the martial arts film world was in turmoil. Various projects which the star had been attached went up in smoke and what was to be his magnum opus, Game of Death remained unfinished. Unscrupulous film producers rushed to find someone to take his place, mostly what audiences got were shameless imitators who aped Lee's filmography and sullied his great legacy. Meanwhile over in Japan, a film hit cinemas that struck a cord, not only with local audiences but with fight film fans world wide. That film was The Street Fighter. An action crime film starring Sonny Chiba.

Chiba had already established a foothold in the Japanese film industry with appearances in films such as Yakuza Deka and Bodyguard Kiba but he was yet to star in a film that would really propel him to being a major star. Upon it's release it was well received and went on to spawn two sequels, all starring Chiba in the lead. It wasn't until years later that Chiba admitted that he had turned down the opportunity to work with Lee on the film Way Of The Dragon and to this day remains one of the biggest regrets of his life.

With it's combination of over the top characters and brutal fight choreography, The Street Fighter has gained a cult following which includes famous admirers like film director and shameless film nerd Quentin Tarantino. The film True Romance includes a conversation between the lead characters in which they talk about Sonny's on screen persona.

Since it's release the film, along with it's sequels, have fallen into the public domain and have been released on DVD by various labels. It's worth mentioning that when the film was originally released in the U.S. it was given an X rating due to the level of violence rather then sexual content and was a first for a film of this nature. If that doesn't give you an idea of the type of movie this is, I don't know what will.

Sonny Chiba portrays Takuma Tsurugi, a mercenary for hire who ends up a target for the mob when they try and hire him to kidnap the daughter of a recently deceased oil tycoon but refuses when he finds out the people trying to hire him are part of a criminal organization specialising in assassination. The plot is shamelessly incidental and gives Chiba, who holds black belts in six different forms of Japanese martial arts, to show just what he can do best and that's bust people's head's open and rip a dude's nutsack clean off all the while grimacing like he's having an incredibly uncomfortable bowel movement.

Sonny's character doesn't screw around, he's very much the anti-hero, he'll help you out in a jam but only if you've got the cash to back it, mess him around and he'll have no problem breaking your face and selling your sister into sex slavery. The film does a great job of trying to differentiate Chiba's on screen persona from that of Bruce Lee, who often played the down trodden hero doing what was right for his fellow country men. If Sonny Chiba was in The Big Boss, he would have gone to Han Yin-Chieh in the first five minutes of the movie, ripped his throat out and then sold his cousin to the local whore house just for laughs. This type of down and dirty action hero worked well in Chiba's favour as it allowed him to do things in movies that no other action star could have pulled off.

The action is some of the most brutal I've seen from a film during this era. Chiba shows his skills as a martial artist really well, the moves themselves don't look as stylish or pretty as Chinese Kung Fu does but it's just as intricately choreographed and just as hard hitting. With every punch, kick and elbow he throws you actually feel it and gives the fight scenes just that little added touch of brutality. One of the defining moments in the film is when Tsurugi goes toe to toe with a karate master portrayed by Masafumi Suzuki, at first he's over confident and bragging how much he's going to beat him but when the fighting starts it's clear Tsurugi is outmatched but when that famous theme music starts playing away you know he means business and fight comes to an incredible stalemate.

That's one of the more interesting aspects of The Street Fighter, each fight feels different and looks different. There's a clever little fight in which Tsurugi goes against a blind swordsman (An obvious riff on the famous character Zatoichi) who blocks the bright sun behind him and moves so the sudden flash of light would make it difficult for Tsurugi to place just exactly when he'll strike, it's a nicely edited and tightly choreographed fight and further proves the maker's of this movie were really trying hard to make The Street Fighter stand out. Yet, all that just leads us to the the finale on board an oil freighter where Sonny tears through the bad guys, bodies fly, bright red blood is spilled and Chiba proves just what a complete bad-ass he is.

This film is a much beloved movie among fight movie fans for a reason and if you haven't seen it yet, you really owe yourself get your hands on the DVD but make sure the one you get is completely uncut cos you don't want to miss out on a single second of the brutal and bloody spectacle that is The Street Fighter

1 comment:

  1. How could I have missed this post? I LOVE Street Fighter! haha, what a film icon and what a great movie!