This is Sonny Chiba’s most famous movie, the one that made him an international star, and the one that Christian-Slater-as-Tarantino-stand-in went on about in TRUE ROMANCE. And as a vehicle to show how awesome Sonny Chiba is, it’s great. As a movie though I would argue that it’s not necessarily his best.
Maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea in the world to re-watch it right after enjoying the KARATE BULL FIGHTER trilogy. This one has alot of the same elements. Fights in dojos, dirty fighting on the streets, war time flashbacks, the tragic death of a goofy sidekick. But I don’t think the story is quite as good. It starts out very promising with Sonny’s character Terry Tsugura going into a prison disguised as a priest to bust a guy out. I mean, you know that’s gonna get good. But after that it’s pretty meandering and confusing for a while as he discusses things with various factions and people try to hire him and what not. (I should point out that I haven’t found it in a subtitled version, only dubbed, and that probaly doesn’t help.)
It’s pretty sad when the annoying sidekick dies and professes his devotion to Terry, but other than that it doesn’t have the same emotional impact as the KARATE trilogy. He seems more like just a tough guy who has fight scenes than a fully formed character. Which is probaly all most people care about, but I like to have that extra dimension. Because of how I like excellence and everything.
But the good news is it’s still pretty fuckin cool. Chiba’s badass presence and charisma stab right through the bad English dubbing. He has this image as the bad guy hero, so he wears all black. At times I wondered if Anakin Skywalker’s costume in Star Wars Adventure #3 was based on what Sonny wears in this one.
Terry doesn’t try to help people as much as his BULL FIGHTER character did, but at least he’s not a rapist. In fact, his view on that topic is pretty militant, he actually kills a rapist by ripping his dick off. Then to add insult to injury he wipes his hands off on the guy’s shorts. That’s pretty spectacular, it’s hard not to enjoy it, but unfortunately the scene manages to slander more than just rapists. Because they gotta have a black guy be the rapist. One black guy in Japan and he’s going around making funny faces trying to rape everybody. Give me a break Japan, you can do better than that.
The street fighter never fights a bull or a bear or wrestlers or 100 guys at once, but the fights are still pretty good. He has kind of a smooth dancing-around style he uses sometimes, and this breathing thing. This guy is into breathing. He makes weird hock-a-loogie sounds sometimes which I think means he’s doing breathing techniques to make his body indestructible. Or maybe it’s just to freak people out.
I’m not entirely sure how the movie got that title, but there is the occasional vicious streetfighting technique. I think the main reason the movie is famous is because it’s gorier than your standard martial arts picture. So he’ll throw a guy to the ground face first and a bucket of bright red blood will splatter across the pavement. The very end of the movie is pretty amazing – he’s fighting a guy at night in a rainstorm and he’s losing, down on the ground. The guy jumps on him for what could be the killing blow, but Terry manages to grab the guy by the throat and next thing you know he’s smiling crazily and holding a slimy piece of human who-knows-what in his hand. And his funky theme music plays as he wobbles to his feet and raises the chunk in the air victoriously. And it says “THE END.” And then, “For now. Look for RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER.”
I mean I don’t care how unimpressive a movie is, if it ends that way you’re gonna remember it. If WEDDING CRASHERS or WAKING LIFE had had that ending, I’d probaly think back on them and think they were pretty good. I mean I know it would be kind of weird, but it would be cool. I hope in WAKING LIFE it would be that “Timothy Speed Levitch” guy who got the chunk ripped out of his neck. I don’t know who would do it. Anyway what comes before the neck chunk in THE STREET FIGHTER is more up my alley than those other movies so it’s even better. The neck chunk becomes the big exciting part at the end of a symphony where the dudes start banging on those giant drums.
Some other highlights: bad guys lifting up Terry’s car with an excavator while he’s inside. People falling from heights using awesome blue screen effects. Terry jumping out a high window on purpose and landing in the back of a pickup truck. Cutting to an x-ray of a skull as Terry punches a guy in the head.
I don’t know, I’m being a little hard on it. I don’t think it’s really the masterpiece some people make it out to be, but it’s definitely worth seeing. Especially if you haven’t seen a Sonny Chiba movie before. (IRON EAGLE doesn’t count by the way.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.