The second movie in the SISTER STREET FIGHTER series is from the same director, Kuzuhiko Yamaguchi (KARATE BEARFIGHTER), and screenwriters, Masahiro Kakefuda (KARATE FOR LIFE) and Norifumi Suzuki (KARATE BULLFIGHTER), and came out the same year (1974). It’s mostly a retread of the first one, but the story is much tighter and faster, so its a great time.
After the traditional hero-doing-katas-in-front-of-blank-backgrounds credits (lots of nunchakas and split screens) we find ourselves in an alley in Hong Kong, where a well-dressed gang have cornered a guy and are stabbing him. Koryu (Etsuko “Sue” Shihomi) steps out of a door, casually eating an apple and wearing her blue suit with the red dragon embroideries to chase them off.
It’s too late to save the man, but he tells Koryu “You have to tell Professor Enmei Oh” and plucks out a false eyeball with circuitry and microfilm inside. The professor (Hideaki Nagai, Ultraman) explains that the dead man was Hong Kong police detective Kidai Sha, who has been investigating the kidnapping of the professor’s daughter Birei (Hisayo Tanaka, THE GREAT CHASE), coincidentally a high school friend of Koryu. The photos show Birei at a place in Hong Kong called Osone mansion, where “many martial artists are gathered,” kind of like the evil mansion in the first film. Also, the late detective had a plane ticket to Hong Kong in his pocket, so the professor asks Koryu to please take it and try to save his daughter. Mission accepted.
Impressively, the action begins as soon as she’s arrived. Leaving the airport she tries to chase some guys, but her taxi driver pulls a Stuntman Mike, drives in a different direction and activates a cage to lock her in the back. He brings her to a trainyard to duel with him and then a mob of ninjas. This leads to a fight on top of a moving train. Good movie.
She checks in with her sister (Tamayo Mitsukawa, WATCH OUT, CRIMSON BAT!) at the jewelry store where she works as a gem cutter, and we immediately get a look that tells us her boss is one of the bastards involved with the kidnapping enterprise, so when he arranges for Koryu’s “sightseeing” we know it’s trouble. She stays at some place where she meets a little kid who does a karate throw on her, which charms her, but on the negative side a guy with a bladed hat attacks her at night and she has to jump out a window, do gymkata on a pole on the roof and fight the guy in the rain. Negative Yelp review coming up.
These are some seriously evil bad guys and there’s dialogue to ironically set up their perverse fetishes. The guy recommends “sightseeing,” and we later learn he has a thing for poking out eyeballs. Also there’s a complaint that “these blood diamonds are a pain in the ass” before we learn that they are smuggling said diamonds by sewing them into the butt cheeks of the kidnapped women. Warning: there is some upsetting abuse of women, including Koryu’s sister having coerced sex with her cruel boss, then being pushed around, and later being tortured for betrayal.
There’s a subplot about a guy named Shunsuke Tsubaki (Yasuaki Kurata, FIST OF LEGEND) who struts into the mansion, whistling, wearing a brown leather jacket and sunglasses, basically looking like a powerful blend of Cliff Booth, Elvis Presley and Bruce Lee when he wore his hip civilian clothes.
He insults all the gathered henchmen and demands a job, which he receives after kicking the cigar out of the boss’s mouth, catching it in the air and arrogantly putting it in his pocket to keep. There’s alot of buildup to what this guy’s going to do, repeatedly angering the other guys by calling them “dime-a-dozen thugs” and bragging about how much better of a job he’s gonna do. He finally faces Kuryo in a forest where she’s training by punching and kicking the trees and imagining Inoichiro Honiden (Masashi Ishibashi, THE STREET FIGHTER), who has defeated her with his sai. But instead of fighting her, Tsubaki spars with her and teaches her how to defeat that guy. Turns out he’s the murdered detective’s brother, here for revenge.
By the way, that forest training scene has some pretty good parallels to the early scene in RISE OF SKYWALKER where Rey is training and has a vision of Kylo. Somebody should do a side-by-side.
A great sequel moment is when Koryu goes back to the Kempo school for help. First, the karate kid she met sees her walk in the door in her flashy outfit. Then the master sees her and says her name, and she smiles. It seems like a reunion of old friends, even though these two movies were filmed pretty much back to back. I guess they did go through some shit together. It’s a good bond.
One area I think the first one is undisputably better is in the amount of colorful bad guy henchmen. But there are some good ones here, and they still identify their names and specialties on screen. I like the expert swordsman who shows up at the race track wearing an all white suit and ascot. He flies through the air spectacularly but Koryu kills him in two or three moves. There’s also an evil professor who wears a lab coat but sometimes has a parrot on his shoulder, even in public. And an assassin in a funny hat described as a “secret warrior who trained deep in the mountains.” And some of these guys train to the tune of “Night On Bald Mountain.”
Like the first one, much of the appeal is visual and surface level – cool ‘70s fashions, beautifully bright colors. She has several new outfits, including a bright red one. The taxi driver who attacks her wears a purple gi with red pants. There’s an evil woman with long purple press-on nails she uses as claws. The mansion has purple walls and nice wallpaper designs and would be a cool place to hang out, have cocktails and gather many martial artists. Preferably to the tune of this wah-wah heavy score by Shunsuke Kikuchi (GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER).
And check out the stylization of this gorgeous scene building to the climactic confrontation. The wind blows leaves on her as she walks toward a (stationary backdrop of a) blood red spiral of clouds.
I’m not sure what the HANGING BY A THREAD part of the title refers to. Probly not the wonderfully gravity-defying mid-air dagger fight climax. But SISTER STREET FIGHTER still makes sense because she’s that poor gem cutter’s street fighter sister who came to visit.
In these first two films poor Koryu seems on a trajectory for a Paul Kersey level of personal loss. In the first one she tried to rescue her brother, but he was killed. In this one she tried to rescue her childhood friend, but she was killed, and also her sister had her eyeballs poked out (“now she wanders in a hell of darkness”) and then was killed. So they’re sad movies, but they’re so vivid and funky they ultimately leave me in a good mood.