Montreal Film Journal

THE STREET FIGHTER

Eager to dive into Quentin Tarantino's upcoming Kill Bill, what he calls "30 years of grind-house movies squeezed into a duck press"? You can prepare yourself by watching the movies that influenced it: spaghetti westerns, Shaw brothers kung fu movies, blaxploitation flicks, various American B-movies from the ‘70s and last but not least, the films of "Kill Bill" castmate Sonny Chiba. Not to be confused with the video game or the lame Van Damme movie, Chiba's "The Street Fighter" and its sequels have already been referenced by Tarantino in True Romance, in which Clarence and Alabama meet at a "Street Fighter" triple-feature. You can now experience 250 minutes of karate extravaganza yourself with the new DVD compilation of "The Street Fighter", "Return of the Street Fighter" and "The Street Fighter's Last Revenge", all on one disc!

Unsurprisingly, the image transfer is average at best and the soundtrack is badly dubbed, but that harshness is part of the charm. This is no overpriced Criterion set to view in a drawing room, this is a disc you'll spin again and again with the guys and a bunch of brewskies. The movies were cheap in the first place anyway. To think, all three movies (as well as spin-off "Sister Street Fighter) were shot in the course of a single year! I can't say that this isn't apparent, especially in the botched sequels, but that first picture is one of the coolest damn things I've ever seen.

There are two intercrossing storylines in "The Street Fighter", both revolving around Terry Tsurugi, a half-Japanese, half-Chinese man who created a martial arts style combining karate, Chinese boxing and dirty street fighting! A man for hire for anyone who can afford him, Tsurugi helps death row convict Junjou (Makashi Ishibashi) to escape, but when Junjou's siblings fail to pay him, Tsurugi kills the brother and sells the sister as a prostitute! Sooner or later, this will lead to a confrontation between Terry and a rightfully infuriated Jonjou, but in the meantime Tsurugi also finds the time to get on the Yakuza mob's bad side by getting in their way as they try to manhandle the heiress of an oil company to sign it over to them. This sounds like a lot of plot, but it's thankfully rushed through and most of the running time is packed with the most insane, goriest martial arts scenes you'll ever see!

The direction is extremely good, with dynamic and inventive camerawork, generally crisp and colorful cinematography and one of the coolest damn scores. There's one scene in particular that utterly blew my mind. Terry's challenged a dojo master (Tony Cetera) and is getting his ass kicked, but then he flashbacks to when, as a boy, he watched his father be executed, leaving him only with life philosophy: "Listen my son, TRUST NO ONE! You can count on no one but YOURSELF. Improve your skills, son, harden your body, become the NUMBER ONE MAN! Do not ever let ANYONE beat you!" That moment, with the wild wah wah guitars kicking in and the fire in Chiba's eyes... God-DAMN! You'll want to stand up and cheer!

Sonny Chiba is badassitute personified. He's supposed to be the hero here, but he's even meaner than the bad guys; next to him, Bruce Lee is a pussy! Chiba won't make you surrender, he'll kick your ass, break all your bones and rip your balls off, all the while creeping the crap out of you with his guttural grunts! I also love the supporting cast, from the COBRA-like villains to the Zatoichiesque blind swordsman and, last but not least, Terry's hilariously gay sidekick Ratnose. "The Street Fighter" is B-moviemaking at its most exhilirating.



RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER
Here there's even more muddled plot but not half the fun. Tsurugi is almost a minor character, fighting all sorts of assailants but mostly unaware of all the complicated nonsense about Mafia-backed corporate thugs forging the signature of a dojo master to extort money from other martial arts schools. You can tell they rushed this sequel by all the filler like overlong, unnecessary training scenes and whole scenes from the first movie reused here in black and white as half-assed flashbacks. Speaking of which, they even redo the thing about an almost dead Tsurugi flashbacking to his dead father's advice ("TRUST NO ONE! (…) Do not ever let ANYONE beat you!") then being ready to kick ass again as wild wah wah guitars kick in. It's still a cool moment, recycled or not, unfortunately the 1-against-50 showdown that follows is rather badly shot and lit. The one thing that makes "Return" worth seeing nonetheless is how they bring back villain Jonjou even though he got his throat ripped off at the end of the first film! It's hilariously retarded how they try to explain it away by giving him an artificial voice box and having him talk in a metallic monotone like Ned on "South Park"! "The. Only. Reason. I. Went. Through. The. Operation. Is. To. Kill. You."

THE STREET FIGHTER'S LAST REVENGE
A union boss staging a violent workers' strike to cover-up the theft of how-to tapes to make synthetic heroin? Tsuguri in disguises and masks, "Mission: Impossible"-style? Dates, sex scenes? And a crazy Mexican with super powers? Now this is getting ridiculous. Watching Sonny Chiba put foot to ass remains a thrill, but these sequels are so not on the level of the original it's not even funny anymore.