|The Street Fighter
1974 - R - 91 Mins.
|Director: Shigehiro Ozawa
|Producer: Shigehiro Ozawa
|Written By: Steve Autrey and Koji Takada
|Starring: Sonny Chiba, Waichi Yamada, Tony Cetera, Yutaka Nakajima and Masashi Ishibashi
|Review by: Bill King
"The Street Fighter" tries to impress us by smiling a great big smile, only to showcase its nicotine-stained teeth. Sonny Chiba's infamous X-rated martial arts extravaganza - originally so rated for violence, but now it gets an R - is badly written and the fights are horribly staged. The only reason to watch this movie is to see if its reputation holds up. It does, in a cheap sort of way. One guy falls off a ledge to land head-first on a concrete deck, his noggin exploding like someone dropped a water balloon filled with red food coloring.
This film is a favorite of Quentin Tarantino, who cast star Sonny Chiba in his "Kill Bill: Volume 1" and referenced it briefly in his screenplay for "True Romance." As Christian Slater described it so eloquently in the latter film, it's about "...a bad motherf***er [who] gets paid by people to f*** guys up." Tarantino's fanboyism for martial arts movies is well-documented, but not always understandable. "The Street Fighter" perhaps aspired to fill the void left after Bruce Lee's death in 1973 by creating a no-nonsense tough guy who would destroy his opponents using his unbelievable martial arts skills. The karate scenes are the focal point of the movie, and if they fail, nothing else in between matters.
Sonny Chiba plays Terry Surugi, a hitman-for-hire who uses his fists instead of guns. The Hong Kong mafia wants to hire him to kidnap a wealthy heiress, but after the mafia refuses to meet Terry's salary demands, he walks out of the meeting. This proves to be unacceptable, because now Terry is aware of their plans, and he must be eliminated. Throughout the movie, mafia thugs go after Terry and employ useless fight tactics in a fruitless attempt to overwhelm him. The movie's signature scene is Terry's one-man assault on a cargo ship, which offers a decent showdown between himself and the mafia's top fighter. Before the main match, there are plenty of goons to dispatch in all sorts of bloody ways.
I watched a brand new DVD release of the movie, and it was so horribly dubbed that I couldn't follow the story at all. Would I have enjoyed the movie more if it was in Japanese in English subtitles? Probably not. The actors appear to recite their lines as if they forgot what they were supposed to say. They talk, pause, then talk some more, only to pause and then shout their dialogue suddenly, as if they just remembered their lines. Maybe the original language actually warrants this kind of start-stop approach, but I doubt it. I'm not familiar with the mechanics of Japanese, but I've seen quite a few Japanese films and I've never seen actors act like this before.
Sonny Chiba's fighting style is another problem. He studied a brutal form of karate prior to starring in this picture, yet his execution is sloppy. I'm sure he could kick some serious tail in real life, but in "The Street Fighter," he expends much of his energy just looking mean. His face looks like it's under stress so much I couldn't tell if he was constipated or sucking on lemons. When he punches a guy, his body ceases all motion just so we can see his muscles, but he leaves himself wide open for someone to stick a knife in his back. No one ever does, of course, since a common cliché in martial arts movies is that bad guys approach the hero one at a time and get beat up for it.
"The Street Fighter" pats half the audience on the back and flips off everyone else. Those who respect it look past the wooden acting and spastic fight scenes and see an actor who embodies the tough-as-nails persona. Those who don't appreciate wooden acting and spastic fight scenes will probably dislike it. I especially didn't like Terry's wimpy sidekick, proof that lousy acting is fully capable of crossing the language barrier.