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The Street Fighter (1974) April 21, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Action, 1970s films , trackback

Diretor: Shigehiro Ozawa Starring: Sonny Chiba Territory: Japan  Production Company: Toei Productions 

The Street Fighter (not to be confused with a certain film starring a tiny Australian singer and a man from Belgium) is an undeniably slick 1974 production trying to capitalise on the success of the US/Hong Kong collaboration Enter the Dragon.  Sonny Chiba plays Takuma Tsurugi, a kind of mercenary/bounty hunter/hitman.  When he decides to turn down the offer of kidnapping a wealthy oil Heiress, his would-be employers (a pair of Hong Kong Chinese with ties to the Mafia) decide he knows too much and endeavour to wipe the hitman out.  Which obviously proves difficult, as Tsurugi was chosen because he’s so tough.  Wave after wave of assassins come and go in an orgy of bloodletting hitherto unseen by western audiences – prompting the first “X” rating in the US for a film simply on its violent content.

I'll have those!  Sonny Chiba castrates a would-be rapist.

And violent it is.  I’m more familiar with Hong Kong martial arts films, and it has to be said, the styles are completely different.  Even the bloodiest Chang Cheh film doesn’t really equal this (although a few come close).  By today’s standards, it all looks pretty funny, but you can see that at the time it must have been a bit much!  I found it difficult to acclimatise to “karate” rather than “kung fu”, which is certainly more aesthetically pleasing to me.

I also found the film’s moral base a little hard to take at times: Tsurugi is a bit of a bastard, it has to be said.  After rescuing a condemned man from the gallows, the man’s relatives (a nephew and niece) turn up at Tsurugi’s flat.  Tsurugi then demands the balance of payment from the job, only to be told that they have no more money.  Whereupon Tsurugi then kicks seven shades out of the nephew (ending in him taking a fatal plunge from his apartment window) and selling the niece into prostitution.  Nice.

What I find most interesting about The Street Fighter is its obvious influences: Sonny Chiba seems to play a Japanese Bruce Lee – even having his own facial contortions and freaky vocalizations.  Certain scenes recall Fist of Fury quite strongly.  But the weirdest thing of all is that I finally see the Japanese/Chinese rivalry (if that’s the right word) from the other side.  Since I started watching Hong Kong films, I have seen countless films portraying Japanese as murderous villains, with Chinese actors badly made up to look the part.  With this, the reverse is true, and it’s pay back time!

There’s so much fun to be had in all of these 70’s action movies, with their bell-bottoms, old cars and funky soundtracks, and on this level The Street Fighter certainly doesn’t disappoint.  I always thought it was a shame that Hong Kong actioners of the day didn’t use contemporary settings more often.  However, given that when they DID, it often went seriously awry (Chinatown Kid, anyone?) it becomes clear that they simply weren’t as comfortable in the “modern” setting as in the familiar period pieces that still get made on a huge scale to this day. 

Anyway, lovers of big collars and sideburns will be kept happy here.

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