Tuesday, May 31, 2016

2016 Blind Spot Series: The Street Fighter

Time for another entry in the 2016 Blind Spot entries, a challenge issued to us bloggers by Ryan @ The Matinee. This month I finally crossed off...

Why did I pick it? All my life I've been a huge fan of martial arts movies. If you've been here a few times, you may have come across one of my posts on Bruce Lee. My love for the genre runs deeper than that, though. I grew up watching kung fu flicks every Saturday from three to five in the afternoon. When I was in the Army, I found some like-minded individuals and we got together and rented them on our off days. The Street Fighter, which came out in 1974, was immensely popular, but I never watched it. A huge part of the reason why is it never came on during one of those Saturday afternoons. At least, I don't remember it coming on. This makes perfect sense, actually. Most of those movies were Chinese productions and set in the Feudal China of centuries ago. As such, even Bruce Lee movies were a rarity on the series. The Street Fighter is a Japanese movie with an urban present day setting. Another reason I hadn't seen it is there were no big Sonny Chiba fans in my family. Lots of us knew who he was and, of course, I had friends that talked about him, but no one ever seemed to have a copy of The Street Fighter hanging around.

One day, during the height of my DVD collecting days, I was scouring the shelves at a local used book store that also became the go to place in town for used DVDs. I could spend hours in there, reading the spine of every single disc on the shelves so I was sure I wasn't missing something. I found a lot of gems that way. As I made my way through the action section, I had to pause when I came across a title I hadn't seen there, before. It was a single disc, that not only contained The Street Fighter, but also the first of its sequels, Return of the Street Fighter. I got it home and within a few weeks I tried to watch it a few times. The gods were conspiring against me, or the fact it was usually after midnight when I started it. I would see the first ten minutes or so then wake up two or three hours later to the movie still playing. This is odd considering its barely a ninety minute movie, but I'll explain that later.

After those attempts, I sat the DVD back on my rack and vowed to come back to it really soon. Soon meant several years passed without me so much as picking it up to look at the cover. When I finally did, another couple years passed before I discovered Ryan's Blind Spot Challenge. 2015 was the first year I participated and chose all of the films from my own collection. The Street Fighter missed the cut. That wouldn't be the case this year. I made sure to include it and since I did say the first two movies in the series are on the same disc, I made a double feature out of it.

The Street Fighter starts of with our hero, I guess he's our hero, busting some dude out of jail using the most elaborate scheme possible. The debatable hero is Terry Tsurugi, played by Sonny Chiba. The dude he's busting out is Tateki Shikenbaru (Masashi Ishibashi), a guy we're told is a ruthless killer who has murdered seven men with his bare hands. The thing about all this is that the two have never met and Tateki has no idea the Terry is coming. Terry comes in posing as the prison chaplain, the two engage in a fight and Terry knocks out Tateki using the "oxygen coma punch." Sounds pretty serious. It's serious enough that when he calls the guards back in, they immediately load Tateki up in an ambulance and rush him off to the hospital. He never gets there because Terry and his sidekick Ratnose (Goichi Yamada) ambush the ambulance and make off with Tateki's limp body. By the way, I don't have any proof, but Ratnose seems inspired by Dustin Hoffman's Ratface in Midnight Cowboy. We soon learn Terry is a mercenary who did the prison bust as a job. When the brother and sister he was hired by are short with the cash, he tells them they can't have their brother and whips both their asses, resulting in the death of the prisoner's brother. It's after this scene that the plot is finally set in motion.

The Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, come calling for Terry. They want him to kidnap a rich heiress who's uncle just died. When they balk at the price he demands, he tells them he's outta there. Since he knows too much about their plans, the Yakuza spend the rest of the movie trying to kill him. To complicate matters even further, Terry literally fights his way onto the team of people assigned to protect the heiress.

I think I've set it up so that you can understand what's going on, but it wasn't so easy to figure out while watching it. That's the biggest problem with this film. It's a rather short movie, but it's so unnecessarily convoluted. On top of that, Terry is not a guy we can root for. Lots of films take bad guys, even mercenaries, and transform them into heroes by the film's end. The Street Fighter never really does this. He's a brute and a thug with a bad disposition who never does anything, but for himself. For instance, I said he fights his way onto the team of people protecting the heiress. Terry just decides to show up at the dojo where she is and demands a fight with the master and tells him that his karate is garbage. Strangely, Terry gets his ass kicked, but puts up a tough fight. The master starts praising him for his superior skill and puts him on the squad. Terry is also quite "rapey." The fight with the siblings only starts after Terry says he'll accept the sister as collateral until the money can be raised and yanks her close to him by the arm and attempts to kiss her. He later does the same thing to the heiress when he busts into the dojo.

Eventually, things get back to the guy Terry broke out of prison at the beginning. Remember how I told you how Terry wouldn't give the guy to his siblings? Well, nothing more is said about this for like an hour when the dude suddenly shows up in Hong Kong. Huh? Trust me, the shenanigans with this dude are just beginning. To sum up everything about the script in one sentence: it's poorly written.

A film like this isn't made to showcase the abilities of some wordsmith, though. It's made to show off it's star as a one-man army, kicking ass left and right. At that, The Street Fighter succeeds. He kills lots and lots of dudes that come after him, often ripping something off or out of them. Among these dudes is the lone black guy who gets his junk ripped off. Yeesh. Blood splatters everywhere throughout the movie. It gets to the point where it was the first movie to ever earn an X rating from the Motion Picture Associaton of America solely for violence. Yeah, that castration is believed to be what tipped the scales. Still, that's hardly the only painful scene. Because the action just goes for broke, that aspect of the film is a treat to watch. Sure, that splattering blood looks fake by today's standards (far too bright red), but that just adds to the fun. It also helps that fight scenes come pretty rapidly and fill up a huge chunk of the film's ninety-two minute runtime. Therefore, despite a horrible script and a protagonist who test the limits of what's acceptable in an anti-hero, The Street Fighter is still an entertaining watch.

You don't want to know how the sausage is made.
Here is where I have to make a bit of a personal confession. While watching The Street Fighter I was actually folding the laundry Mrs. Dell washed earlier in the day. It took me quite a bit of time to fold it due to the many breaks I took to watch Sonny Chiba do his thing. I finally finished just as the movie was ending. Before starting the sequel, I took a few minutes to put the clothes away. This is how I found out what was happening on my earlier attempts to watch this movie. When it ends, the DVD goes back to the main menu, which is normal. Since I earlier selected the first film that was still highlighted. After a few minutes, instead of going on to the second film, it restarts the first. With that mystery solved, and our clothing safely put away, it was on to The Return of the Street Fighter.

I could very succinctly say that the sequel is more of the same and leave it at that. I don't think that will give you the full scope to which I mean that sentiment. Once again, Terry is taking on the Yakuza. This time it has something to do with them embezzling the money they claim to be raising for charities. Just like the first movie, they send hordes of henchmen after him and he lays waste to them in violent fashion as we go along. We even end with a major showdown between Terry and the same person he fought at the end of The Street Fighter. This is a bit strange since in that film, it was presented as if Terry killed the dude, but whatever. The only real change is that this time the American mafia is included in the form an overtly bigoted white guy who shouts a steady stream of racial slurs whenever he's on the screen. Terry is only slightly more likable than he is the first time around, but he's definitely not giving anybody the warm and fuzzies.

The script for The Return of the Street Fighter is even lazier than I let on. It's understandable to some extent when you realize the two movies were released barely two months apart. Still, that just means there probably should have been a better plan in place from the beginning. Instead, it feels rush to capitalize on the martial arts craze of the time. The Return of the Street Fighter runs a scant seventy-seven minutes, fifteen less than its predecessor. From that we can subtract roughly ten minutes for flashbacks. By flashbacks, I mean replaying entire scenes from the first film. We can subtract another five minutes or so for various meaningless scenes that show random dudes handling their weapon in a training session with helpful captions to tell us the name of the weapon they're using. That leaves us with roughly an hour of movie that matters and much of it is devoted to action. Again, that action is really good, so the film isn't a total waste. It's not as good as the first, but still fun just to see what Chiba does.

Seeing what Chiba does was a huge reason I was interested in seeing these films in the first place. As a youngster, when I heard people talk about him, it was often in the context of him being the next Bruce Lee, or being even better than Lee. As an adult, Chiba showed up in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies and helped renew my interest in him. What I saw was something different from what I was expecting. Watching Bruce Lee was like watching an artist moving quickly and gracefully through what happened to be a violent medium. It was poetry with elements of brutality mixed in. Chiba is the inverse of that. Lee is referred to as The Dragon and his movements have been rightfully described as feline, Chiba is far less elegant in his fighting. His movements often resemble that of a chimpanzee as he's crouched low, knuckles occasionally dragging before he attacks with sometimes odd looking punches and kicks. The guttural noises he emits sound like he's constantly about to hock a loogie at his opponent. It's not an aesthetically pleasing style, but he's not here to look good. He's here to do damage. That, he does.

The complete lack of a compelling story means these aren't movies that I will flock to over and over. However, I'm also not totally opposed to watching them again due to the insane violence on display. As I said, watching Sonny Chiba do his thing is fun. I may even seek out the other movies in the series. There is one more direct sequel, The Street Fighter's Last Revenge, and a spin-off, Sister Street Fighter. Chiba does appear in both. I'm game to check those out. I'm just not in a rush.

Click Below for Other 2016 Blind Spot Entries


  1. Holy shit. So that is the movie where he castrates someone with his hands. I wanna see this. Especially as I heard so much about Sonny Chiba from Quentin Tarantino who put him in Kill Bill Vol. 1 as Hattori Hanzo. If you remember the opening monologue of True Romance which Tarantino wrote, Christian Slater's character talks about how much he loves Sonny Chiba as he would go to a marathon where he would meet Patricia Arquette who also loves Sonny Chiba.

    1. That's the movie. I do remember the opening to True Romance. That's also a great movie. The Street Fighter is dumb fun. Check it out.

  2. Those movies were released two months apart? Wow. That's too bad the plots weren't better. I'm glad they're at least watchable to an extent as long as it's not night time. lol

    1. Crazy, right. It's clear they filmed them back to back, possibly as one longer movie they decided to split.

  3. X rated just for violence? SOLD.

    I too grew up in a house where Saturday afternoons were spent watching droves of dudes get kicked into and off of things, but my experience with Chiba sounds a lot like yours. I know the legend...but that's about it. But your take on these Street Fighter flicks has definitely lit that long-dormant flame.


    1. Cool. The fighting is immense and damn bloody. Looking forward to your take on it.