Karate Bearfighter

  • 1977
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Action, Martial Arts

Kazuhiko Yamaguchi's punchy biopic is part of a trilogy depicting the life of action star Sonny Chiba's mentor, Korean-born Choi Bae-dal, who renamed himself Masutatsu Oyama after immigrating to Japan and founded the Kyokushin Karate organization. 1951: Where other Japanese dojos are going with the popular flow and redefining the martial arts as a form...read more

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Reviewed by Robert Pardi
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Kazuhiko Yamaguchi's punchy biopic is part of a trilogy depicting the life of action star Sonny Chiba's mentor, Korean-born Choi Bae-dal, who renamed himself Masutatsu Oyama after immigrating to Japan and founded the Kyokushin Karate organization.

1951: Where other Japanese dojos are going with the popular flow and redefining the martial arts as a form of fitness training, Oyama (Sonny Chiba) adheres to the notion that karate is a form of combat. Irritated by Oyama's old-fashioned obstinacy, Ryudoji (Masashi Ishibashi), who owns the Renshinka Gym, blackballs Oyama and his retro brutality. Oyama's career takes a nose dive and he seeks solace in saki. While drinking at a dive, Oyama bumps into his old air force buddy Kimura (Hideo Murota), who's reinvented himself as a mobster. Kimura offers Oyama a job as a gangland bodyguard, and while breaking heads for his Yakuza bosses Oyama runs across an impostor hawking some bogus health formula in his once-exalted name. Amused rather than angered by the imitation, Oyama chastises the spieler and adopts him as a sidekick. But Oyama’s stubborn streak resurfaces in a scuffle with an African-American solider; Kimura tries to shoot him, because the yankees are cash cows — giving them any reason to avoid certain areas or stop using underworld services is bad for business. Oyama finds himself unable to avoid violence: Ryudoji slays two of his closest friends and the veteran martial arts master goes ballistic. Oyama takes the law into his own hands and kills Ryudoji, then goes to ground in the boondocks. He keeps his head low until he makes the soft-hearted mistake of befriending an urchin whose father requires surgery. To pay the medical bills, Oyama agrees to wrestle a bear and the heavily promoted match catches the eye of Ryudoji’s vengeful brother. Even if Oyama succeeds in besting the beast, he's going to have to face every karate expert and ambitious student looking to make a name for himself by beating a living legend.

The intense, beetle-browed Chiba possesses neither Bruce Lee's sinewy grace nor Jackie Chan's comic panache, but has a loyal fan base nonetheless. And even in repose, Chiba's no-nonsense demeanor promises that he means business.

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  • Released: 1977
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi's punchy biopic is part of a trilogy depicting the life of action star Sonny Chiba's mentor, Korean-born Choi Bae-dal, who renamed himself Masutatsu Oyama after immigrating to Japan and founded the Kyokushin Karate organization. 195… (more)

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