If you removed all the physical grace and lithe finesse from Bruce Lee, what you'd be left with is sheer intensity and brute force. You'd be left with Sonny Chiba. THE STREET FIGHTER is a well-mounted but poorly scripted tale of a lone avenger versus organized crime. Unquestionably Chiba's
most notorious picture in America, what sets it apart is the fact that his avenger is no noble hero; this is instead the hyperviolent and gleefully sadistic tale of "the meanest guy in the world."
After rescuing Junju (Masishi Ishibashi) from prison moments before his execution, Terry Sugury (Sonny Chiba) finds that Junju's brother and sister don't have the agreed-upon money to pay him. A fight ensues and Junju's brother (played by Chiba's brother, Jiro Chiba) plunges to his death; Sugury
then sells the sister, Nishi (Etsuko Shiomi), into slavery as a prostitute to recoup his fee.
Meanwhile, a wealthy oil magnate has died, leaving his riches to his daughter Sarai (Doris Nakajima). When a gang backed by the Mafia tries to hire Sugury to kidnap her, he turns them down but then attacks the karate school where she is being held in protective custody. After battling the leader
of the school (Masafumi Suzuki), Sugury informs him of the Mafia plans and agrees to help protect Sarai.
But in Hong Kong they get separated and Sarai is snatched while a car containing Sugury and his friend Ratnose (Gerald Yamada) is tossed off a bridge. Sugury rescues Sarai but is captured; when Ratnose tries to help he too is caught, and tells the criminals where to find Sarai. Sugury is then
tossed off a cliff but again survives, engaging one of the gang's killers in a battle during which Ratnose sacrifices his life.
On board a ship, Sarai is being pressured to sign over the oil company to Jadot (Tony Setera), who it turns out killed her father. Sugury fights his way past dozens of thugs to discover that Junjo and his sister are on board, anxious to kill him. In a final battle, Jadot is killed, as well as
Junjo and his sister.
As if the plot really mattered. The film is so impatient to rush from one violent set piece to another that it frequently doesn't even bother to explain how it got there. When the action's over, so is the scene; time to cut to the next fight. Throughout the film, Sugury simply shows up at hidden
lairs and secret hideaways, without a hint of how he knew where to go. But then, this is no detective story--it's a graphic catalog of brutality. Sugury thinks nothing of savagely killing women and men alike, poking out his opponents' eyes with fingers or knives and punching one foe so hard that
the filmmakers felt compelled to switch to an X-ray shot of the blow to show the internal damage.
During the well-shot climactic fight in the pouring rain, Sugury tears open Junjo's throat with his bare hands, dangling the eviscerated vocal cords in front of the camera. And he's not alone in his viciousness. Junjo himself, first introduced on death row as a conscienceless killer, hesitates but
a moment during the final brawl before stabbing Sugury through his own sister, killing her. Needless to say, few of the characters think of simply pulling a gun, and if they do, it's already too late.
Perhaps to offset the viciousness and show another side of Sugury, he is shadowed by a comic sidekick, Ratnose, who by all indications seems to be deeply in love with Sugury. After spilling the beans on Sarai to save Sugury's life (and having Sugury sever their relationship as a result), Ratnose
gives up his own life to save his pal. Sugury cradles the dying man and then tests if he is still alive by using the time-honored method of sticking his fingers up Ratnose's nostrils and jiggling them around. Sugury is given the slightest of histories in a flashback that depicts him as a child,
insulted as a halfbreed, watching his father shot by the Japanese. "Trust no one," his father intones before dying. Suguri grows up willing to do anything for money, stating that he despises people who don't keep their promises. He interrupts a rapist and rips the man's genitals off, but his
ethics aren't compromised by selling women into prostitution. In fact, he is thoroughly amoral and vicious, as is the film itself. The depraved and unrepentantly sadistic tone would surface again in MANIAC (1980) and any number of Italian cannibal and zombie movies to follow, but in 1975 it led to
the film being given an X rating. It wasn't the first film to receive an X for nonsexual content (SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG had gotten one for its racially incendiary message in 1971, and as far back as 1969, MIDNIGHT COWBOY picked up one for overall seaminess), but was touted as the first
to garner an X certificate for sheer violence.
As a result, most mainstream theaters wouldn't touch it, and it was stuck in porn theaters, where the patrons were horrified. New Line, the American distributor that had picked up and dubbed the Japanese release (its original title translates as "Sudden Attack; The Killing Fist"), quickly recut
and resubmitted the film for an R rating, but had to yank the few shreds of coherence and continuity out with the violence. Concurrently, they invented a new biography for actor Chiba, making him a biker, a bastard (in every sense), and adding a foot to his height. In actuality, the former Sadao
Maeda had been an Olympic hopeful who, after injuring himself in a work-related accident, entered and won a "new faces" contest sponsored by Toei studios in 1960. Taking the stage name Shinichi Chiba (Chiba from the prefecture where he grew up; "Sonny" would be appended in the mid-1960s from a
series of ads he did for a Toyota car named the "Sunny"), he worked extensively in television and then film, often in superhero or modern action roles. An accomplished student of judo, ninjutsu, kendo, and shorinji kempo, he gained considerable popularity in his native Japan and was engaged in
negotiations to collaborate on a film with Bruce Lee when the latter died. Heavily inspired by Lee and the worldwide success of ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), Chiba made his own version of an international martial arts extravaganza, substituting karate for Chinese kung fu. Vaguely akin to Japan's
ultraviolent tales of mercenary ronin (e.g., the LONE WOLF AND CUB films), THE STREET FIGHTER includes among its bloodthirsty assassins a blind swordsman, clearly inspired by the ZATOICHI series. But unlike the earlier Japanese films, and certainly unlike Bruce Lee's films and concurrent Hong Kong
product, Chiba's fights don't have their polished and tightly choreographed appearance--despite the fact that separate credits are given for military arts direction, wrestling direction, and kick boxing direction. Indeed, the film's entire appeal is based on the crude, graphic feel of the brawls.
Chiba's grunts and shrieks are even more animalistic than Lee's, alternating on the soundtrack with the sound of bones crunching noisily and a rousing guitar theme that plays as he rallies over adversity.
Originally the cut version was released on US home video, replaced in 1995 at the urging of fan Quentin Tarantino (1993's TRUE ROMANCE, from his script, included a clip of THE STREETFIGHTER) by the uncut, letterboxed film. Also available are cut versions of the sequels, RETURN OF THE STREET
FIGHTER (1975) and STREET FIGHTER'S LAST REVENGE (1979), as well as the companion piece SISTER STREET FIGHTER (1976). (Graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1974
- Rating: R
- Review: If you removed all the physical grace and lithe finesse from Bruce Lee, what you'd be left with is sheer intensity and brute force. You'd be left with Sonny Chiba. THE STREET FIGHTER is a well-mounted but poorly scripted tale of a lone avenger versus organ… (more)