Thursday, June 7, 2012

Return of the Street Fighter (1974)

Dir: Shigehiro Ozawa

Martial Arts and Grindhouse icon Sonny Chiba returns as ruthless assassin for hire 'Terry' Tsurugi in this first sequel to "The Street Fighter"!

The film opens with Terry being hired by The Mob to silence an informer. Unfortunately the informer is at Police Headquarter!
That's no problem for Terry though, who promptly gets himself arrested, breaking free at the right moment and fighting through the Cops to ram his fingers into the vocal chords of the informer…He's not speaking to the Police now! Though in a bad bit of scripting, what is to stop him writing everything down? Oh well…Lets us move on….

Th Cop in charge, Yamagami (Zulu Yachi), vows to track Terry down, but is officially forbidden to do so, so instead he is given leave and proceeds to handle the case alone.

Meanwhile it turns out The Mob, headed by the mysterious Don Costello (Claude Gannyon),
are in league with a crooked School of Martial Arts owner who is running a huge con job whereby he is getting money to build a Martial Arts Centre but has no intention of doing so, instead passing the money onto the Mafia.

When Yamagami and the head of a legit Martial Arts School (who returns from the first film) start to investigate the con job The Mob try to hire Terry to take them out. But when he refuses to kill his old friend, he ends up being hunted down himself!
Things get even more dangerous for Terry when his old nemesis Junjo (Masashi Ishibashi) re-appears (and now sporting an artificial voice box as Terry ripped out his own at the end of the first movie!) working for The Mob and with vengeance on his mind……

The biggest change from the first film is that Terry's wonderfully immoral anti-hero has been made more user friendly this time around. The cold-blooded ruthlessness has been replaced by a more traditional code of ethics. This removes some of the wicked charm of the character, but luckily he's still as ruthless in his dispatching of the bad guys.

And although the action is not quite as brutal or showy as the iconic original there is still much here for fans of violent action and Chiba himself, to enjoy!
After a slow start (where Chiba vanishes and Yamagami is given the chance to fight) the film really picks up with a fight in the snow, with Chiba going against 2 weapon wielding Martial Arts goons. A fight that ends in an amazingly funny (unintentional one thinks though) eye popping fashion!

This leads into a fun sauna/health club fight as Terry goes through a horde of bare chested fighters dressed only in his red and white stripy shorts! This has a finale pay off of which is delightfully nasty as Terry' turns up the heat' on his attackers.
A Topless female assassin adds a bit of T&A to the proceedings and a savage beating of an attacker, that ends in a blood pouring head chop, brings back the brutal memories of the original.
It all ends in a brilliant, and nasty twist filled, ultra brutal showdown that ups the blood and violence quota very nicely with it's spurting head wounds, nasty knifings and crushed bones.
Chiba is in top form here, charging up his 'Chi' via those famous 'coughing up a hairball' breathing exercises, and kicking ass with brutal efficiency.

The film also seems to be aiming for a more Martial Arts audience this time around.
A break in the story has extensive footage of training exercises at a Martial Arts School where names of the weapons being used and exercises being carried out appear subtitled on the screen
Most amusing is a mass 'Chi' charging, breathing exercise that has a whole room of people making the 'hairball' noise! It sounds like an advert for cough medicine!

Humour wise the film is not as bad as the first. Terry has another annoying sidekick in the form of Kitty (Yôko Ichiji) a young girl (who Terry rescued from the streets) with a silly knitted hat, 'Manga' style pigtails, unflattering glasses and who speaks in hipster American slang like "It's groovy jack"!
She's not as irritating as 'Ratnose' from the first film…but she's just as superfluous for most of the films running time.
The other comedy moment is before the sauna fight where a relaxing Terry has to put up with a strange little man who tries to make out he is a Karate Master, but only ends up scolding his hands on the sauna's hot rocks. Resulting in the dreadful line "In Karate circles we call that a burn". Well I think we would all call that a burn, karate circles or not!

The film also lacks the enjoyably overblown 'Zen' dialogue from the first film…but at least (during the few black and white flashbacks to the first movie) the immortal "Become a number one man" makes a welcome return.

The music score is not as funky either this time round, but the amazingly cool and catchy 'Street Fighter' theme tune creeps on in near the end to chaperone Chiba during the kick ass finale.

So, not as good as the legendary original, or quite as violent (though it most certainly has it's moments) due to the watering down of Chiba's character. But the translation is better handled this time and the film moves along at a brisk pace once the first 20 minutes have passed by.
All in all a film that is essential viewing for Chiba fans and in fact for all lovers of those ultra violent 70's flicks that once stood tall and proud on the billboards that used to decorate the long gone 42nd Street area of New York's Grindhouse circuit. Chiba Chiba!

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