Saturday, March 2, 2013

El Professore Movie Reviews: The Street Fighter (aka Sudden Attack! The Killing Fist)

Director: Shigehiro Ozawa
Starring: Shinichi (Sonny) Chiba, Yutaka (Doris) Nakajima, Goichi (Gerald)
Yamada, Masashi (Milton) Ishibashi, Jiro Chiba, Etsuko (Sue) Shihomi, Masafumi Suzuki
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Who hasn't heard of this one by now? Yep, it's the legendary freakout fest starring Sonny Chiba as mercenary Terry Tsurugi; just possibly the most amoral protagonist in the history of the cinema. Hiring himself out (unknowingly) to the Yakuza, before being targeted by his employers for knowing too much, Tsurugi (along with his sidekick, Ratnose) uses his bare fists to smash, crush, and rip apart any who oppose him.

Full review after the jump.

Though this is seen as one of Japan's first attempts at emulating Hong Kong's kung fu craze in general and Bruce Lee's films in particular, 'The Street Fighter' actually owes more to Japan's extremely popular Yakuza exploitation films of the period. Though a Karate Black Belt in real life, Chiba's moves are often obscured by deliberately shaky, hand held camera movements that became popular thanks to Kinji Fukasaku's 'Yakuza Papers' series which began with 'Battles Without Honor and Humanity'. This technique which successfully made the viewer feel as if he were right in the middle of those films' bloody shootouts, did not translate as well to unarmed combat movies where most would rather actually see what the skilled practitioners were doing (a tripod would have been appreciated). The result is more headache inducing than exciting. That said, this film still delivers a visceral whallop like no other movie I have ever seen. The impact of this visually mesmerizing splatter pic masquerading as a martial arts movie is impossible to put into words. It literally has to be seen to be believed.

In America, 'The Street Fighter' was a huge hit. It was the first film to garner an 'X' rating soley based on violence (surprisingly for a Japanese film of this vintage, there is not an ounce of nudity on display). Apparently, there were two particular sequences which led to it's rating. One showed Tsurugi (while rescuing a kidnapped heiress) killing a would be rapist, by ripping out his nut sack. The other scene (the film's most famous and notorious moment) comes when Tsurugi punches an attacker on the top of the head with the now-famous image of the image cutting to an x-ray showing internal damage to the skull. There were plenty of other moments such as Tsurugi hitting someone in the gut so hard that he throws up (in particularly nauseating fashion), Tsurugi knocking someone's teeth out and the climatic moment where Tsurugi rips out his main opponent's adam's apple. All of these moments shown in loving closeup. But it wasn't just the gore that unnerved. Unlike most martial arts films, this one made you feel every landed blow by having the recipient scream and bellow at the top of their lungs in pain (and no one screams quite as ear shatteringly as the Japanese). this proved to be too much for it's initial vhs release. No less than sixteen minutes of violence where removed. This made the watch quite incomprehensible. Fights would start and then immediately end, eck! Luckily in 1993, the original print surfaced for all to see... and shutter at.

Love it or hate it (there is no middle ground here), 'The Street Fighter' is an unforgettable viewing experience. Though not quite my favorite Chiba flick (I'd give 'The Exectioner' a slight edge), this is the one I seem to refer to more than any other. It's ability to shock and enthrall is nearly forty years later, still undiminished.

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