Retro Review: ‘The Street Fighter’
I already know many of you are expecting a review of the terribly awesome Jean-Claude Van Damme movie (that will probably come in a later Retro Review) or the even worse one with Krisin Kreuk (that one will probably never be Retro Reviewed by me). Instead we are talking about the 1974 martial arts flick the Street Fighter, hands down the best movie in the filmography of martial arts legend Sonny Chiba. While he does not have the mainstream notoriety of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan or Tony Jaa; Chiba still has a strong fanbase which even includes the likes of Quentin Tarantino who put him in the Kill Bill movies.
Often hailed as arguably the best martial arts flick to come from the grindhouse scene, the Street Fighter has built a sizable cult following over the years. That is not to say it was all smooth sailing for this film, when New Line brought the film to American audiences the level of violence earned it the first X-rating in MPAA history. This did not stop people from venturing to their local grindhouse theater or drive-in to catch Chiba kicking ass and taking names.
Chiba plays Terry Tsurugi an expert martial artist who has melded various different fighting styles and will take on any job as long as he gets paid. This surly mercenary finds himself at odds with the Yakuza while protecting a businessman’s daughter. On top of troubles with organized crime he has to deal with Junjou a former client who had his family destroyed by Tsurugi after they did not pay for his services. There is a lot more to the plot, too much in fact, that is why the plot in unimportant. What is important is the fact that Sonny Chiba displays 100% badassedness throughout the flick. In theory he is the good guy, but he is more violent and ruthless than any of the supposed bad guys in the Street Fighter. This is made clear in the beginning of the film when we see him kill Junjou’s brother when he is stiffed on his bill. He was encouraged by his mentor to not trust anyone and to be capable of defeating anyone who challenges him, and this is what he lives by. The intensity Chiba brings to the role of Tsurugi is amplified by the supporting cast who while great, and providing some truly memorable characters (especially Goichi Yamada as his sidekick Ratnose) allow the actor to dominate every scene.
The Street Fighter is B-movie martial arts perfection. Gritty, violent, and unapologetic for what it is. When the film was recently remastered in a rerelease, the picture still maintained its cheap and edgy look, I personally believe it would be disingenuous to present this flick any other way. That is not to say it is poorly made film, far from it in fact. Director Shigehiro Ozawa utilizes clever film techniques to keep the action wild and in your face. This cult classic spawned two sequels and a spin-off (Return of the Street Fighter, the Street Fighter’s Last Revenge, and Sister Street Fighter) and while they are entertaining, none of them measure up to the pure awesomeness of the original Street Fighter.