Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Street Fighting!

I'm always amazed at what I've not yet seen in my long life. The Street Fighter is a Kung-Fu movie from the classic era of Kung-Fu movies starring the intense action star Sonny Chiba. I knew next to nothing about these movies save that they had a rep for extreme violence. When they showed up on Turner Classic Movies several weeks ago, I thought it might be worth my time to check them out. I was thoroughly entertained, and they were extremely violent.

The Street Fighter has a reputation because it was apparently the first movie released in the United States to get a notorious "X" rating for sheer violence. That they can now show this movie on TCM uncut says all that needs to be said about how times have changed about that.

For those like me who might not have seen this one, let me sketch out the action. A villain named Tsuguri (Sonny Chiba) breaks a murderer out of prison then sells his sister into slavery when she cannot come up with his fee. Later he improves his attitude a bit when an oil magnate's daughter is threatened by other villains who want to take over her company, freshly inherited from her dead dad. Tsuguri is a mean-eyed, tough-as-nails badass who breaks arms and heads (literally) trying to stumble his way into a role as an anti-hero (at best).

The action is furious and the violence is brutal, but nothing to compare with modern torture porn flicks which flood the likes of the Syfy channel and elsewhere. What is compelling about this movie is the relentlessly awful person Tsuguri is, not unlike the Spaghetti western anti-heroes portrayed by Clint Eastwood and others.

The other surprise was that the late great Nick Cardy did the artwork for the poster for this movie. It's a beauty and in many ways more elegant than the movie itself which can be hard to watch in places, though it's also hard to take your eyes off. 

Return of the Street Fighter picks up the action with Tsuguri again pitted against folks worse than himself. He seems more fitted out to be the straightforward hero in this one, though he's still a pretty nasty bastard throughout.

This time the ultimate villainy is represented by the Mafia who alongside the Yakuza offer up many heinous types for Tsuguri to kick while he tries to rescue folks from their murderous clutches. Old villains reappear in some surprising ways and the fights are still pretty good.

These are not art films by any stretch, but I have to hand it to them, they are compelling. Chiba dominates the screen with his scowl and intense glare. His fighting lacks the grace of Bruce Lee or the over-the-top ballet-like moves of other Kung-Fu epics, rather it feel visceral and more or less realistic.

If like me, you've never seen these, I recommend them. Brutal, but entertaining.

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