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Gekitotsu! Satsujin ken (1974)

The Street Fighter, Sudden Attack: The Killing Fist (literal English title)

If youve got to fight...fight dirty!

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 86 minutes

US Certificate: Unrated UK Certificate: 18


In the pantheon of martial arts superstars, not far behind Bruce Lee would come karate and judo black belt Shinichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba. Out of the vast number of his films made in Japan (over 120 for Toei studios alone), twenty-one were released in the US, but it is really just for one single rôle that he has attained his cult status in the West (leaving aside his recent appearance as Hattori Hanzo in überfan Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1) – and that is as Takuma ‘Terry’ Tsuguri in ‘The Street Fighter’ and its two sequels (the trilogy, incidentally, which Christian Slater so relishes at the beginning of the Tarantino-scripted ‘True Romance’). Chiba might not display the same finesse or economy of movement as Bruce Lee, but then Bruce never played a character quite like Terry. For smack bang in the middle of the 1970s, a decade whose cinema was full to the brim with ambivalent antiheroes, Chiba’s Terry towers above the rest as the very quintessence of badass. Disguised (ironically enough) as a Buddhist priest, and helped by his comic sidekick ‘Ratnose’ (Waichi Yamada), halfbreed tough-for-hire Terry springs murderous karate fighter Junjou (Masishi Ishibashi) from prison at the request of Junjou’s brother and sister – but when they fail to pay up, Terry forces the sister into prostitution to recoup his losses. Turning down an assignment from the mob to kidnap Sarai (Yutaka Nakajima), heiress to an oil fortune, because the price is not high enough, Terry instead gets himself employed by Sarai’s uncle to protect her (his unorthodox ‘application’ for the job being to assault Sarai sexually and to beat up half of the uncle’s karate students). Meanwhile Junjou finds his sister in a Hong Kong brothel and, swearing vengeance, joins forces with the mobsters who now want Terry eradicated. A series of ultraviolent encounters leads to a climactic deathmatch between Terry and Junjou on a rainswept oil vessel. Chiba’s Terry is less a human being than a furious Japanese demon – an impression which is reinforced by his absurdly bushy eyebrows, by the grotesquely gurning postures he adopts to ‘redistribute his chi’ before each fight, and by the praeternaturally gory way in which he disposes of his enemies. Amidst a general flurry of bone-breaking and blood-letting, Terry literally knocks all the teeth out of one opponent, gouges the eyes of another (“Sweet” he comments as he licks his red-stained fingers), castrates a third with his bare hands (holding up the spoils triumphantly), extracts the larynx of yet another – and in the film’s most famous sequence, lovingly imitated by such classics as The Story of Ricky, ‘Dead or Alive 2’ and the recent Oldboy, a lethal blow dealt by Terry is shown in skull-crushing X-ray. No wonder that ‘The Street Fighter’ is the first film ever to have received an X rating in the US for its violence alone. It is almost as though co-writers Koji Takada and Steve Autrey have challenged themselves to create a hero who is, as one of the mobsters puts it, “the meanest guy in the world”, in defiance of the long-standing cliché whereby wicked-seeming protagonists always turn out to have a heart of gold. Certainly Sarai’s kindly uncle has faith in Terry “not only as a fighter, but as a man” – and even Sarai herself, who at first regards Terry (with good reason) as a repulsive “animal”, ends up thanking him and claiming to “understand now”. Yet their trust and sympathy are misplaced. If good ever comes of Terry’s actions, it is entirely accidental; he takes on criminals (as well as non-criminals) merely for the power, profit and pleasure such fighting brings him, and he helps the innocent Sarai only because, as he confides to Ratnose, he wants to get his own hands on her millions. As such, Terry is one of a very small number of principal characters in the history of cinema who have absolutely no redeeming qualities.

It's Got: A monstrously mean-spirited antihero; intense and gory fight sequences; an awesome guitar-funk soundtrack; bizarre, mostly misfiring comedy from Terrys sidekick Ratnose (whose relationship with Terry is, lets just say, open to interpretation).

It Needs: If this were almost any other film, I would say it needs half-decent acting, a better script, and gore that looks less obviously fake - but somehow the shortcomings of The Street Fighter are an integral part of its grindhouse pleasure.

DVD Extras Fully digitally remastered and restored (from original negatives) and uncut, anamorphic 2:35:1; scene selection; original Japanese language with optional English subtitles; original theatrical trailer; text biography of Sonny Chiba. Also available from Optimum as a boxset with sequels Return of the Street Fighter and The Street Fighters Last Revenge. DVD Extras Rating: 3/10


Sonny Chiba is the Michelangelo of badass, and 'The Street Fighter' is his bloody Sistine Chapel.