Kung Fu Fridays: The Street Fighter

They really don't make movie posters like they used to...
They really don’t make movie posters like they used to…

That right there boys and girls, is Sonny Chiba. One of the baddest men to walk the planet. A military brat who almost made the Japanese Olympic team, Chiba achieved worldwide success through the film The Street Fighter. No, the film has nothing to do with the game, or the film based on the game, or the game based on the film based on the game. (though the film is available in its entirety in the game The Darkness on any TV found in that game world) What The Street Fighter is is a really well done martial arts flick, a staple in many top ten lists, and an incredibly violent movie whose cult following was helped no doubt by Quentin Tarantino’s decision to not only cast Chiba as Hatori Hanzo in Kill Bill but this as well…

Released in 1974 by the Toei film company, most famous for Godzilla, The Street Fighter tells the story of Terry Tsurugi, Chiba, a killer for hire who refuses to kidnap the daughter of an oil tycoon because doing so would mean he would be working for the Yakuza. The Yakuza do not like his refusal and vow to not only kill Tsurugi but kidnap the girl, Sarai played by Yutaka Nakajima. What follows is a series of increasingly violent, but beautiful fights between Tsurugi and the Yakuza and their allies. The final fight scene is one of the most brutal fights in the history of cinema. In fact, the violence contained within the ninety one minuted unedited version of the film landed The Street Fighter with a rather dubious distinction. This film is the very first film in American cinema history that earned an X rating for violence alone. Now, compared to things in movies today, looking at you Hostel AND your sequels, the violence on display here is rather tame. But, what sets it apart is that the story was not one of boogey men out to get teenagers who made the mistake of drinking/smoking/drugging/sexing (those last two may not be the most eloquent way to put it but I like them) but of a man hurting other men with his bare hands. One scene that stuck out was a fight in which Tsurugi punches a man in the head, causing him to spit out a ton of blood. The scene cuts from live action to an X-ray of the man’s head getting caved in. Now, we can see that repeatedly in Mortal Kombat games; in the 70’s, X. (along with the bare handed castration but I digress…)

 

Sub Zero would be jealous
Sub Zero would be jealous

It’s not violence alone that makes this movie worthy of an entry in this series. There are plenty of violent movies out there. What makes this movie for me has always been the performance of Sonny Chibi. He isn’t as polished as the Kung Fu fighters coming out of China during this time period. He is not as graceful or fluid as Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. What he lacks in grace he makes up for in charisma and sheer brutality. This film is gritty. When people describe things as gritty, this is what they should compare it to. It feels real in a way that few other martial arts films do. The action is just so visceral, so like what we imagine a real fight to be like. I will forever be thankful to Mr. Tarantino for introducing me to this flick, and its sequels and spin-offs, and now I want to do the same for you. Check out the trailer below and then head here to watch or download the film legally! (hooray public domain) Follow me on twitter, @geekadedan, and let me know what you though of The Street Fighter.

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