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Category:    Home > Reviews > Martial Arts Cycle > Sonny Chiba Street Fighter Set (VCI)

Street Fighter Saga (VCI)


Picture: C+     Sound: B-     Extras: C+     Films: B



The early 1970’s Martial Arts film craze started by the film Five Fingers of Death (1973) spawned hundreds of imitators, but beyond the work of the immortal Bruce Lee, not many martial artists were able to stand out from the crowd.  A notable exception to this was the work of Sonny Chiba, and specifically his Street Fighter series of films released from 1974 – 1979.  As many of his fans already know, Chiba possesses the same aura of imminent violence that Bruce Lee projected in Enter the Dragon (1973).  It is this sense of impending danger that makes Chiba’s screen presence in these films so vibrant.


In fact, Chiba’s presence manages to come through despite the sometimes-choppy transfers in the four films.  However, there are times when the films’ graininess and poor color spoil the intricate ballet of violence the various directors are trying to portray.  The dubbed English dialogue of the films also suffers from spotty sound quality, and in a few cases, characters’ voices inexplicably change from scene to scene.  In spite of this, the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound and non-anamorphic wide-screen transfers provide credible reproductions of films rarely seen on television (although sharp-eyed viewers will catch glimpses of Chiba in action in certain background scenes of Tony Scott’s Tarantino-scripted True Romance).


In terms of substance the four films in this boxed set (The Street Fighter, Return of the Street Fighter, Sister Street Fighter, and The Street Fighter's Last Revenge) are all plagued by similar problems.  Formulaic plots, improbable action, and spotty continuity cause the viewer to blanch on occasion, but strong performances by Chiba and a host of great character actors make all of the films solid martial arts fare.  In fact, it is the martial arts choreography and Chiba’s unique style that combines to make the Street Fighter films such satisfying experiences.  Extreme, almost campy violence often punctuates Chiba’s fight scenes, as the lanky Karate-expert deals death to his foes in innumerable and ever more creative ways.  In one scene in Return of the Street Fighter, Chiba, playing the role of hard-bitten martial arts mercenary Sonny Sugury, strikes a thug so hard on the back of his head his eyes literally fall out of their sockets!  Silly?  Perhaps, but Chiba’s on-screen presence, his aura of violence, lends him a credibility that makes such scenes work.


The boxed set is short on extras, but does include a nice filmography of Chiba’s marvelous career, which spans over one hundred films and four decades.  Some biographical information on Chiba is also included.  The menus are clear and usable, but otherwise unimpressive.  Not included in the filmography of course is Chiba’s latest work in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.  Chiba’s film legacy is recognized by filmmakers like Tarantino, because his distinctive style has left an indelible mark on the genre of martial arts cinema.  There is no better proof of this than the raw, frenetic, sometimes bellicose films of the Street Fighter Saga.



-   Scott Pyle


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