Street Fighter is an Ultimate Tough Guy

So: you like martial arts films, eh? You’ve seen all of Bruce Lee’s movies, even Game of Death (which barely has Bruce in it). You’ve never missed a Jackie Chan flick. You think you’ve seen it all. Well, have you seen Street Fighter? If not, then you haven’t even come close to seeing it all. You’ve barely scratched the surface!

What is there to be said about Street Fighter?

The first thing we must clear up, is that we are talking here about the Japanese Martial arts movie starring Sonny Chiba, and not the dreadful Jean-Claude Van Dam movie of the same title. We are also not talking about the cartoons, video games, and pinball machines that carry the same name. All of the above are silly children’s entertainment. The Street Fighter we are interested in is patently adult.
Bruce Lee brought martial arts into the American Mainstream. He became a huge international star, and then suddenly died. After his untimely death, there was a mad rush to find other stars who could fill his shoes. The Bruce Lee clones began pumping out movies at a rapid pace. However, no Asian martial arts actor would attain the same level of success until Jackie Chan. And even Chan would work for years in Hong Kong before he made a real mark in the U.S.

Out of that fervor to find the next big thing in the world of Martial arts movies came something very interesting. Among the garbage, and un-entertaining movies spewed forth, was one very good movie. Street Fighter.

Sonny Chiba plays Terry Sugury. Terry isn’t so much a hero, as simply a super bad a**. He kicks many many butts, and doesn’t seem to care whose butt it is. Terry seems to feel that everyone deserves to get their skull cracked from time to time.

The film opens with Terry pulling off a daring prison break. He was hired to do this job. Who does he break out of prison? It doesn’t matter. This is just the opening scene. The real plot comes later. Terry is hired by a consortium of Yakuza and Mafia to kidnap a rich girl. He does. They wont pay. He goes after them, and protects the princess in the process. Not that he really cares for her. She’s an investment of sorts.

They end up on an oil tanker, where a wounded Terry continues to kick butt, demolishing person after person. Oh yeah, it rains a lot.

Terry is helped by his sidekick, Rat nose. I wont say much about this fellow, except this: Rat nose may be the strangest sidekick in movie history. And that’s even if you disregard his awful name.
I know, that’s not much of a synopsis. But really, there isn’t much of a plot. The plot is like a wire hanger, meant merely to have the action sequences draped over it. It exists merely to provide connection from fight scene to fight scene.

We will notice that Terry’s tough guy: quiet, deadly, seemingly uninterested in how others feel or what they want, driven only by money harkens back to Toshiro Mifune’s character in Yojimbo, and Sanjuro. This character will also remind us of numerous roles played by Lee Marvin and others. Terry is driven by greed. He is one dimensional.

This movie exists for the fight scenes. So, are they any good? Yes. They are amazing. The fight scenes in Street Fighter are unlike anything you have seen before. They are brutal, fast, and wonderfully choreographed. Terry pauses often during fighting, preparing himself for further battle, I suppose. These pauses act as Caesurae, artful pauses that increase tension, create suspense, and keep you interested.

These fight scenes are unlike those we find in Bruce Lee’s films, they are also of a different variety than the ones we have come to know from The Matrices, these scenes are in a category of their own. No other film has really recreated this style.

An interesting thing about these scenes is the way in which we are forced to focus on the outcome of all this fighting. In most Kung Fu movies we see people hit, but we rarely see much blood. We never see the true outcome of such combat. Street Fighter gives us the logical end of the fight. It is dripping with gore. There are times when it is hard to look at all the carnage. This gore fest is what led to the film’s X rating in the United States. Of course, X ratings were handed out like candy in those days. Back then, theaters would actually show films with the dreaded X.

Today the NC-17 (the successor of the X rating) is certain death for a film. This is a sad state of affairs. In the old days patently adult films (not pornography) could be made and marketed to adults. Those days are over. But I digress.

Today’s action films seem watered down, cleaned up, and Disney-fied in comparison to this movie. Even today’s horror films are tame in comparison to the unrelenting gore and violence of Street Fighter. This is a movie to turn weak stomachs. In other words: I love it. There is nothing better than good action, done well.

This movie was followed by several sequels. Among them:
Return of Street Fighter
Sister Street Fighter

and others. I have only seen Return of Street Fighter, so cannot comment on the other films in the series. About Return I will just say that it is not as impressive as the first film. Like many sequels, it seems to lose something.

I recommend this film highly. I would also suggest that anyone interested in martial arts movies check out Bruce Lee’s great films. Also, the early films of Jackie Chan, John Woo’s great crime movies (like Hard Boiled, and The Killer), and of course some of the movies from my favorite genre: samurai films. For those interested in Samurai movies I suggest Yojimbo, and Seven Samurai.
Final thoughts on Street Fighter:

This film is from an era that has passed us by. It is a fine film, and I suggest finding a copy, making some pop corn, grabbing a cold beer, and enjoying it with friends. The DVD (from Platinum Disc Corp) is acceptable. The picture quality is fine, and the sound is okay. There are no special features, which is sad. There is a great Laser disc available, that has much better picture and great sound. If you can find the Laser, I suggest it. If not, the DVD will do. Enjoy the movie!

A note:
Quentin Tarrantino deserves some credit for returning this film to the American consciousness after being forgotten for many years. He wrote direct references to it into his script for True Romance, and then allowed a praiseful quote from him to be printed on the Laser Disc cover for a re-release of the film. I have to thank him for reminding the public that this interesting film exists. So, thanks Quentin!