Return of the Street Fighter

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Return of the Street Fighter (Japan, 1974)

The first of the two Street Fighter sequels is a fun grindhouse film that doesn’t reach the greatness of the original, but comes with superior fight choreography. The film also shows in a nutshell why the series enjoys such popularity, and where Japanese karate action was heading in 1974.

The karate films Chiba made in 1973-1974 were all contemporary action films with plenty of martial arts thrown in. However, the genre was heading towards a more serious approach to martial arts, exemplified by the numerous martial arts biopics released in 1975 (e.g. Killing Machine, The Defensive Power of Aikido). Return of the Street Fighter was still an urban action flick, but the amount of martial arts – and martial artists – on display already suggested of the trend.

Despite the rushed production (the sequel hit the theatres less than 3 months after the original) Toei had time to audition 100 martial arts from various countries, 11 of which were chosen to appear in the film, in addition to Masashi Ishibashi, Masafumi Suzuki & his students, and the JAC stuntmen returning from the first film.

The “fighter overpopulation” actually causes the film to lose its story focus early on as we are treated one martial arts demonstration after another. Fans of karate films should not be complaining, but casual viewers may find it a bit too much. However, there seems to have been even more footage than could be fit in the film, as the original teaser trailer features quite a bit of action, training, and promotional footage not found in the film.

For most people the real reason to watch The Street Fighter movies is of course Chiba and the character he portrays. Takuma “Terry” Tsurugi is back and in good form, even if he’s a little less nasty this time. Highlights include Tsurugi taking down a police station’s entire night shift crew in order to assassinate a target held by the police, and Tsurugi walking away from a crime scene with a big smile on his face while a villain is burning in the flames behind him. The film is a perfect example of a cinema era when heroes were allowed to be villains and villains could pass for heroes.

Action fans will also be pleased that the fight choreography is excellent throughout. There are lots of fights, the action is well choreographed, and the most commonly used sound effect is that of a breaking bone. There also a good bit of the series’ trademark ultra violence, such as Tsurugi punching a man in so hard at the back of his head that his eyes pop out.

Story wise the film is a carbon copy of the original – to the extent that the writer of the original film, Koji Takada, has been given a “created by” credit even though he was apparently not involved with the sequel. The film merely switches Chinese triads for New York mafia, avenging death row prisoner for an avenging ex-detective, and a Singaporean sidekick for an Okinawan sidekick (the naturally cute Yoko Ichiji stripped down of her cuteness (sadly not of her clothes), and given a rather irritating character to play).

While the weaknesses somewhat hurt the film, the imperfection also makes the film a more genuine grindhouse type film, with its own trashy appeal. With expectations kept in check, Return of the Street Fighter is quite a bit of violent fun. Oh, and a bit of fun trivia: the bearded hippie mafia boss who appears in the film was played by the young Canadian filmmakers Claude Gagnon, who would later pick up the Japanese Film Directors’ Association’s prize for best director for his Art Theater Guild film Keiko (1979).

* Original Title: Satsujin ken 2 (殺人拳 2)
* Director: Shigehiro Ozawa
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Optimum DVD (UK), HK Video (FR) (FR subs only), Toei DVD (no subs)

Original Teaser with footage not found in the film

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