18 July 2008 | sc8031
Sonny Chiba plays Sonny Chiba in "Sonny Chi... I mean, "The Streetfighter"!
The Streetfighter remains one of the defining films of the Japanese martial arts, "grindhouse", "chop-socky" era from the 1970s. It's one of the titles that made Sonny Chiba famous and features really impressive high-level karate.
But the film isn't light-hearted, nor is it made humorous by its dub (as is the case with the contemporary Shaw Bros. films of the time). It is violent, gritty, misogynistic, and a bit racist. It explores gritty underworld elements: drug trafficking, sex slavery, contract killing, etc.
The plot revolves around Terry, an underground mercenary in modern Japan, who is forced into a life of crime (presumably) for being half-Chinese in a racist, conservative society. He is offered a job to rescue a wealthy oil baron's daughter-heiress after she is kidnapped by Yakuza. The way the events transpire and the plot develops is actually pretty solid for a "B" movie, and here Street Fighter stands far above its sequels or genre contemporaries.
Terry as a character is complex and depressing. He is angry and violent and completely unsympathetic to others, but he is the one we are supposed to connect with. Many people who cross his path are perhaps more upstanding people but are killed either because they are in the way of his contract jobs or because they are not as equally driven by hatred.
Sure, maybe it's a character study or a commentary on Japanese society in post-World War II. But that's only in hind-sight and even if so, it's just icing. The premise of the movie is to create a situation for Sonny Chiba to kill a bunch of violent criminals while on commission. But this is okay, because the acting is good, the martial arts are real good, the music is catchy funk-inspired rock and enka from the '70s, and the plot maintains your attention throughout.