Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sister Streetfighter (Onna hissatsu ken, 1974)

Hello all of you fans of the martial arts film world and casual observers, we've got a classic for you today on Hai!Karate.... Sister Streetfighter starring Etsuko Shiomi!! Some of you may recognize her Western name of Sue Shiomi is prominent on the second poster. This film marks the first starring role for Shiomi, a member of the famed Shinichi 'Sonny' Chiba's Japan Action Club of actors and stuntmen and it's a true breakout performance on the heels of Chiba's own box-office success with The Streetfighter in the same year. Co-starring in this picture with Shiomi is Chiba himself, along with Masashi Ishibashi, Emi(May)Hayakawa and Hiroshi Kondo among others. The direction of the film is handled by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, who made a bit of a name for himself prior to this movie for a ribald reason. But let's get into this movie right here...

Sister Streetfighter opens up in the bustling city of Hong Kong. Li Koryu(Shiomi) is called into the police inspector's office and told that her brother, Mansel (Hiroshi Miyauchi)has disappeared. A Shorinji Kenpo champion as well as a police detective, it's relayed to Koryu that he was possibly taken by the cartel of heroin smugglers operating under a shipping comapny front called Capital Export that he was seeking to bring in. Koryu sets out for Yokohama, Japan and finds herself caught up in a brawl with some shipyard toughs in a cafe. She does handle them all with the help of her cousins Jiro and Remi. (Note the usage of flies in this scene to ward off the lecherous 'pests'.)They go to her uncle's(Kondo) restaurant, where Koryu gets a message with a red rose. This rose is the calling card of Fang Shing, a singer at the Club Mandarin who was working with Mansei. Koryu goes to meet her, but is assaulted. Fang Shing gets abducted by assassins, but is promptly rescued by Seiichi Hibiki (Chiba) who escorts her to his girlfriend's ballet studio. Koryu goes to Mansei's dojo and meets with his sensei who reveals his own suspicions behind Mansei's disappearance. He also tells Koryu that he asked Hibiki to help search, and has asked another prized student, Emi(Hayakawa) to help. Koryu goes to the ballet studio to meet Fang Shing, who details how she saw Mansei get trapped. But she then goes into a frenzy caused by heroin withdrawal. At that moment, thug students of Hammerhead Inubashiri(Ishibashi)burst in to get Fang Shing again. They catch the beatdown from Koryu and Hibiki's girlfriend who shows off her own fighting chops. As this goes on, Fang Shing is assassinated by a man with a blowgun and a big-ass shield and cape. Seriously.

With Fang Shing's death, Koryu realizes that the stakes are high. Especially when she finds out that the main villain is a known magnate, Shigetomi Kazuzaki(Bin Amatsu)who'll stop at nothing to kill her. And by nothing, that also means letting loose Hammerhead and an international assortment of fighters from a Tonfa expert to the Amazon Seven, woman Muay Thai Brawlers.(Side note: that would be a dope-ass name for a rock band.)Koryu winds up in harried battle after battle until she enters Kazukaki's mansion to find Mansel and finish the cartel once and for all...

Sister Streetfighter is pure action. If you're looking for heavily detailed plot development, you will be disappointed. Not to say that the story doesn't move. You get enough to tie in all of the battles in a neat line until the final showdown. This is all due to Morifumi Suzuki's screenplay. Suzuki is best known for his work in bringing the 'pink film' genre to more popularity in Japan. 'Pink' films are essentially a broad genre that has one common element, eroticism. So you can find soft-core porn content to the extreme pornographic element in those films without any real display of genitalia in conjunction with Japanese film guidelines of the time. Toei Studios, like others during the '70's, was trying to stave off financial hardship. They would start incorporating elements of the genre more and more. Suzuki would go on to be heavily involved with a few of those films in his career. The director himself would as well. It does explain why when the film was first released in the West via New Line Cinema, it was given the 'X' rating for the gore and nudity present. In order to get it released in grindhouse theaters across the U.S., six minutes were trimmed. Most DVD releases now have the full, uncut version. But the film's greatest success belongs to Etsuko Shiomi.

Shiomi wasn't even eighteen years old yet when she made this movie, by some records. Her fighting prowess is exceptional, and gives off enough power to keep fight film fans more than satisfied. It's easy to see why Chiba enlisted her for the Japan Action Club. She also boasts supreme acrobatic skill which is a highlight in all of her scenes in the movie. This film would cement her as a box-office draw and cult figure in Japanese cinema. Sonny Chiba makes the most of his brief time in the flick too, with a snappy line to match his kicks near the end in one of the final fight scenes. Now, there is an element of cheese throughout. Bear in mind this IS the '70's. Kazukaki's get-ups are pretty much American Bandstand ready. And note that his claw hand is a direct jack from Enter The Dragon. Also, the blowgun dude from earlier? You mean to tell me NO ONE saw this dude coming with that shield? It's bigger than him!! The wire work at times can be disconcerting when combined with the director's choice at times to use dizzying camera angles for scenes. That said, there's a good amount of gore and blood in this movie. You might get a bit queasy when Koryu dispatches one of the main lieutenants near the end in a 'twist' of sorts. Evil-doers catch bad ones in bad ways, much in line with Yamaguchi's style, but also symbolic. Emi's fight scene in the end testifies to that with her final move. As much as this would seem at first to be a play off of Chiba's smash hit, Sister Streetfighter stands alone as a terrific film. Enough so that FOUR more films were done in the series in the next two years. This film may have an aura of camp to it, but it is important as a film that helped further established that women could not only be great in these martial arts films in Japan but that they could be serious box office draws.So if you want some hard-hitting action delivered by a sister with strength and grace, Sister Streetfighter is a must-see.


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