The Best Movie Critic + review

Lost and Found: The Street Fighter (1974)

I can't say why it has taken me so long to get into martial arts movies. Out of any genre, this one has always been elusive. A lack of comfort probably played into it: I couldn't figure out where to start. Enter the Dragon gets your foot in the door, but where do you go from there? And the packaging doesn't help. Whereas horror, sci-fi, film noir, westerns, and any other genre distributor you can think of lavishes the genre classics with high-profile, deluxe releases, most kung fu classics are lucky if they make it onto one of those '50 Movies for $10' box-sets you see at Walmart. Eventually I just had to dig in on faith that there were nuggets of solid gold somewhere deep down in the dirt heap.

And my patience has been rewarded with kickass movies like Master of the Flying Guillotine, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, and The Legend of the Drunken Master. However, this has all been a very, very recent development. I'm talking in the last year, max. It was a different story way back in 2003 as I sat in a suburban multiplex having my mind blown by Tarantino's Kill Bill. Love or hate Kill Bill, understand that prior to that movie, I and many of my generation of movie geeks had little knowledge of martial arts movies. By populating his story with the legends of genre past, Tarantino presented us kids with the key to opening the proverbial martial arts door. After seeing Gordon Liu as the Bride's sadistic kung fu master, Pai Mei, it was only a matter of time before I tracked down his starring role in 36th Chamber. Likewise, though his display of martial arts prowess was limited as Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill, Sonny Chiba simmered with enough attitude to tip me off that a trip down filmography lane was in my near future. The most important stop would certainly be 1974's The Street Fighter.

In The Street Fighter, Sonny Chiba plays Terry Tsurugi, who I guess is sort of the 1970s martial arts version of Rambo or John McClaine or something. Unlike those badass, hardass-but-still-lovable stand-up guys, Terry Tsurugi is kind of an asshole. Not a lovable asshole, just an asshole. In the movie's third scene, he sells a girl into sex slavery just because she couldn't pay him the money she promised. Don't worry, later on he avenges another girl who is about to get raped. Oh, the first girl? Yeah, she got raped.

This is just the tip of the plot-confusion iceberg. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. The sheer madness of The Street Fighter's plot is half its charm. I won't come close to doing it justice here, but more or less, Terry is approached by the mob to kidnap a rich CEO's daughter, but they won't pay him enough, so he ends up working for the CEO's daughter and her best friends in the good guy ninja school (that might not be their real name). So Terry ends up working for the good guys. Pretty cut and dry, right? Wrong. You remember that girl Terry sold into sex slavery? Well she had a brother who's understandably pissed and attempts to foil Terry by joining up with the mobster bad guys. So, to recap, Terry (bad) is working for karate fighters and businessmen (good), while angry brother (good) is working for mob (bad). The movie plays out as if Terry is a jerk with a secret soft side, except that he really doesn't have a secret soft side. In addition to the whole sex slavery thing, he calls his best friend 'Ratface' and yells at him all the time. When he first meets the above mentioned CEO's daughter, he makes out with her by force just to prove what a badass he is. But he's kind of like that bully from grade school who thinks that everyone else thinks he's cool for beating up fat kids, except that everyone just thinks he's kind of sad and pathetic.

The Street Fighter, while not perfect by a long shot, is nevertheless full of those bizarre, wonderful moments that make off-the-beaten-path martial arts movies worth seeking out. About halfway through the movie, the filmmakers bless us with a Holocaust-esque flashback that is supposed to explain Terry Tsurugi's behavior, but is so over-the-top it just makes everything seem all the more crazy and manic. There are some pretty great fight scenes in the movie – specifically Terry's battle with the karate school master – and even when the fights are not as great, Sonny Chiba makes up for it with his must-be-seen-to-be-believed facial expressions. The Street Fighter's questionable morality makes it worth recommending, if nothing else. The other person I watched the movie with thought Terry Tsurugi was supposed to be the bad guy, and questioned why the bad guy won at the end. And if none of that does it for you, kindly skip the rest of this article and go straight to the 'Magic Moment,' which will probably go in the 'Magic Moment Hall of Fame' whenever I get around to making one of those.

So why, you might ask, if I have seen The Street Fighter, am I including it as a 'Lost and Found' feature, which is typically reserved for movies not released on DVD or out of print. Yeah, its kind of a stretch. The Street Fighter is available on DVD. However, it's really only halfway there. The DVD quality is so poor, it's almost difficult to watch. The dub is atrocious. The voice actors change several times over the course of the movie, often with hilarious results: At one point, they call the protagonist 'Perry Teroni' for about 5 minutes. I'm not joking.

Another unfortunate side effect of these low budget kung fu movies is that they sometimes don't play nice with newer TVs. I was all hot and bothered when I purchased my fancy-pantsed new HDTV. Little did I know that cheapo non-anamorphic DVDs like the 'Martial Arts Masters' boxset I found The Street Fighter on can't play in the proper aspect ratio on my TV. It's either centered in the middle filling up about a quarter of the total screen, or else stretched to the edges, giving all the characters 'fat face.' The Street Fighter qualifies for 'Lost and Found' because it is only 'half-found.' I would love to see a restored version get a quality BluRay release, like what Dragon Dynasty is starting to do with some kung fu classics. Until that day, I'll cherish my shitty quality copy of The Street Fighter, if only to show my unsuspecting friends... well...

Magic Moment: (BADASS SPOILER) When Terry literally rips off a rapist's penis and testicles with his bare hands.

-Ben

‘Lost and Found’ is an ongoing column, wherein I discuss a noteworthy movie that for whatever reason has never been released on DVD, or is otherwise unavailable for my viewing pleasure.

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Lost and Found: The Street Fighter (1974) + review