A murky, grubby, bloody martial arts movie that exemplifies the cruelty of its title character, THE STREET FIGHTER is an X-ray shot to the skull. This 1974 picture is directed by Shigehiro Ozawa and features the matchless Sonny Chiba as an unscrupulous fist-for-hire. THE STREET FIGHTER eschews the traditions of more sophisticated fare and in fact holds a magnificent X-rating for violence in the United States, which is a trophy damn sure worth lifting high.
Chiba is Terry Tsurugi, a mercenary farming out his vehement services to the highest bidder. After helping a monk escape prison, Terry and his collaborator Ratnose (Gerald Yamada) get down to the brass tacks of getting paid. This unfortunately leads to a confrontation that has Terry sell someone into sexual slavery before taking on the next job. Our “hero” has an attack of principles and doesn’t take on the new job, which leads to a confrontation with some bad guys and a little moral justice.
If Terry doesn’t seem like a good guy, it’s because he isn’t. Chiba’s character is not a typical martial arts hero in that he doesn’t fight on the side of right just because it’s right. While the gory tide does turn eventually, Ozawa’s unethical take is a blast of fresh air. His martial arts practicality is bent on punches to the skull, blood-spattered teeth, by-hand castration. All the while, Ken Tsukakoshi lenses the action through broken doors, busted windows, high-rise apartments, and greasy shipyards.
THE STREET FIGHTER, as you can tell by now, is not a kind or gentle motion picture. It’s hard to find moral footing or goodness, but that’s the point. When Chiba’s explosion of virtuous fury does arrive, it’s delivered with angular faith. It doesn’t sprout from a change in ethics, but from a prolongation of Terry’s multifaceted past. He is the product of dual environments and his martial arts bud from that density, from that rage. It stands, then, that THE STREET FIGHTER finds its biggest strengths in bone-cracking uncertainty.