• Street Fighter Box Set, The



    Released by: Optimum
    Released on: 1/24/2005
    Director: Shigehiro Ozawa, Teruo Ishii
    Cast: Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shiomi, Hiroshi Miyauchi, Claude Gannyon, Frankie Black
    Year: 1974-1975

    The Movie:

    Seeing as I’ve already reviewed the VCI release of the Street Fighter films, howzabout I take the lazy way out and do the ol’ cut and paste job and just make the appropriate modifications to reflect the specifics of this brand new set from the United Kingdom’s Optimum Releasing?

    Inspired by the international success of Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon, Toho Studios decided that it would release it's own martial arts action films, and cast in them the man who at the time looked like the successor to Bruce Lee's crown, Shinichi 'Sonny' Chiba (star of The Executioner, Bullet Train). Chiba had been well known in Japan for a while, having starred in quite a few successful action, comedy and drama films, as well as numerous television shows. Thus was born The Street Fighter (known in Japan as Gekitotsu! Satsujin-Ken) in 1974, the film for which Chiba remains best known for to this day, almost thirty years later. It's also one of historical importance as it was the first film to receive an 'X' rating for violence, rather than sexual content.

    With black belts in multiple forms of Japanese martial arts, his brutal fighting style would bring an air of savage and intense brutality to the screen that hadn't really been seen before. Where Bruce Lee's characters fought with honor and an even tempered mind, Chiba's Takuma (Terry to his English speaking pals) Tsurugi was more likely to rip out your throat and steal your woman when you weren't looking. He was a complete and utter bad ass in these films, and it's this role that put him in the same tough guy league as Death Wish's Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood's classic tough cop, Harry Calahan from the Dirty Harry films.

    In 1993 the films received a bit of a resurgence in popularity in North America when they were featured in Tony Scott's True Romance (written by Quentin Tarantino), which had the two lead characters spending time at a Sonny Chiba Street Fighter marathon.

    All three films are presented here uncut.

    The Street Fighter

    Chiba plays Takuma Tsurugi, a tough mercenary with amazing karate skills who isn't afraid to take on the dirtier jobs that come his way as long as the price is right. He tools around with his buddy/assistant Rakuda No Cho (Ratnose in the English versions, and played by Waichi Yamada).

    Shortly after Takuma busts out of prison, a very wealthy business man dies and leaves his fortune to his only daughter. The local Yakuza hire Takuma to kidnap her – morals be damned, this man is in it for the money. The only problem is that they don't want to meet his price, and instead, they decide to try to knock him off to keep him quiet. This is obviously a bad move on their part, and Takuma quickly turns around and starts working for the daughter, and protects her from the Yakuza who are out to steal her inheritance.

    Carnage ensues - throats are ripped out, skulls are crushed (in riveting x-ray vision!), and limbs are torn off of torsos as Takuma punches and kicks his way through the Japanese underworld, all to the beat of one of the greatest soundtracks in all of the martial arts films.

    The first (and best) of the four films, Street Fighter has a fast moving plot (sure there are a few holes, but it's not hard to overlook them) and some solid direction from Ozawa, but the crowning achievement of the film is Chiba and his tough as nails performance. This is the film that made him the consumate Japanese tough guy – no one is badder than Takuma Tsurugi in all the annals of action moviedom.

    The Return of the Street Fighter

    Chiba teamed up again with Ozawa shortly after the first film for an almost immediate sequel, The Return of the Street Fighter.

    Starting off with a bang, we find Takuma involved in a brutal fight with the local police that culminates with Tsurugi jumping out the window. The cops are after him for taking out a key witness for a less than legitimate client, and he obvioulsy doesn’t want to do time for this. He then has to finish the job by killing a Yakuza accountant who betrayed the gangsters, all while avoiding the police and various underworld factions out to for his blood.

    While it's not as good as the original film, Return of the Street Fighter still has some really great moments, highlighted by a crazy fight scene on top of a snow covered ski slope. Unfortunately, the film relies too heavily on flashbacks to the first movie, and also suffers from 'lack of Chiba syndrome' as Sonny is only featured in about 40 - 45 minutes of the film. 'Lack of Chiba Syndrome' would also plague the other third film as well. He just doesn't have enough screen time in the later parts and the films do suffer for it. Despite that major strike though, Return Of The Street Fighter continues the grand tradition of exploitative violence and balls out action that the first film handled so very, very well.

    The Street Fighters Last Revenge

    The next entry in the series is noticeably softer than the first two films, as we find Takuma involved in a scheme to obtain one of two tapes containing a secret recipe for making cheap but high quality heroin. But of course, things get complicated when he gets cheated, so he wants the tape back to keep the crooks who hired him from profiting from his work.

    While very entertaining in its own right, Street Fighters Last Revenge is closer to a violent James Bond movie than the other two entries are, as we find Chiba playing less a mercenary type and more a master of disguise. Still, if you enjoyed the first two films, you'll probably be into this one as it's still a lot of fun. This entry is also considerably campier than the first two films, and is played with a more tongue in cheek attitude and has noticeably toned down violence compared to the earlier entries in the series so don’t expect the over the top fights and gratuitously gory moments that punctuated the first two films in the series, cause it ain’t gonna happen here.


    Video/Audio/Extras:

    While all over the other ‘public domain’ releases of these films from the likes of Brentwood, Diamond, VCI, Front Row Entertainment, Platinum, Treeline and their ilk have looked okay thanks to the fact that they were all sourced from the New Line laserdiscs (or were reburned from the Diamond DVDs, which in turn were sourced from those aforementioned Laserdiscs and were, as far as I know, the first to hit the market) these new releases from Optimum were remastered from 35mm film elements and seeing them on these DVDs makes a world of difference. While the discs are all single sided and single layered, and the bit rates are not through the roof, the colors look much better, the contrast levels are more natural, and there is nary a trace of mpeg compression or edge enhancement to be found. Just check out the detail in Sonny’s maniacal grin at the end of the first film where he’s laying in the rain with a chunk of ‘neck meet’ in his hands, grinning like the real mean bastard he is – you can make out every crevice in his face and every hint of the gleem in his eyes.

    The only complaint worth stating is that there is a slight green tint to the first film in the set. It isn’t overpowering, and it isn’t overly distracting or horribly noticeable, but it is there if you look for it. Some scenes also look just a little bit too dark when compared to the earlier releases (though it’s possible that they were meant to look that way and that the earlier discs were too light).

    Regardless, Optimum should be commended for being the first DVD company to properly release these films in licensed, remastered versions. Seeing them in brand new 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfers that have been appropriately released is a true blessing for Chiba fans.

    Each of the three films is presented in its original Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix with optional English subtitles that are clean, clear, and easy to read without any typographical errors worth noting. Dialogue is crisp and never difficult to understand at all, the films’ fantastic soundtracks (someone should put these out on CD) comes through with some real punch and all the bone crunching sound effects and foley effects are distinct and precise. Those familiar with the English dubbed versions may also notice a few subtle differences between the subtitles and the English dubbed dialogue – nothing that seriously alters the stories or characters, just a couple of different takes on basically saying the same thing.

    Each disc repeats the exact same extras – a still gallery, a Sonny Chiba biogralphy, and trailers for the three Street Fighter films as well as for Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon, Yakuza Deka, it’s sequel Yakuza Deka Marijuana Mitsubai Soshika (in which we see Chiba smokin’ the cheeba!), G.I. Samurai (as Time Slip), and Bullet Train. Hopefully this means that the two Yakuza Deka films (as well as the other titles) will be getting decent DVD releases from Optimum in the not too distant future.

    The Final Word:

    While this release for the British market tops any of the other releases so far in terms of audio and video quality, the Street Fighter films are still slighted in the extra features department. Hopefully the rumored Region 1 release will rememdy that, until that happens, this is the set to get and Optimum’s The Street Fighter Box Set comes highly recommended.