Monday, November 14, 2011

'Sister Street Fighter': The cutest girl to ever kick ass

Sister Street Fighter (1978)
Starring: Sue Shiomi, Masashi Ishibashi, Emi Hayakawa, and Sonny Chiba
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When her older brother goes missing while on an undercover assignment for the Hong Kong police, teenaged martial arts prodigy Tina Long (Shiomi) travels to Japan where the drug-ring he was investigating is headquartered in the hopes of finding him. Her search brings her into conflict with dozens of martial artists in the employ of the gangsters, including the deadly Hammerhead (Ishibashi), a sworn foe of her brother. One young girl can't possibly prevail against such an array of evil, so she is joined by two Japanese martial artists (Chiba and Hayakawa) who, although belonging to a Karate school that espouses pacifism, kicks ass every bit as efficiently as Tina.

"Sister Street Fighter" is an immensely amusing and entertaining martial arts film. Sue Shiomi is quite possibly the cutest ass-kicker this side of anime. Like most actors in chop-socky movies from this period, she actually knows how to fight... and the extended battle scenes are all the more entertaining for it.

Another aspect of the film I found entertaining was the downright weirdness of it all. Although Tina is on a serious quest and fighting some very deadly enemies, the film has a cartoonish (and later video-gameish) quality to it that starts when she sets foot in Japan and feeds flies she skewers on toothpicks to drunken sailors who harass her, and continues through to the film's final battle royale. We have villains with odd quirks and signature weapons or outfits, we have trap doors that Tina just happens to stand on, we have gravity-defying leaps and martial arts moves, and we have distinct "encounter areas" where Tina faces bad guys that get progressively tougher and more bizarre.

The film also has a very little plot to get in the way of the fight scenes. The reason the bad guys go after Tina is flimsy in the extreme, and the ability she seems to have to pop up where needed (not to mention survive certain death) isn't explained, and the film moves so fast that the viewer doesn't really care. This is one movie where a lack of logic actually works!

This is not to say that the film might at one point featured a more logical, less video-game like story progression. The cut I viewed, which by all accounts is the standard North American release, had been subjected to some fairly obvious editing. Tina's first fight with Hammerhead starts in a forested area by a fence, but one jump-cut later, they are suddenly on cliffs by the sea--a chase or the beginning of the fight is clearly missing. Several gory deaths and a very unpleasant rape scene have also been truncated or completely cut from the film. These clumsy edits have probably gone a long way to making the movie seem as cartoonish as it is. (I suspect Tina's amazing survival after falling from a rope-bridge is actually explained in a version of the film somewhere out there.)

If you want to see one of the cutest martial artists to ever grace the silver screen in her first starring role--and aren't particularly bothered by logical lapses--I recommend checking out this movie.

I do want to caution those of you who might be interested in "Sister Street Fighter" because you believe it to be part of Sonny Chiba's "Street Fighter" series. The title and even the film's credits would lead you to believe that it is... and I've seen more than one online movie reviewer make a similar claim. However, the truth is that this film has nothing to do with Chiba's "Street Fighter" movies. Yes, the share several actors, including Chiba, but Chiba does not play Takuma "Terry" Tsurugi. Further, the tone of this film is completely different than the grittiness found in the Street Fighter movies... they are filled with outlandish violence, but they still feel more down-to-earth than the cartoony vibe that pervades "Sister Street Fighter". (In fact, this film was the first entry in an entirely separate series of martial arts movies that focused on Shiomi as Tina.)

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