Give it up for certified UAMC legend Sonny Chiba!
Everybody has an opinion about who was the natural successor to Bruce Lee upon his death in 1973. Bruce Le, Bruce Li, The Black Dragon, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan? They all tried to strike while the iron was hot and some of them went on to popularize martial arts movies outside of the exploitation phase. But in my humble opinion, only one man blazed his own trail and developed his own style that can claim the mantle of being the worthy successor to Bruce Lee. His name: Sonny Chiba – The Street Fighter!
Released in 1974, it introduces us to the title character of Terry Tsurugi. He’s a six foot tall half Japanese, half Chinese martial arts mercenary for hire with questionable morals operating in Japan. This master you won’t find mediating or doing kata but in the weight room rocking a universal 70s style and hitting the heavy bag. This was Sonny Chiba’s only second martial arts movie even though he has been in over a hundred films since 1960 and he tapped into a zeitgeist with this character.
Chiba, who has black belts in Karate, Judo, Kendo and Ninjutsu, never stopped working in action cinema after this and even formed his own stunt team. He has immortalized by Quentin Tarantino as sword maker Hattori Hanzo in 2003’s Kill Bill. Chiba’s martial arts prowess may have been a little crude, but it’s the savagery of the fights that make these films. And savage they are!
Enter the Street Fighter
I think these fights are some of the best put to film and I am shocked their intensity were never intimated. The fights were stylized and brutal in a way we didn’t see until The Raid came along. So brutal are they, The Street Fighter was rated X for the violence alone in the United States. Surugi fights multiple opponents, a giant, a sword wielding adversary as well as a number of Karate maters one on one.
He punches people so hard they throw up on screen, reduces an opponent’s teeth to chiclets and at one point tears out a guy’s throat long before Dalton did it. He’s not above hitting a woman, but when he finds one being sexually assaulted, Tsurugi literally tears a guys junk off and holds it up in front of him.
Ultimate Martial Arts
The filmmakers also utilize the technique of using an X-ray to show the damage Tsurugi’s blows are inflicting to the human body long before the TV show CSI perfected it. And he fights with leather straps on his forearms reinforced by steel rods which allows him to block hard and fight sword wielding opponents as well as house his throwing knives. The finale sees him square off against another Karate master on the deck of a freighter during a storm.
The plot was light years ahead of what martial arts cinema was churning out at the time and really propelled the violence. A heiress is kidnapped by the Yakuza and is being forced to sign over all her holdings to the Mafia and Tsurugi and his manservant are out to get her back. There are a lot of people needing to get got in this movie.
Throw in the fact that everybody has their own martial arts master working for them and they all want to fight each other to the death to show who’s the best and you got martial arts mayhem on the grandest of scales.
Takuma ‘Terry’ Tsurugi Returns!
Terry Tsurugi returned in two more movies: Return of the Street Fighter and The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge which both continued the carnage. Forget the Sister Street Fighter series as Chiba only appears as an entirely different character. I watched the old Diamond Entertainment DVDs but I’m reading Shout Factory worked their magic and did a restoration of the remaining prints and added a kick ass poster to boot. So if Clarence would take Alabama to a screening on a first date in True Romance, maybe you should pick up a copy.
Could Terry Tsurugi take John Wick in a fight? Well, Wick never donkey punched somebody hard enough in the back of the head to make their eyeballs literally pop out… or actually stabbed someone with a gun. Yet. So all bets are even.
This author wishes to maintain his secret identity goes by the name of his favorite comic book hero Iron Fist. When he’s not collecting comics from his childhood, watching action movies or raising his three kids, he works a a police officer, trains Muay Thai, Jeet Kune Do, Kali and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Needless to say, he takes poor martial arts or sloppy gun handling skills personally. And he lives and trains in Chicago.
What are your thoughts on Sonny Chiba and The Street Fighter (1974)? Let us know in the comments!