Graced with more time than before to craft this entry, director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi brings this third tale of detective Li Koryu kicking apart drug smugglers and other assorted thugs in the streets of Japan. The last film of the series directed by Yamaguchi and written by Masahiro Kakefuda with a new partner in Takeo Kaneko, this strong entry in the series is now part of the 2-disc collection released March 5 from Arrow Films.

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After a friend of hers is murdered, detective Li Koryu (Etsuko Shihomi, from “Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon”) is tasked with traveling to Japan to find his missing cousin that has disappeared into the Japanese underworld. Taking the girls’ daughter Rika (Miwa Cho) along with her, Koryu lands in Yokohama, where her friend Michi (Mitchi Love, from “J.A.K.Q. Blitzkrieg Squad”) helps introduce her to Shurei (Akane Kawasaki, from “Karate Warriors”), the sister of the girl. Together, they’re able to piece together her disappearance back to a shadowy figure in the underground, Oh Ryu Mei (Rin’ichi Yamamoto, from “Invasion of the Neptune Men”) who operates a special smuggling ring protected by a plethora of accomplished and deadly fighters. Getting deeper into the smuggling ring and facing danger at every turn from an assortment of henchmen and the enigmatic Go Kurosaki (Yasuaki Kurata, from “Flash Challenger”) that continually interrupts her mission, she uses every trick in her disposal to bust up the ring and save her friend.

As has been customary in the series, ‘Return of Sister Street Fighter’ works best when dealing with the martial arts sequences. Lovingly choreographed by Takashi Hio, these are given plenty of space within the film and are just as fun and dynamic as the other entries. Opening immediately with a gang-fight in a crowded market that sets up her mission in the film, it wastes little time after that by bringing together several more fights scenes. Writers Kakefuda and Suzuki give the film a brawl on the seaside dock, several brawls with henchmen and the death fight between the thugs to get their ranking sorted for taking Koryu on, all by the thirty minute mark, and the briskness of the pace ensures that these scenes arrive quickly enough to keep the film moving. The final brawl, in particular, is also impressive as Shihomi and Kurata get to display their skill set against the various thugs continuously coming for them which produce the requisite amount of beat-downs, snapped limbs and blood-puddles that the series was known for.

Likewise, this briskness also affords the film plenty of other enjoyable aspects. The mother-daughter relationship between Koryu and the daughter is especially prominent and more powerful than expected, filling in the gaps of the absentee mother figure kidnapped by Mei and generating some decidedly tender moments in the middle of all the fighting. Likewise, the inclusion of more general action moments gives ‘Return’ some extra bits to enjoy as the idea of seeing Shihomi hang off the side of a moving truck at high-speeds or sneak into their manufacturing lab and destroy the equipment upon dumping scores of chemicals onto it provide some thrills. As well, the main trap set-up here involving Koryu being lead to a remote shack and trapped inside when the thugs set it on fire, only to find herself stuck in a different trap altogether outside the compound that acts as a truly fun capper on the sequence. Given that these scenes are generally shot without the jerking, haphazard camera-work that plagued the second films’ sequences, the ride becomes far more fun and less chaotic now that we’re able to see everything clearly.

The strong acting from the first film also returns. Etsuko Shihomi is incredibly enjoyable in this one as Li Koryu, clearly far more at ease in front of the camera for herthird time working with director Yamaguchi. She handles the martial arts with the same aplomb as before, and given that she enjoys a somewhat tender emotional bond with the young daughter, we get to see her acting with a nice array of emotions for once, which helps to round out her character rather well. Yasuaki Kurata as Takeshi Kurosaki is playing the same character essentially from part two, even coming up with virtually the same entrance of kicking a gangster into a meeting room and demanding to be hired on the spot for his services. It takes a little variance to separate the two characters where he’s a bit more reserved this time around and the martial arts are a bit better as well, leading to a more impressive turn. As well, Rinichi Yamamoto as lead villain Oh Ryu Mei goes back to the beginnings with an eccentric, scene-stealing performance. The mostly wheelchair-bound villain who has to be pushed around to yell and berate his henchmen, whacks them continuously with his cane and then offers a special twist that renders him incredibly likable. Overall, the great cast does a lot to help this one up.

However, this does have some of the same issues as the other entries in the series. Writers Kakefuda and Suzuki have built nearly a carbon copy of the second entry, focusing on Koryu forced to enter the Japanese underground to rescue a friend caught up in the grips of a powerful kingpin smuggling raw materials out of the country, under the protection of high-class martial artists. This setup is entirely the same formula as was utilized before, and even carries many of the same beats with her having been pronounced dead several times only to have them be surprised when she keeps showing up, the enigmatic fighter played by Kurata who may or may not be on her side all along, and the finale fueled by the rage Koryu has over the death of someone working for the villain the entire time. Despite being several minutes shorter, it’s all pretty much the same thing and does feel way too familiar. He also manages to display one of the biggest blunders by taking several deadly fighters and pitting them against each other in a make-shift tournament to determine who would serve under him rather than taking them all at once, signalling the same type of fundamental error in planning that the other film had. These are what hold this one down.

With some engaging action and a lot to really like elsewhere, ‘Return of Sister Street Fighter’ returns to the fun of the original even with some of the same problems that emerged in the previous entry as the flaws are just a touch more enhanced here. Give this one a shot if you’ve made it this far in the series or just looking for a light, breezy action film while those looking to get more out of their films should heed caution.

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