After the success of the original ‘Street Fighter,’ a new series was commissioned involving female martial arts actress Etsuko Shihomi to provide a counterbalance to Sonny Chiba’s wild main films. Containing the same kinetic action, wild exploitation elements and crazed villains as well as letting the prowess of Shihomi shine through, this stellar example of Japanese kung-fu and martial arts is now released in a complete collection set with the rest of the franchise on March 5th from Arrow Video.
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After her brother’s disappearance, inspector Li Koryu (Etsuko Shihomi, from “Message from Space”) is assigned to look into the same case that caused him to disappear, and begins to look into the drug-smuggling ring of Yokohama. After her initial exploits in trying to get into the group fail, she attracts the attention of Hibiki (Sonny Chiba, from “Karate for Life”) who’s also been sent to look into the disappearance, and puts her in contact with a local martial arts school he trains at. When their team-up provides evidence that Shigetomi Kakuzaki (Bin Amatsu, from “The Bushido Blade”) has her brother locked away in his fortress home, she tries to free him, which results in an endless chain of henchmen sent to stop Koryu and keep their profitable business in check. Faced with the overwhelming number of enemies, Koryu and Hibiki must rely on every bit of their skill and determination to stop the gang and bring them down for good.
From the start, we get a sense of what’s on display in ‘Sister Street Fighter.’ Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi favors the wild, frenetic style that was prominent in the genre through the framing of its action scenes, courtesy of cinematographer Yoshio Nakajima. The first few fights, where we see Koryu take out the thugs in the restaurant or a later sequence at a funky nightclub where she battles the guards sent to corral the informant working there, both feature some strong martial arts choreography as well as some interesting camera-work. Being shot with hand-held cameras or angled overhead of the action looking down, the lightning-fast movements and battles here are incredibly unique and distinctive. The funky soundtracks that accompany these scenes add to the psychedelic vibe of these encounters, which creates a fully engaging blend with the rest of the film. Moreover, the other exploitation-heavy elements include the wild bloodletting as the dynamic kills on display help to enhance the feverish trip here.
As well, the more realistic brand of martial arts practiced in the film means that the performers are required to showcase more plausible and natural movements, which aren’t as dynamic as the Hong Kong variety but makes up for it with more frantic pacing. The screenplay by Masahiro Kakefuda and Norifumi Suzuki favors plenty of encounters between Koryu and the gang, from breaking up shipments at their warehouse to a stellar fight on a rocky outcrop overlooking the ocean and the multitude of fights with the various henchmen. Battling against opponents proficient in long-staffs, shurikens, throwing knives and nunchaku, among other hand-to-hand techniques, the quantity of brawls keeps this one moving along
Alongside all this great action is a fine and highly enjoyable cast. Etsuko Shihomi as Li Koryu is obviously a standout, in the action scenes, handling the martial arts with precision and power like the majority of Japanese action stars at the time. The acting segments are a tad stiff as if she were uncomfortable emoting, but the rage and helplessness she feels upon finally finding her brother are wholly believable, indicating great potential. The wild and generally oddball Kakuzaki, played by the engaging Bin Amatsu, isn’t a martial artist meaning his fight isn’t that great but his eccentric behavior of collecting martial artists and the general intensity of his determination to kill her make for a great villain. Frequent Chiba-film villain Masashi Ishibashi carries on the tradition with his role as Inubashiri, which is great as his style and skill-set are quite impressive. As she gets some assistance from time-to-time from Emi Hayakawa and Nami Tachibana as Reiko, they really don’t do much beyond offering more martial artists into the mix. With Sonny Chiba basically being Sonny Chiba here as Hibiki, the film has no shortage of engaging heroes and villains.
When looking for flaws in the film, it amounts to essentially nit-picks. While Kakefuda and Suzuki’s script gives the film a great pace, a strong story for Kakuzaki is entirely missing here with his whole story boiling down to importing heroin in wigs. There’s nothing about how that works, the process involved in doing so even though we’re shown a group of scientists surrounded by beakers and flasks filled with bright liquids, and why Koryu’s brother needs to be held back to be experimented on. Moreover, the very nature of Koryu having survived several supposedly lethal encounters with henchmen with no mention of how that was possible merely adds to the underdeveloped story at play, as this is just an excuse to engage in numerous showdowns and fights. Likewise, there’s also the wholly unbelievable amount of silly wire-works action at the end where the two bounce around and fly through the air in an unrealistic manner compared to the more realistic approach of the earlier fights. With some of the villains being quite disappointing and seemingly brought in just to add a new body to beat up and not being all that imposing beyond their weirdness. These are just the minor nitpicks holding this down.
When you’re looking for things to like in ‘Sister Street Fighter,’ the fact that you’re going to be more impressed by the martial arts skillset rather than the weak story is the main selling point of the film. Those looking for a wild, bloody martial arts film will be wholly impressed with this one.