Sister Street Fighter Collection
directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
starring Etsuko Shihomi, Sonny Chiba
Spin-off of the cult hit Street Fighter series, Sister Street Fighter introduces the world to Li Koryu played by Etsuko Shiomi, a female karate master and undercover police officer who is in search of her brother who has run afoul of the Hong Kong tong gangs. The original street fighter Sonny Chiba is on hand to help pass the reins to the fierce and perky Koryu for her trio of martial arts adventures.
These films never take themselves too seriously and are a blast to watch. They are clearly an attempt to cash in on the global kung fu movie craze spearheaded by Bruce Lee with prodigious output from Hong Kong studios like Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest as well product from Taiwan and the United States. The Street Fighter with Sonny Chiba was a huge hit so Toei quickly rushed a sequel and this spin-off into production.
Toei saw Sister Street Fighter as a way to also capitalize on the success of their pinky violence films with Keiko meji which were also in vogue at the time. Regardless of the cynical origins, these films are great grindhouse fare full of comic book gangsters, costumed kung fu fighters, and beautiful women who can kick ass and get naked with equal skill, except for our leading lady who is quite chaste, even while being tortured by the baddies, she remains implausibly modest.
The films, although supposedly set and populated by Chinese characters as so unmistakably Japanese that it is often confounding as they don’t feel like a Hong Kong or Japanese film but hail from some alternate universe. The films also contain quite a bit of humor of the intentional and unintentional varieties. Watch for a scene where she not only breaks a man’s neck but gives him the full 180 degree treatment.
Sister Street Fighter goes up against countless styles of martial artist who are identified with on-screen titles giving their name and style. There’s no time for exposition. Memorable for the ridiculous factor are the “Amazons Seven” a group of female fighters who fight in masks, capes, fishnet stockings and Fred Flintstone inspired tunics.
Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread has our heroine travel to Tokyo to rescue a childhood friend who has been kidnapped by a gang. She soon finds more than she expected as her own sister is in the clutches of the Yakuza. It isn’t so much the prostitution the Yakuza are interested in, it is just a side business to diamond smuggling. The diamonds are being smuggled in the buttocks of the kidnapped girls. Koryu also finds that her own sister has been blackmailed into cutting the diamonds for the gang, as well as being the boss’s mistress. The film isn’t as vibrant as the original but still has some nice atmospheric touches like a fight with a pole fighter in a thunderstorm. Hanging By a Thread is still a fun martial arts romp with plenty of fighting with a smattering of gore, torture, and gratuitous nudity.
The Return of Sister Street Fighter is sadly not a return to form. Koryu is again facing off against a Yakuza gang but the absurd, fantastic elements that made the first two films such a joy are missing from this third film. The whole affair just feels uninspired. It also doesn’t help that it is essentially a remake of Hanging by a Thread with gold replacing diamonds and heroin addiction replacing sexual blackmail. The fighting is good and Etsuko Shiomi is excellent but the film is just lacking that sparkle of sleaze that Sister Street Fighter and Hanging by a Thread were doused in.
1976 saw Etsuko Shiomi return in Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist, but inexplicably not as Li Koryu. Despite continuing with the Sister Street Fighter name and star, Toei Studios chose to reboot their franchise in, predictably, final film of the series. Fifth Level Fist opens with Kiku Nakagawa (Etsuko Shiomi) running away from an arranged marriage in TV sitcom level comedy. She goes to karate class during the title credits and then we are dropped onto the set of a samurai movie, and then into a plot to smuggle drugs inside of Buddha statues, oh and some wonky blaxploitation elements. Inexplicable is absolutely the adjective to describe Fifth Level Fist. If you just came in cold to this film it would be fair to assume it was edited together from TV show episodes. There is zero narrative flow and the whole production looks painfully cheap. Even worse it is so boring. The attempts at comedy are as inept as the fight choreography and a leaden as the plot. I’m not even sure this has enough going for it to be fodder for Rifftrax or MST3K, made all the worse because the earlier films, even the lesser Hanging by a Thread, were so much fun and Etsuko Shiomi was such a likable and effective action star.
All the films on this set look great. After years of grubby pan & scan VHS of Sister Street Fighter who knew she could clean up so well? The sound is fine and is quite suitable for the films, but it is nothing you’re going to use to show off your surround sound system. Sadly there aren’t much in the way of extras on this set. Interviews with Sonny Chiba, director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, and screenwriter Masahiro Kakefuda, along with trailers and stills. The best extra isn’t even on the Blu Ray, but is the illustrated booklet featuring essays by Patrick Macias and Chris Poggiali that explore Sister Street Fighter and the Toei karate films of the 1970s.
Although not the end-all of video sets, Sister Street Fighter collection is certainly a great pick up for fans of ’70s funky martial arts action.