Color, 1974, 90 mins. 53 secs.
Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa
Starring Sonny Chiba, Goichi Yamada, Etsuko Shiomi, Fumio Watanabe, Yutaka Nakajima

Color, 1974, 82 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa
Starring Sonny Chiba, Claude Gagnon, Masafumi Suzuki, YĆ“ko Ichiji

Color, 1974, 83 mins. 24 secs. / 79 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa
Starring Sonny Chiba, Reiko Ike, Etsuko Shiomi, Yutaka Nakamura
Shout Select (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Optimum (DVD) (UK R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

A The Street Fighterhallmark in the pantheon of Japanese action The Street Fightercinema and one of the biggest martial arts successes in the immediate wake of Bruce Lee's death, Toei's The Street Fighter and its two sequels made Sonny Chiba a household name in his native country and an overseas cult favorite after being "introduced" to American audiences (despite the fact that he'd been making films already for well over a decade). With its shocking levels of violence, the first film infamously made history by earning an X rating in the U.S. from the MPAA and had to be heavily censored for its R-rated reissue; the gruesome nature of the kill scenes also made it a huge hit for indie newcomer New Line, who was also hitting it big on the midnight circuit with John Waters films. The series then got a new lease on life when Quentin Tarantino made it and Chiba a focal point of his script for True Romance, filmed in 1993 by Tony Scott, and the trilogy has since remained a home video staple of action movie fans around the world.

The Street Fighter wastes no time introducing its antihero, Terry Tsurugi (Chiba) (or Takuma if you're watching the Japanese version), a down and dirty, half-Chinese problem solver seen impersonating a monk so he can use his martial arts to incapacitate and eventually free a convicted killer on death row. However, the escapee's siblings who hired Terry can't pay up right The Street Fighteraway, leading to a deadly confrontation. His next job, kidnapping wealthy heiress Sarai (Nakajima), also goes south when he turns against his yakuza clients and The Street Fightersends them on the hunt after him and the girl. With more mobsters closing in and a link to his prior job becoming all too clear, he's forced into a brutal fight for survival that will leave many mangled bodies by the end.

Blessed with a funky score and a wild performance by Chiba, The Street Fighter is still best remembered for a string of gory set pieces that still startle today. Teeth, blood, saliva, and bile all flow from victims' mouths throughout the film, with everything from skulls to throats to genitals also getting pulverized in hand-to-hand combat. (The legendary x-ray moment is still a keeper, too.) The film's success seemed to be such a foregone conclusion that two sequels were commissioned and released by the end of 1974, the same year the first one hit theaters, starting with Return of the Street Fighter. This time, Terry locks horns with the yakuza again when he's coerced into going to jail to pull of a hit that takes a bloody detour with too much revealed about the mob's phony non-profit karate school front. Chiba actually sits out a large portion of the first half of the film, and though it's still very violent, there's a The Street Fightersilly tone at times that made it a little less offensive to censors and allowed the film to escape unscathed in most territories. The Street Fighter

That situation definitely didn't carry over to the third film, The Street Fighter's Last Revenge, which was heavily cut and editorially doctored by the time it hits U.S. theaters. The uncut version was rarely seen by English-speaking viewers for many, many years, though the gist of the story remains the same either way. This time for his final outing, Terry gets shafted on his payment for another job, this time confiscating and handing over a valuable cassette (whose nature varies depending on which version you watch). Also in the mix this time is the always welcome pinky violence staple Reiko Ike (Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee's Challenge) as Aya, a mobster-hiring femme fatale who becomes entangled in a back-and-forth series of tape thefts and confrontations that find Terry becoming more of a gimmicky master of disguise. Easily the weirdest of the series, it's an amusing caper film in its own right but definitely a far cry from the hyper-violent antics of the first installment; however, seen full strength The Street Fighterit still delivers a few bouts of spurting stage blood to remind you of its origins. Plus you get to see Chiba goof around with vampire fangs in one scene.

For reasons that have never really been made clear, all three films were presumed to have fallen into the public domain by the time The Street Fighterthe DVD era rolled around. New Line had issued the films on VHS and laserdisc to tie in with the sudden interest in Chiba and the trilogy after True Romance, but a number of budget labels later issued their own DVDs, some letterboxed and more or less uncut but featuring dodgy quality with bad compression and iffy source material. The best option for years was the U.K. release from Optimum, with all of the films taken from better Toei masters and completely uncut. However, the one to go for now is Shout Select's The Street Fighter Collection from 2019, part of the label's welcome relationship with Warner Bros. and a much-needed overhaul for films that have been stuck in substandard presentations for far too long. All of the films are given separate discs and have been given fresh 2K scans from the studio's interpositives, with preexisting Japanese HD masters used to slug in extra bits in the first two films. That means these have the New Line logo at the beginning and the English-language credits, as well as English text for various location and weapon identifiers. English subtitles are also included for both the dub (standard or SDH options) and the Japanese version, with quite a few differences as you'd expect.

The first film comes with the original Japanese track, the original U.S. New Line English dub, and a different English dub created for the 1997 home video release, all DTS-HD MA mono The Street Fighter's Last Revengewith optional English subtitles. Extras include the Japanese and epic U.S. theatrical trailers, a still gallery, and two welcome new featurettes. "Street Fighting Man" (27m10s) is The Street Fighter Collectiona very entertaining Chiba interview in which he chats about how his foiled Olympic dreams led to his acting career and focus on karate, Toei insisted he do the film despite his reluctance about the focus on karate for killing, he had no involvement in the scripts or development of the character, and his signature role led to his casting in Kill Bill: Vol. 1. "Cutting Moments" (13m3s) features New Line alumnus Jack Sholder (director of Alone in the Dark and The Hidden) explaining how he came aboard as a trailer editor and dealt with sometimes vague censorship notes on the levels of sex and violence. He also goes into the Anglicizing of the actors' first names for the U.S. version and the rampant hyperbole of the film's promotion, especially when it comes to Chiba's height. And would you believe the guy who narrated those great trailers was none other than Oscar nominee Adolph Caesar? Return of the Street Fighter is also the uncut version with the New Line logo and credits, with English and Japanese mono audio with English subtitles (notably, this is the weakest sounding of the three which may be due to the original tinny mix); extras include the U.S. teaser and theatrical trailer, the Japanese trailer, and a still gallery. The Street Fighter's Last Revenge offers the 83-minute Japanese version (with visibly lower grade inserts for the exclusive footage as well as the Japanese credits) and the U.S. version, which comes in at 79 minutes. This one also comes with both the U.S. and Japanese trailers and a still gallery. Obviously, this is essential viewing and a great collection for your next movie party.

The Street FighterThe Street FighterThe Street Fighter's Last RevengeThe Street Fighter's Last Revenge

Reviewed on March 30, 2019.