Sunday, December 23, 2007

30/03/07: Good Kung Fu, Bad Kung Fu double #2!

Return Of The Street Fighter

Japan 1974 colour

aka Satsujin Ken 2

Director Shigehiro Ozawa Writer Hajjime Koiwa

Cast Sonny Chiba (Takuma Tsurugi), Yôko Ichiji (Kitty Pinboke), Masashi Ishibashi (Junjo Shikenbaru), Shingo Yamashiro (Man in Sauna)

Last month we played the original Street Fighter movie with Japanese karate icon Sonny Chiba playing fists-for-hire killing machine Terry Tsurugi. The end of the film promised The Return Of The Streetfighter, and with Chiba as the Japanese equivalent of Bruce Lee - only nastier - the producers obviously knew they had a successful cash cow on their hands.

In Return..., Tsugury played by Sonny Chiba sets out to bust up a phony charity put together by the Yukuza. Taking on the mob singlehanded is what the Street Fighter does best, but when he’s forced to eliminate Masaoka, a man he actually admires and respects, he refuses the job and goes underground from the criminal underground. Chiba’s sidekick this time is Kitty Pinboke played by Yôko Ichiji, a token hippie chick whose command of Engrish, even in its dubbed form, is limited to phrases like “groovy” and “far-out”. Chiba is no better, uttering lines of dialogue like “Nobody can trust a girl who jives like that!” from under his furrowed monobrow.

As a sequel, Return was always going to be a comedown. For one, it borrows heavily from the first film and relies on too much good will from its audience. Secondly, it substitutes the garish ultra-violence and nihilism of The Street Fighter with a goofy good-natured humour; Chiba’s sadistic nature is already established, so the filmmakers don’t have to show you just how black his soul can be. I want twice as much fluro red blood, and twice as many X-ray cracks to the skull. Is this too much to ask? I say nay.

Having said “nay”, Return Of The Street Fighter is still a great martial arts revenge film, and Chiba is truly in top form, beating his opponents to a pulp from the first frame of the film and destroying entire sets with his bare fists. With two more Street Fighter films still to come, we are proud to present the king of Japanese pulp cinema in the first sequel, the 1974 Return Of The Street Fighter.

The Dragon Lives Again

Hong Kong 1977 colour

aka Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu

Director Kei Law Writers Shek Ke, Wai Leung

Cast “Bruce Leong”/Siu-Lung Leung (Bruce Lee), Alexander Grand (James Bond), Jenny (Emmanuelle), Eric Tsing (Popeye)

Bruce Leong or Liang was one of the four best-known Bruce Lee imitators, and starting with Little Superman in 1975 he had quite a successful run in the “Bruceploitation” cycle until he disappeared in Communist mainland China and reappeared almost twenty years later playing the main villain in Steven Chow’s comedy hit Kung Fu Hustle. He was one of the Clones Of Bruce Lee in the outlandish 1977 exploitation hit of the same name, but his most bizarre role has to be in the 1977 The Dragon Lives Again.

In what might be the most ludicous scenario for a kung fu movie, Leong plays the recently deceased Bruce Lee, streched out on a table in Hell’s waiting room with a huge erection under his sheet - to the tune of “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas. Watching is the King of Hell’s daughter who becomes obsessed with seeing if his little Dragon does indeed live again! Before long Leong teams up with Clint Eastwood, Zatoichi and the One-Armed Swordsman to battle a trio of criminals planning on taking over the Underworld - Dracula, the Exorcist and James Bond, with their army of guys in skeleton costumes - presumably what Sam Raimi was referencing in Army Of Darkness. Oh, and I forgot to mention Popeye. Who slaps down a trio of mummies Three Stooges style. Oh yes.

Dedicating the movie to the spirit of Bruce Lee seems like the ultimate slap in the face for Bruce-baby, but it’s all part of its freewheeling, take-no-prisoners Mad magazine satiric sweep. Phallocentric pop culture out of control? Quite possibly, but think of it also as a playful post-modern comic book for Asian audiences who would have been hooting with laughter at the appearance of each movie character. Even the French porn icon Emmanuelle pops up (phwoar), as does the original Drunken Master himself Simon Yuen.

Thirty years on audiences are usually hooting with derision, but unfairly so. This is bad, BAD cinema at its very best, guaranteed to make you titter like a schoolgirl and make your head spin off its axis. If you’re ready, then so am I for the most insane excursion into Bruceploitation territory, the 1977 The Dragon Lives Again.

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