Monday, March 3, 2008

27th April 2007: Kung Fu Sisters double!

Sister Street Fighter

Japan 1974 colour

Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi Writers Masahiro Kakefuda, Norifumi Suzuki

Cast “Sue”/Etsuko Shihomi (Tina Long), Sonny Chiba (Sonny Kawasaka), Hiroshi Miyauchi (Lee Long), Sanae Obori, Kenji Ohba, Tatsuya Nanjo

Number three in the Street Fighter series sees Sonny Chiba play second banana to “Sister” Street Fighter Etsuko or “Sue” Shihomi, a cute yet ferocious tigress discovered by Chiba in the early Seventies who cast her in an uncredited supporting role in the original Street Fighter and who played opposite her in much of her thirty-plus film career.

Here Sue Shihomi plays Tina Long, an unlikely undercover agent called in to investigate her brother Lee Long’s disppearance. She discovers he’s been captured by a super-villain megalomaniac with a steel claw strapped to his fist trying to out-do Dr Han from Enter The Dragon, whose lair serves as a private zoo for his collection of strangely-outfitted karate killers. Brother Lee, it seems, is now a sad heroin-soaked rag doll used as bait to capture Tina, and thus destroy her protector Sonny Chiba’s karate school forever.

The first Street Fighter was a grim exercise in brute force and nihilism; this pseudo-sequel designed to cash in on the Street Fighter tag is more a frenetic pop-art collage that owes more to Batman than Bruce Lee. With crash zooms and exaggerated camera angles, a fight scene every five minutes to a fantastic Seventies action score, and a bizarre array of masked and caped villains, including Hammerhead and his thugs in wicker basket hats, it’s so fast-paced and deliriously nutty you can’t possibly fault the plotholes and insane logic.

Sonny Chiba has little to do as “Sonny Kawasaka” other than show up in two epic fight scenes and utter a few howls from underneath his knotted monobrow. It’s really Sue’s film, and Sister Street Fighter proved so successful it turned Sue Shihomi into Japan’s top female action star and prompted two of its own sequels. So sit back, snort a line or two of wasabi and enjoy the rush of watching not one but two of Japan’s greatest trash icons at work in the 1974 Sister Street Fighter.

TNT Jackson

Philippines/USA 1974 colour

aka Dynamite Wong Meets TNT Jackson

Director/Producer Cirio H. Santiago Executive Producer Roger Corman Writers Ken Metcalfe, Dick Miller

Cast “Jeanne”/Jeannie Bell (Diana 'T.N.T.' Jackson), Stan Shaw (Charlie), Pat Anderson (Elaine), Ken “Metcalf”/Metcalfe (Sid)

The Seventies was the decade the American drive-in market invaded the Philippines, and leading the charge were two local filmmakers, Eddie Romero and Gerry de Leon. The deluge of horrors, ridiculous science fiction and women-in-prison features they created ushered in the country’s Golden Age of Exploitation that lasted until the early 90s. When both de Leon and Romero turned their backs on the export market in the mid-Seventies, filling their admittedly large shoes was Cirio H. Santiago, producer on many of their B-grade adventures and a driving force behind the family-owned Premiere Productions (one of the Big Four studios of the Fifties and Sixties).

In the late Sixties, Santiago cemented a lifetime partnership with Roger Corman, and through his films as producer and director for Corman’s B-film distribution companies, you can almost chart the last thirty years of exploitation: the women in prison genre, Mad Max and Platoon rip-offs, and endless (not to mention ludicrous) variations on the kung fu formulae.

TNT Jackson is one of Santiago’s earliest films for Corman, made at the height of the blaxploitation AND kung-fu craze. Former Playboy Playmate of the Month for October 1969, Jeannie Bell plays Diana Jackson, a baby-faced kewpie doll with a ragged two-tone afro and kung fu action grip, who turns up in “Hong Kong” looking for her brother’s killer. She infiltrates a local drug ring her brother was mixed up in, run by Sid (played by Santiago regular and TNT Jackson scriptwriter, the late Ken Metcalfe). His right hand man Charlie (Stan Shaw) is a would-be Jim Kelly complete with out of control ‘fro and open-mouthed squall to match, who TNT falls for before discovering he’s her brother’s killer.

Naturally, a low-budget shoot for Corman sometimes means ten, maybe seven days shooting two or three films back to back with next to no money. So if this film looks cheap, it was probably made for less money than you think. Another Corman motto is, “If you’re onto a good thing, beat it to death with a big stick.” And that’s what Santiago did - once the blaxploitation craze died down, he remade TNT Jackson twice with white female leads as Firecracker (aka Naked Fist, 1981) and Angel Fist (1992).

What TNT Jackson lacks on the T&A Jackson front, it more than makes up with endless, mindless fight scenes, including one in a Chinese cemetary between TNT and Sid’s white hooker girlfriend Elaine - without sound effects! Enjoyably and unbelievably trashy, and with one of the best death scene endings in kung fu history, we are proud to present a killer from Manila, TNT Jackson.

1 comment:

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