Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Return of the Sister Street Fighter (1975)

Original title: Kaette kita onna hissatsu ken

After her adventures in Japan in Sister Street Fighter and Sister Street Fighter: Hanging By A Thread, everyone's favourite female martial artist Koryu (Etsuko Shihomi) has again returned to her native Hong Kong. To nobody's surprise, she isn't going to stay there long, though. Sho, a private detective friend from Japan (played by Sonny Chiba's decidedly less awesome brother Jiro) comes to tell her that her old friend Shurei (Akane Kawasaki) has disappeared and is probably held captive by the criminal organization of a certain Oh Ryu Mei. For some reason, the detective is also bringing Koryu Shurei's little daughter Rika. The only lead Sho can give Koryu about Shurei's disappearance is the last person Shurei spoke with before she disappeared, a woman named Suzy Wong in Yokohama. Then, it's time for Sho to get killed in the mandatory attack on our heroine's first informant.

Now, there's really not much else for Koryu to do than to pack her bags and Rika and go to Yokohama. As always, the bad guys are starting a series of failed attempts on Koryu's life once she arrives, and as always, she (and in this case Rika) puts her trust into a junkie who is secretly working for the bad guys - in this case Shurei's sister Reika (Miwa Cho). Of course, there are lots of fighting, a little sneaking and crying and a redemptive death or two in Koryu's future, as well as the "surprising" revelation that the least freakish character (Yasuaki Kurata) among Oh Ryu Mei's killers isn't a bad guy at all.

Plotwise, this third and last Sister Street Fighter movie is quite a disappointment. Although the first and second movie were already a bit similar to each other, this one is more or less a remake of Hanging By A Thread, just with an even more ridiculous - and therefore satisfying - gold smuggling plan and a few elements pilfered from the first movie added to the mix. In theory, this sort of recycling is too cynical even for an exploitation movie, and should lead to the sort of movie that puts me into an even more annoyed mood than is my natural state of mind. In practice, I didn't mind the films lack of originality much, because Return - despite everything -still does manage to be a slightly different film from its predecessors.

For one, Return is quite a differently directed movie than the other two parts of the series, with (on the negative side) fewer of the moments of colourful visual excess Kazuhiko Yamaguchi seems to like to put in his movies as often as possible, but (on the positive side) also an even greater emphasis on keeping the action tightly flowing. Yamaguchi always has shown a hand for the latter in his movies, but often seems to prefer the weirdly psychedelic or the full-blown freak-out to the dynamic. That's of course lovely too, yet a script as close to that of a film that was made less than a year before is better served with getting a different treatment, as happens with Return.

And really, I'm not going to complain much about a martial arts movie full of exciting martial arts sequences. That would be rather silly.

Another reason not to complain about Return is the nature of its main villain. Oh Ryu Mei has the most Blofeld-like sense of style of all the main villains in the Sister Street Fighter movies (although he prefers a guy with a ridiculous hair cut who works as a food taster and wheel-chair driver to a cat), a sure way of showing his henchpeople who's boss, a lair that also makes excessively clear who is boss - what with him sitting five meters above his henchies, and an electric fist. Confronted with this kind of evil, I'm utterly helpless.

The rest of the film is as you'd expect: Etsuko Shihomi is awesome and cute (and sort of looking like a friend of mine, actually), the child actress annoying, the evil assassins silly as you could wish, the soundtrack funky as expected in this sort of Toei production, and everything's over and done with an hour before most films made in our century would be. It's a film that never overstays its welcome, and that is as generous with its bits of awesomeness as it is with its fight scenes.

So it's all good.


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