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    Ian Jane
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  • Welcome To The Grindhouse: The Bodyguard/Sister Street Fighter

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    Released by: Demios/BCI Eclipse
    Released on: August 14, 2007.
    Director: Simon Nuchtern (The Bodyguard), Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
    Cast: Sonny Chiba, Jiro Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Aaron Banks, Bill Louie/Etsuko Shihomi, Hiroshi Miyauchi, Sanae Obori, Sonny Chiba, Emi Hayakawa, Masashi Ishibashi
    Year: Various
    Purchase From Amazon


    The Films:

    Tarantino and Rodriguez' ode to trashy seventies exploitation movies may not have set the box office on fire but it did manage to convince a few home video companies to follow in their footsteps by releasing some interesting 'grindhouse' themed releases. BCI Eclipse is one of those companies, and this entry in their Welcome To The Grindhouse
    double-feature line pairs up two fine offerings starring the Bad Man From Japan himself, Sonny Chiba - The Bodyguard and Sister Street Fighter.

    THE BODYGUARD


    “The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper, and the father of lost children. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am Chiba, the Bodyguard, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!”


    This altered quote from the Biblical book of Ezekiel over top a gang of Karate warriors practicing their moves starts The Bodyguard off with a bang. While Tarantino might have stolen the idea for Samuel L. Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction, he wasn't able to steal Chiba's charisma which completely carries elevates this rather goofy film and positions it as a completely enjoyable exercise in seventies martial arts cinema.


    When the movie begins, Sonny's on his way home from a trip to the Big Apple. A half dozen evil terrorists try to highjack the plane, so he takes it upon himself to waste the punks using nothing but his hands and his mad karate skills. Obviously, when the plane lands, he makes the news and he announces at a press conference that he's going to hire himself out as a bodyguard to those who can help him fight crime - specifically, take down a drug smuggling ring. Sonny's just not down with drugs at all and he makes this painfully clear by chopping a glass Coke bottle in half with his hand. Soon enough, the lovely Reko (Mari Atsumi) hires him on board. She's a little scared as her NYC mafia boss boyfriend was just wasted by the local Yakuza and she's worried that she's next on their list based on what she knows about a dope deal gone bad.


    What Sonny doesn't know is that behind his back, Reko is trying to finish off the unresolved drug smuggling operation so that she can cash in on the dope and live happily ever after with her boy-toy, Takami (Ryohei Uchida). But, as cinematic drug deals tend do, this one goes sour fast and soon enough Sonny's trying to protect his client from the Yakuza and a few other interested parties.


    While the plot is, to be blunt, kind of stupid the film moves along at a reasonably good pace and features enough action, violence and wacky head scratching moments that it's way too much fun to simply discard. Chiba carries the film admirably, bringing more machismo to his lead role than any one man has a right to bring. Along the way arms are ripped off, eyes are poked out, heads are cut off and many bones are broken, the film's excess highlighted by the unexpectedly artsy scene where Sonny's younger sister is laid naked in the form of a cross by some hoods who carve Cosa Nostra into her flesh.


    It should be noted that this version of The Bodyguard is the U.S. theatrical cut that was re-cut for Aquarius Releasing in 1976 after the commercial success of New Line's imported dubbed release of The Street Fighter. It is not the original Japanese cut (known as Karate Kiba) which was released in Japan in 1973. At the time of this writing to the best of this writer's knowledge there has never been a home video release of the original version. Terry Leven shot a new intro starring Aaron Banks and Bill Louie, both of whom Leven would use again in First Of Fear, Touch Of Death, which was also released by Aquarius.


    SISTER STREET FIGHTER


    The first film in the series was spun off of the success of Sonny Chiba's famous Street Fighter
    films; with a cameo appearance from Sonny himself ensuring that there'd definitely be a crossover audience for this inaugural entry.

    When the movie begins in seventies Hong Kong, Tina Long (Shihomi) has just found out that her brother Lee (Hiroshi Miyauchi) has gone missing somewhere in Yokohama, Japan. What she didn't know until now was that he was working as an undercover narc trying to bring down an international heroin smuggling ring operating between Hong Kong and Japan. To try and do her part to help her brother out, Tina hops on the next plane to Japan and once she lands, she starts doing some detective work of her own.


    The more she snoops around, the more she learns and soon enough she traces things back to a dope king named (Bin Amatsu) whose gang of minions are smuggling smack by hiding it in wigs! She knows that he has got Lee stashed away somewhere so she starts fighting her way into the deeper layers of his organization. Unfortunately, the drug lord's right hand man, Hammerhead (Masashi Ishibashi), is pretty rough stuff as are the Amazon Seven (a group of ladies in cavewoman outfits) but thankfully she's got a couple of allies, namely Sonny (Sonny) and Emi (Emi Hayakawa), to help her out should the going get tough.


    Shihomi was only eighteen years old when this first film was made and there are a few spots in the movie where she looks a little nervous, but for the most part she gives her all here and while the martial arts scenes would get better in the later films, she's got a really endearing naivety to her here that goes a long way to making her character so likeable -she's cute, but she'll kill you if you cross her. Shihomi also did all of her own stunt work in the film, her training at Chiba's Japan Action Club having paid off well.

    Fast paced and deliriously seventies to its core, Sister Street Fighter is a blast. It's worth noting first and foremost that the U.S theatrical version of the film presented on this DVD is roughly five minutes shorter than its Japanese counterpart (the uncut Japanese version is included in the Sister Street Fighter Collection boxed set). Directed with plenty of style and flair by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (the man behind Chiba's Mas Oyama trilogy made up of Karate Bullfighter
    , Karate Bearfighter and Karate For Life) and co-written by Norifumi Suzuki (of Sex & Fury and School Of The Sacred Beast fame), there's a great pop-art sensibility to the first movie that makes it completely watchable and rather impressive on a visual level.

    The action moves quickly in the film, and the violence reaches levels comparable to those seen in the Chiba films that inspired it - eyeballs are plucked and limbs are severed and there are more bone-crunching blows here than you can count. Combine this with a relatively standard but completely effective plot and some truly intriguing comic-book style bad guys and the film comes up a winner.


    Video/Audio/Extras:


    Both films are presented in their original 2.35.1 widescreen aspect ratio in anamorphic transfers that attempt to replicate the 'grindhouse experience.' This means, they're not restored and are instead transferred in such a way so as to replicate old worn film prints and on that level, the transfers are fine. Most of us would probably have rather seen properly restored versions, however, as the colors are faded and there's a bit of print damage here and there. That said, it's nice to finally see The Bodyguard in widescreen, even if it's the U.S. cut of the picture and not the original Japanese version. The Sister Street Fighter transfer, which is of better quality than The Bodyguard, is noticeably brighter here than it was in the boxed set release but is otherwise almost identical to that release in quality.


    Both films are presented in their English dubbed versions, Dolby Digital Mono style. Expect some mild hiss and a snap, crackle and pop once in a while but the audio is pretty much always well balanced and the dialogue is easy enough to understand. Neither film sounds particularly good, but the sound mixes are serviceable enough and again, they sound like they probably would have when they were projected in low rent fleapit theaters.

    Extras are limited to trailers for Ninja Wars, Burnout, Kill Point and The Kidnapping Of The President as well as feature presentation and intermission bumpers.

    The Final Word:

    While this release doesn't replace the need for a Japanese version of The Bodyguard it at least presents the film in widescreen for the first time on home video in North America and in reasonably good quality. Die-hard fans have probably already got the Sister Street Fighter collection but the set is available at a very fair price making this fun, trashy karate double feature pretty much a no-brainer for Chibaphiles.
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