The Street Fighter Trilogy is a set of legendary martial arts films starring Shiníchi “Sonny” Shiba, where he plays Takuma “Terry” Tsurugi: The Street Fighter, The Street Fighter Returns and The Street Fighter’s Revenge. Tsurugi kicks the Yakuza’s ass over the course of the three films as they get considerably sillier.
The trilogy was made very quickly—all three films were completed in 1974—and made Chiba a major genre star. He had already been in a massive number of movies, doing five or more films per year since the early 1960s, but this was his breakthrough moment for international success. They were released to the grindhouse circuit and ran as part of double bills, having been picked up for US release in an early New Line Cinema distribution deal.
For a couple of decades, most people in the West only knew of the trilogy because in the film True Romance (written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott), Christian Slater’s character Clarence goes to see a martial arts triple feature for his birthday that is the Street Fighter films, and that’s where he gets together with future partner in crime Alabama. Tarantino later used Shiba in the first Kill Bill movie as swordmaker Hattori Hanzo. This backstory has given the Street Fighter Trilogy a legendary reputation, and the version that I had imagined after seeing one clip of the first film in True Romance is, sadly, better than the actual films.
The Street Fighter, first in the series, is hands down the best of three. It was also rated X just for violence. Chiba’s character plays a crazy kung fu master. The highlight is a moment in this first film when he breaks someone’s head and it cuts to an X-ray—which was a genius touch. The final water-soaked fight scene on an ocean liner is also a great action set piece. However, the story is just nonsense: there’s the Mafia and the Yakuza, an oil heiress that Tsurugi needs to kidnap and/or protect, a dodgy karate dojo, and so on.
The sequels are much the same, and the charm eventually decreases. The second film also relies on far too many flashbacks to the original, which is never a good sign. By the final film it’s morphed into more of a James Bond/special agent scenario. Shiba is great as the bad-ass action man, and that’s what makes them worth watching. But having built up in my mind for two decades how great these films must be, the reality could only disappoint.
If you are a fan of these kinds of movies, you will probably like the Street Fighter films. While they are goofy, it’s not played for huge comedic effect like a Jackie Chan film. Sometimes you wish they might have leaned more into an out-and-out ridiculous comedy version. I watched the subtitled version in the original Japanese, but I actually think the dubbed ones would probably be better—which is usually not the case—because it would add a whole extra level of absurdity.
This new Arrow remastered Blu-Ray release is packaged with quite a few extras, including a new audio commentary from Andrew Heskins and James Mudge for The Street Fighter, a new audio commentary by Jonathan Clements for Return of the Street Fighter, new interviews with Chiba and director Jack Scholder (who introduced Chiba to the US market and also cut the US trailer for The Street Fighter), original US and Japanese trailers, image galleries, and an illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing on the trilogy from Mark Schilling and Chris Poggiali.