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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Kill Chiba Collection
Kill Chiba Collection
Crash Cinema // Unrated // May 18, 2004
List Price: $18.37 [Buy now and save at Hkflix]
Review by Carl Davis | posted July 8, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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Before we begin, I want you to repeat these Four Words: Sonny Chiba is God!

Sadao Maeda, the man who would become Sonny Chiba, was headed for the Japanese gymnastic team when a back injury ruined his Olympic chances. Turning his athletic prowess to the Martial Arts, he eventually attained black belts in Judo, Kendo, Shorinji Kempo and Ninjitsu. In 1960, he won a talent contest at Toei Studios and adopted the stage name Chiba Shinichi, named after the Chiba prefecture of Tokyo where he grew up. Japan's biggest action star at the time, Takakura Ken, befriended him and Chiba began to appear in more films.

In 1967, Bruce Lee's role as Kato in The Green Hornet was a breakthrough that eventually led to the modern Martial Arts film. Chiba Shinichi, now known as Sonny Chiba, was the star of several successful films and TV shows and his popularity was skyrocketing. He was one of the few actors, besides Bruce Lee, who had a legitimate martial arts background, which led him to found the Japan Action Club, a school and association for stuntmen and women, as well as, aspiring action stars. The JAC was involved in almost every action film produced in Japan throughout the Seventies.

When Enter the Dragon opened and was a huge hit in Japan, it quickly dismissed the idea that kung-fu movies wouldn't catch on there. In 1974 Sonny Chiba became the number one action star in Japan with, The Streetfighter. It shocked people with it's sheer brutality and no one that saw the picture left thinking that violence resulted in anything but broken bones and loss of life. Sadly, the quality of his films began to suffer due to an increased production schedule in order to keep up with demand. As a result, it's often easier to be a fan of the charismatic Chiba himself, than it is any one of his films, but the Kill Chiba Collection contains three of his best.

The Bullet Train (1975). Little did Junya Sato know when he made this film, that it would inspire one of the biggest action movies of the Nineties, Speed. In The Bullet Train, a robber plants a bomb on a shinkansen, or bullet train, that is set to go off if the train's speed drops below 80 kilometers an hour. While the plot is the same, there's no arguing that Speed is a flat out action movie, while The Bullet Train is akin to the disaster film's that were popular during the Seventies.

Top billing in The Bullet Train is given to Takakura Ken, Sonny Chiba's mentor, with Chiba paying his respects by playing the supporting role of Aoki, the train's conductor. One thing that The Bullet Train doesn't have is any kung fu, so don't expect Sonny to cut loose on anyone. Most of his role consists of him sitting at the train's controls, looking concerned. In the end, he is the one that has to go under the hurtling train to defuse the bomb.

Surprisingly, The Bullet Train turns out to be a very suspenseful thriller, although you can probably guess how everything turns out. However, that's not to say that the film is predictable. It just is what it is, a well-paced disaster flick that's filled with tension that hurtles along as fast as a shinkansen.

The Executioner (1974). Chiba followed up The Streetfighter with an equally good, but less well-known film, The Executioner. Filled with the over-the-top violence that made The Streetfighter a hit, The Executioner gives us the best look at how good Sonny Chiba could be without being hampered by poor camerawork and editing. The action perfectly compliments Chiba's style, which consists of low crouching movements and wheezing exhalations. It doesn't look pretty, but Chiba's karate was brutal, consisting of broken knuckles, shattered bones and skewered eyeballs, much closer to a real fight and a deliberate step away from the highly stylized action of the Shaw Brothers.

The Executioner starts with three thugs being recruited for a job. The first is Toga (Chiba), a member of the Koga ninja clan. Next is an ex-cop named Hayabusa (Makota Sato), who we first see punching a criminal so hard that his eyes pop out of their sockets. The last is a sleazy martial artist named Sakura, whom Toga must spring from jail. They are hired to take down a drug lord who uses women to smuggle his cocaine. The drug lord has many well-trained fighters to protect him, so we get a lot of Chiba doing what he does so well.

The writing is typical of a low-budget action film, but this never tries to be something it's not. There is a fair amount of humor that helps to make this a funny, violent and fast-paced film. The Executioner has all the elements of the Seventies' exploitation film, sleaze, fights, gore, T&A and enough bad 1970's hair and fashions that are sure to punch your eyeballs out.

Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment (1977). Sonny Chiba plays the manga assassin, Dick Togo, in this Japanese/Hong Kong production. Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment isn't a Martial Arts film and it isn't a Secret Agent movie. It is actually a hard-boiled police drama with a healthy dose of exploitation elements thrown in for good measure. Dick Togo is a very dark character, but Chiba's performance brings us his human side as well.

Dick Togo, known by his codename, Golgo 13, is hired to kill a Hong Kong drug lord. Inspector Smith (Callan Leung) is assigned to the case and finds himself on Golgo 13's trail. As Golgo 13 is about to pull the trigger on his target, another sniper shoots first. Togo follows the trail of the mystery assassin, leading to an American diplomat in Japan. Smith finally catches up with Golgo 13 and the two of them plan an attack on the diplomat's island fortress.

Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment really had an impact on the Hong Kong film industry, because it seems to have set the tone for most of the action movies produced there throughout the Eighties. Much of Chiba's time on screen sees him performing unbelievably sophisticated sniper hits, but even with these, the violence and the T & A, Smith's scenes tend to slow the film's pacing.

The DVD:

Picture: All films in this collection are in their original 2.35.1 aspect ratio. They all also suffer from heavy scratching and film grain issues, but nothing that reduces the overall enjoyment of the movies. The Bullet Train probably looks the best out of the three pictures (even though the running time is considerably shorter than the Japanese release), but it is interesting to note that Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon contains two different language versions on the one disc, an English Dub and a Cantonese language version with burned-in subtitles. The Cantonese language version is the better looking of the two, but sadly, the English subtitles look terrible and are very difficult to read. The English Dub has the subtitles matted out from the bottom portion of the screen, meaning that some of the visual information is missing as well.

Sound: All films in this collection are in Dolby Digital Mono 2.0. It's well known that many of Crash's early releases had sound issues, but overall I found these to be in keeping with the general upkeep of the films themselves. The English Dubs aren't bad, though they can be overly dramatic at times. For some reason in The Bullet Train, Sonny Chiba is given a very inappropriate sounding voice, not very charismatic or commanding at all. The music throughout the films is always prominent and never sounds distorted, although sometimes at the expense of the full audio mix.

Extras: The only extras in this set are located on the Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon DVD. It's the only Crash Cinema disc to include both Cantonese and English versions of a film. It also includes that film's trailer, which is in Cantonese.

Conclusion: Sonny Chiba's fans will be glad to see him in some movies other than The Streetfighter series. In light of Sonny's recent appearance in Kill Bill Vol. 1, Crash Cinema has put together a nice collection of DVD's here, and the price should make this a must have. I paid $14.95 for just The Executioner a year ago. The movies could have really done with a full restoration, but at least they're in their original aspect ratios and provide a lot of entertainment value for the money. I would recommend these films, at least until someone gives them the Deluxe DVD Treatment.

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