The Street Fighter films are competent enough with their plotting and execution to pass off as mildly entertaining crime thrillers. What makes them good is the incredibly well choreographed and deliciously uber-violent martial arts sequences, complimented perfectly with staples of grindhouse cinema; a generous application of the wah-wah pedal and film grain so thick that one might think the celluloid was processed with ink blots. What makes them special can be summed up in two words: Sonny Chiba.
Chiba almost singlehandedly makes these films the martial arts classics they are. His visceral intensity, like a perpetually cornered and wounded wild animal always delivering his last stand, pumps the screen full of adrenaline. His laser focus and careful calculation of every single move make his every fighting act look like ballet drenched in blood and decorated with broken bones. His ruthless demeanor and thirst for vengeance paints him as a fearless angel of death. Without Chiba's effortlessly badass presence, The Street Fighter films would have become forgettable and interchangeable footnotes in ‘70s Japanese cinema.
Don't get me wrong, as far as their plots, acting, and general execution goes, they are still fairly interchangeable. Usually, when I receive a box set comprised of multiple films in a franchise, I split up the review into blurbs for each movie, with their own star ratings. In this case, I'd just be repeating myself with the same star rating across the three features and retreading the same plot points with slightly different antagonists. Basically, each film is about Chiba's indestructible mob fixer, Tsurugi, being sent on a mission, getting double-crossed, eventually leading him to destroy an army of goons in order to get to the big boss. Along the way, there are multiple melodramatic sub-plots about the importance of loyalty and honor. The scripts are passable, and the fight sequences are terrific across the board.
What's awesome here is that Shout Factory gives us the uncut Japanese versions of all three films. They were censored for violence in the US upon their initial releases, even though they were given the X rating. Here, the over-the-top gore is presented in its full glory. You think the throat ripping in Road House was insane? Sonny Chiba sees that and says, "Hold my beer". The first two movies, The Street Fighter and Return of the Street Fighter, have just the added violence. The third entry, The Street Fighter's Last Revenge, also contains the US theatrical cut, which has some mild plot differences along with cuts to violence. I would highly recommend the Japanese cut in that case.
By their nature, these films are very grainy and full of scratches and blemishes that give these grindhouse classics their distinct aesthetic. With their 1080p transfers, from new 2K scans, Shout Factory finds a nice balance between retaining the grindhouse look with a healthy amount of grain, and updating the flicks to the modern HD age with a nicely clear transfer and colors that pop.
We get DTS-HD mono tracks in English and Japanese. Sure, the awkward English dubs give us an authentic grindhouse experience, but there's another reason why you should stick to the Japanese originals other than full authenticity: The Japanese tracks actually support a stronger mono mix with greater dynamic range and presence. For proof, switch between the two tracks while the main theme kicks in.
Interview with Sonny Chiba: This is an immersive half hour interview where Chiba goes into great detail about his acting career and his karate training.
Interview with Jack Sholder: Sholder, who later directed schlock classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and The Hidden, was the trailer editor for The Street Fighter. In this 20-minute interview, he talks about how he got into editing and how that led to his work as a director.
Each film also comes with US and Japanese Trailers and Image Galleries.
The Street Fighter films are godsends for fans of over-the-top martial arts crime melodramas. Even after almost five decades, Sonny Chiba remains a force to be reckoned with. The terrific A/V transfers from Shout Factory does justice to Chiba and his fans.