Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Street Fighter (1974)

The Street Fighter (1974)
seen @ Spectacle Theater, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

Quentin Tarantino used to work in a video store, and so he's become representative of video store geeks everywhere, and that's understandable. Over the course of his career as a movie director, the stories he's written, for himself and others, have been deeply influenced by the old movies he saw over and over again, movies that are (or were) far off the beaten path.

My seven-and-a-half-year tenure as a video store geek wasn't too different from that. I was deeply into current independent and foreign films during this period, the mid-90s to the early-00s, which was a great period for indy film in general. It led me to seek out other obscure films and recommend them to customers whenever possible.

That said, though, there was always somebody else, another co-worker or two, whose film knowledge ran much deeper and much more obscure. I'd feel proud recommending a film by a director the average customer had never heard of, like, say, Atom Egoyan or Jim Jarmusch, but meanwhile there's this other guy talking about Mario Bava giallo films or some rare Japanese bootleg he picked up in Chinatown.

It felt like a competition sometimes, I admit, especially during the first few years, when I didn't know anything at all and I had to play catch-up so I could justify my position. After awhile, though, I learned to accept that there would always be someone whose cinema skills outweighed my own.

So when I saw True Romance, a film Tarantino wrote, on video, I was curious about these Street Fighter films that Christian Slater's character talked about, but as well-stocked as my video store was, we didn't have those at the time. After awhile I forgot about it - until I saw the original one for the first time at the Spectacle, the tiny screening room in Williamsburg, last weekend. (They're showing the entire series throughout the summer.)

The ultra-violence from star Sonny Chiba wasn't too surprising; one tends to expect that sort of thing in martial arts movies from Asia. Even the "impact" moments, for lack of a better description, struck me as typical bizarro Japanese cinema (when Chiba hits one dude in the head there's a split-second moment where you see a negative image of both fist and head, like an X-ray).

Chiba's character is pretty brutal. He's much more of an anti-hero than Bruce Lee, not above taking liberties with the heroine just because he can, for example. Given that, the presence of a bumbling comic sidekick seems really surprising (one who's not all that funny either). But I suppose even a movie like this felt like it needed some kind of humorous outlet, unlike other action movies I could name (but let's not get into that again).

The audience seemed like they were pretty familiar with the movie, in particular one girl who tossed out the occasional quip. I didn't mind; this is clearly a pure-entertainment movie, not heavy drama. My surprise and delight at seeing an African-American actor speaking Japanese in this movie was slightly mitigated when he turns out to be a rapist. Chiba takes care of him, though, in a way that my uber-feminist friend Jenny would heartily approve of, I think... and that's all I'll say about that!

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