Writers: Manfred Kakefuda, Norifumi Suzuki
Producers: Kineo Yoshimine, Kenji Takamura
Cast: Sue Shiomi, Sonny Chiba, Harry Kondo, May Hayakawa
Year of release: 1974
Reviewed from: UK VHS (Stablecane Video)
Sister Street Fighter is one of the most brilliant, most bonkers, most hugely entertaining martial arts films ever made. It is sort of a spin-off from the Sonny Chiba Street Fighter movies, in that it co-stars ‘Sonny Chiba, the Street Fighter’ but his character is different in this film.
The actual star is the phenomenally cute Etsuko ‘Sue’ Shiomi who made several other films with Chiba including The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge, The Bodyguard, Message from Space and Dragon Princess. Only eighteen when this picture was made, and dressed in either a grey and red Chinese collar-less suit or white pyjamas, she kicks and punches her way across the screen with yells and squeals and a cheeky smile. She is great, displaying the same sort of evident delight in what she (or her character) is doing that distinguishes the great martial arts stars. You always get the impression that Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan love their jobs; you never get that impression with Steven Segal or Don ‘His movies drag on and on’ Wilson.
Shiomi plays Tina Long, sister of a missing Chinese undercover cop named Lee Long, star pupil of the Shorinji School of Martial Arts. Lee has disappeared, Tina is told by a balding Hong Kong police chief, while investigating a drug-smuggling operation. It is up to his sister to save him, initially by making contact with another undercover operative, working at the Club Mandarin and named, um, Fanny Singer.
At the club, which features topless dancers behind the bar, Fanny Singer is identified by a red rose on her thigh. Trying to leave, she is accosted by gangsters but runs out the back when Tina throws a fork into a hood’s hand. Fanny is caught in an alleyway and although Tina beats up some of the gang, others bundle the dancer into a car and drive off - only to be halted by a mysterious stranger (Chiba) who beats them up, takes the car (with Ms Singer in it) and drives off.
At Central Trading Co., the front for the drug smugglers, the guys who failed to kidnap Fanny successfully are berated by their boss's second-in-command, a beaky guy in a sharp suit who looks like he should be second from the left in the Flying Pickets. Suddenly, in bursts Hammerhead, a gang leader who dresses like an ancient swordsman and leads a squad of goons with odd, bucket-like helmets on their heads.
Meanwhile, Tina visits the Shorinji School where pupils are taught about love and zen and peace and karma and a whole load of other tree-hugging hippy crap: “Harmony between yourself and others is the basic condition of the karate fighter.” Wise old master Shorinji pledges the assistance of himself and all his pupils in tracking down and rescuing Lee Long. The odd bit of this is that the logo of the school is a reversed swastika, clearly displayed on everyone’s tunic and on the wall (in fact, the camera focusses in on it). Presumably it is being used in its ancient Sanskrit, pre-Nazi concept, but still...
Tina is introduced to star pupil Emmy Kawasaki and also recognises young Mr Chiba who is, it transpires, martial arts teacher Sonny Hibachi. He has Fanny safely hidden away at a dance school, where young ladies are practising ballet to the strains of Ponchielli’s 'Dance of the Hours' (or ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah’ if you’re an Allan Sherman fan). Fanny tells Tina that her brother was captured breaking into the headquarters of chief bad guy Koki. She gives Tina a lock of Lee Long’s hair, then has a fit and starts screaming that she needs heroin.
At this point, Hammerhead’s bucket-headed goons barge into the dance school looking for Fanny (as it were) but discover that the dance teacher is none other than ‘Shinobu Kojo - karate of the Ryukyu School’. We discover this too, through the first of several similar freeze-frame captions. Miss Kojo successfully fights the bucketheads with the assistance of Miss Long, but when Tina returns to Fanny she is just in time to see her shot by a poison dart. This emanates from a guy on a rooftop opposite who has a Mohican haircut, a billowing cloak and a large African shield - ‘Tettoso - blowgun of the Takasago School’. Before making his escape, he takes a potshot at Tina but succeeds only in killing a canary in a birdcage.
By now, the film has established itself as something much more than just another chop-socky flick, oh yes.
At Koki’s bayside mansion, complete with Olympic-sized swimming pool, we see some more of his killers training”
- Tessin - the sickle user
- Neray - ancient Chinese martial arts
- Eva Parrish - karate champion of Australia
- Amazons 7 - Thailand kickboxing
- Hachigen Ma - Japanese cudgel play
Koki then shows Hammerhead how he manages to smuggle heroin without the authorities spotting it. In a laboratory deep in the bowels of the Koki mansion, scientists are hard at work saturating wigs in A-class drugs! That’s right - wigs. It may sound bonkers, but - well, no, it just is bonkers. Emmy Kawasaki is onto him and finds, on the dockside, crates of wigs being exported from Japan to Hong Kong. She fights Koki’s goons with the surprise help of Tina, who survived the fall from the bridge. As the Koki gang’s truck catches fire, one of them yells the immortal line, “Save the wigs!”
Tina’s uncle turns up at Koki’s place, trying to pass a message to Lee Long, but is forced by the rascally Koki - who makes him watch his daughter being raped - to call Tina and tell her to meet him. Of course, when she turns up it proves to be a trap and she is forced to fight first Hachigen Ma and his pole of death, then Neray and his lethal clubs.
Tina manages to smuggle her way into Koki’s lair by hiding in the back of a truck, but Oki has a new pet killer - Reverend Star. This fellow is a former preacher who comes equipped with dog-collar, wide-brimmed hat and that essential ecumenical accessory, an armour-piercing spear-gun. Reverend Star kills Lee Long in front of his sister, then perishes by his own spear-gun...
...whereupon Tina falls through a trapdoor and regains consciousness hanging upside-down surrounded by Koki and his chums. Koki’s mistress, previously seen being thrown into the swimming pool by Hammerhead, gives Tina a good Ilsa-style whipping and Flying Picket-man gives her another lash for good measure. Then a flame is applied to the rope which holds her and we eventually see, just before it breaks, that she is suspended over a pit of steel spikes. Fortunately, she is athletic enough to somersault out of trouble just as the rope snaps, and pushes Ilsa on to the spikes for good measure.
What a movie. The fights are mostly terrific. Sonny Chiba is always great value, but so is Miss Shiomi and the inclusion of all these oddball specialists just makes a good film great. Though one has to wonder whatever happened to Eva Parrish, karate champion of Australia, who never reappears. The whole film is populated by eccentrics and the plot makes just enough sense to follow whilst making just enough nonsense to take the film to a level rarely attained by such pictures.
Some martial arts films are worth a watch, some are unwatchable, but Sister Street Fighter (Onna Hissatsu Ken) is one that I can watch again and again. This VHS tape was released in 1986 and has a cover painting of Shiomi based on a photograph of her (seen on the back of the sleeve) in a completely different film. the back-cover blurb reckons that the story is set in Tokyo although an on-screen caption clearly identifies it as Yokohama (and it certainly looks more like the latter). More amusingly, the film apparently features Sonny Chiba as ‘a super karate master and Ninja - a fighter who can become invisible.’ Well, if Chiba’s character ever becomes invisible in this story, he only does so whilst off-screen. (Or maybe not, actually...)
Just remember: save the wigs!
MJS rating: A
Review originally posted 1st March 2005