Dragon Princess (Japan 1976)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 2/20/00
Alternate Title: Sonny Chiba's Dragon Princess
Cast: Etsuko Shiomi (Sue Shiomi), Yasuaki Kurata, Sonny Chiba

An entertaining karate romp featuring the utterly adorable and ferocious Etsuko Shiomi. After karate instructor Sonny Chiba is defeated by a nasty rival, he and his daughter are forced to move to either New York or Los Angeles (they mention both interchangeably). There, he ruthlessly trains his daughter (Etsuko Shiomi) in karate to avenge himself. After his death, Etsuko returns to Tokyo and begins her bloody road to vengeance and ultimately salvation. (I was reminded of Chun Li from "Street Fighter II" - "Once I avenge my father's death, I can live my life as a normal girl.") She hooks up with Yasuaki Kurata who also has a bone to pick with the evil karate instructor, and together the two of them kill everybody. The fighting is excellent, though marred by sloppy camera work and pan-and-scan cropping. Etsuko Shiomi is awesome. She fights with intense ferocity, but tempers that with elegance, beauty, and tragic frailty. She's the ultimate reluctant hero - a tormented little girl who wants to lead a normal life, but circumstances force her into becoming a killing machine. Yasuaki Kurata is also excellent. His form is top notch (as always) and he fights like a son of a bitch (when he isn't cropped offscreen, that is). Definitely enjoyable, but the sexist attitude toward Etsuko tends to undermine the strength of her character. Yes, she's a girl, and no, we don't need to be constantly reminded of that fact by putting her in situations where she has to prove herself to a bunch of idiot males who don't take her seriously. I thought that's what American films were for.