Sister Street Fighter (Japan 1974)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 2/27/00
Cast: Etsuko Shiomi (Sue Shiomi), Sonny Chiba

A powerhouse showcase for Japanese kick-ass cutie Etsuko Shiomi. Li Mansei is a top karate student and an undercover agent working for the Hong Kong government. He disappears while trying to bust a heroin smuggling operation, so his sister Koryu (Etsuko Shiomi) sets out to find him. With the aid of the students from her brother's karate school, she kicks and punches her way through a group of eclectic enemies and increasingly difficult obstacles to get to her brother and the villainous dope ring leader. Guess what? He gets his ass whupped by her.

An excellent martial arts film that holds up even by today's standards. While lacking the precision and finesse of Hong Kong martial arts films, it makes up for it in intensity and brutality. Sonny Chiba shows up for a pointless extended cameo, but his three or four fights are quite satisfying. Etsuko Shiomi (who was only 18 years old when she made this film) is in top form - she looks great and her fighting is excellent. The only thing that's unsettling about her is how much she resembles Bruce Lee, both in her expressions and posturing. It's really quite eerie. I can only imagine this was done on purpose, as the film world was still desperately trying to fill Bruce Lee's shoes during this time period. The production values are good, but the camera tends to be overly shaky and the fight scenes are poorly lit. But the film's biggest weakness is that it's often painfully stupid. The motivations of the villains are just downright baffling - maybe it was the effect of the heroin operation? Towards the end of the film, the bad guys lure Koryu to an abandoned factory in order to finish her off. But they only bring three men. Stupid... And one of these men engages Koryu in the stupidest nunchaku fight I've ever seen. The two of them just stare at each other and perform nunchaku katas until one of them runs away. Seriously? Give me a break. Then as a last resort, the head villain brings in a professional speargunner to take care of Koryu. Wait a minute - a professional speargunner?!? For the final showdown, the villain rips off his shirt and dons a glove with knives on it, glaringly similar to Mr. Han from "Enter The Dragon" (1973). They then proceed to duke it out in a dark hallway full of bats. Huh? But despite all this silliness, it's all played very seriously and is still a lot of fun to watch. To quote the villain, "It's more fun than a car full of gorillas." I'm not really sure what that means, but it sure sounds good.

Notes on the DVD version: Interestingly, the trailer for the film features a LOT of fight footage that didn't make it into the final cut, which is unfortunate because some of these scenes are better than what the actual film has to offer.