Archive for the Sonny Chiba Category

Review: Karate Bull Fighter (1977)

Posted in Sonny Chiba with tags , on October 30, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Karate Bear Fighter 1

Starring Sonny Chiba, Yumi Takigawa, Yutaka Nakajima, Masaaki Yuhara

Fight Choreography by Sonny Chiba

Directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi

So we have now come to the last film in the Sonny Chiba Matsutatsu Oyama series (It’s actually the second in the series) and now, after having defeated the Bull in the previou film, Oyama still travels around Japan challenging schools and beating their masters soundly, most recently a master named Ryudoji, whose men try to attack Oyama later to their own dismay and mortal pain. He then runs into a friend he once served with who is now a gangster, and Oyama takes a job as a mob enforcer. This brings him into contact with a Oyama impersonator named Kozuro, and befriends him and his lady love Sumiko, who works at the local tea house. Oyama also meets an old master who tries to teach Oyama a lesson in his rod fighting style. Things go south as Ryudoji takes a liking to Sumiko, and as all baddies do, attempts to rape her while she is serving him one night, and she winds up falling out of a window to her death. Kozuro tries to take his revenge, but is no match for the karate master and is also killed, leaving Oyama to avenge them both, which he does, crippling Ryudoji, drawing the the ire of his brother, who plots his revenge against Oyama. Meanwhile Oyama travels to Mount Daisetsu near Hokkaido to bury his friends’ remains, and meets a little boy named Rintaro and his Father, who is injured while chopping down a tree, and to help pay for their medical bills Oyama agrees to fight a bull in hand to hand combat. This gets printed in the papers, and Ryudoji’s brother now knows where Oyama is. If the bear doesn’t kill Oyama, someone else will…

Karate Bearfighter Sonny Chiba

Finally. This film, more than the other two I’ve reviewed, has Sonny Chiba goes nuts in the only way he can. The other stars do a good job, but this is Sonny’s film through and through, and we get the bonus of seeing the real Masutatsu Oyama performing a kata with his students at the opening of the film. The story is interesting, and broken up into two parts, the parts with his friends Kozuro and Sumiko, and then Hokkaido and his relationship with Rintaro. Both carry a level of weight to it, with the exception of one of the silliest moments seen in a martial arts film since kung -fu gorillas: Oyama’s fight versus a bear, which is obviously a man in a suit, and is just as silly as you’d think it would look.

Karate Bear Fighter 2

The fights here are the best in the series, to me, as they feature the Sonny Chiba Fist Strike of Mortal Pain. That’s right, Sonny Chiba kills a lot of guys, and as he does in his other films, this fist strike is incredibly painful-looking and provides the person struck with it a merciful death from the intense pain that was just inflicted. Not to mention the blood flows fairly steadily in this one.

The fights throughout are entertaining if short, and even the final fight is well done. It really is the most “Sonny Chiba” of this film series.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8

This is the best of the Sonny Chiba Masutatsu Oyama Series, featuring old school Sonny Chiba fights. Not to be missed!

Advertisements

Review: KARATE FOR LIFE (KARATE BAKA-ICHIDAI) (1977)

Posted in Sonny Chiba with tags , on May 23, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

karateforlife

Starring Sonny Chiba, Hideo Murota, Masashi Nakada, Kohjiro Hongo

Fight Choreography by Sonny Chiba

Directed by Kazuhiro Yamaguchi

The film opens with Masutatsu Oyama (Chiba), now infamous for his fights with a bull and bear, finds himself on the outs with the Japanese Karate society, ‘cause who can respect a guy who beat the crap out of a bull with his bare hands? Surely he wouldn’t be a good martial arts teacher. Oyama gets work as a gangster, and so, to pass the time, Oyama travels to different dojos challenging their teachers. Oyama travels to one particular dojo at the beginning, and fights the entire school during the opening credits, delivering whoop-ass after glorious whoop-ass. The students even cheat, and are still unable to win. Finally Oyama fights the Sensei, and wins, blinding the master in one eye. The Sensei vows revenge, and from there Oyama goes back to his job as a bouncer for the local gangsters. He soon gets an invitation to go to Okinawa and fight in what turns out to be glorified wrestling matches in which Japanese are supposed to lose, to provide entertainment for the American soldiers there. The local mob also controls this enterprise, unknown to Oyama. The mob made three glaring mistakes here:

1. They expected Oyama to lose.

2. They tried to kill him once he decided that no, he doesn’t lose. This is Godd***n Sonny Chiba, people!

3. They didn’t succeed in killing him. A common, fatal mistake for all Sonny Chiba villains.

Before the rampage of blood and death that we know will drastically reduce the population of Okinawa, Oyama has his plane money stolen by a bunch of kid thieves he has to track down. He befriends these children (luckily for them) and tries to work to earn money for them all.  As things do, it turns bad for Oyama and the kids, and all that’s left is revenge. Trust me, Okinawa didn’t have enough graves to put all the dead Oyama left in his wake…

karateforlife3

This is the third film in Sonny Chiba’s Oyama Trilogy, along with Karate Bull Fighter and Karate Bear Fighter, telling the tale of Matsutasu Oyama, one of the greatest karate fighters of all time.  Sonny is, well, Sonny, and he’s as good as ever. The other actors are all good with their parts, and many of them are Sonny Chiba mainstays. The fights are good, but there are no rivers of blood here like in Chiba’s other films, but that doesn’t take anything away from them. The fights still show off Chiba’s karate style very nicely, but as I warn in any of these kind of reviews, if you are a kung-fu film aficionado, you may have to adjust to the pacing of the karate fights here. The tempo and cadence are different from Hong Kong fare, so go into the film with that in mind.

karateforlife1

The scenes with the kids were odd compared to Oyama’s new venture as a gangster, which in itself was odd compared to Chiba’s portrayal of Oyama in the previous film, which, if you read my review of Karate Bull Fighter, that film also suffered from a contradiction from the first half of the film to the second. The final fight is bigger and better than the previous film, but the the opening of the fight was truncated in a way that was frustrating, but the next round somewhat made up for this (I’m referring to the fight outside of the mob mansion, and then ensuing fight inside.) The mobsters die nastily, and many limbs were broken, as they tend to be in a Sonny Chiba film, but the final fight with the main villain was something to behold. Not because it was good, but because it ripped off the mirror room fight at the end of Enter The Dragon wholesale! I had to roll my eyes at this, and it took me right out of the film.

Best moment: In the fight inside the mob mansion, once Chiba gets a staff and starts wrecking house, he sweeps a guy off his fight and stabs the guy with the staff, and to put all his weight one it he strikes what has to be one of the coolest “see me now, bitches?” poses in the history of ever.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 7

Chiba brings the goods as normal in an adventure slightly better than his previous outing as Oyama. Much karate mayhem ensues, but it’s not as crazy as most of Chiba’s films.

Review: Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)

Posted in David Carradine, Gordon Liu, Sonny Chiba with tags , , , on October 14, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sonny Chiba, Gordon Liu, Kenji Ohba

Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

 

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

 

-Old Klingon Proverb

 

For years Quentin Tarantino has made films that hearken back to the films that he loved from the 70’s: crime films, black exploitation films, and guys-on-a-mission movies. He’s paid homage (or ripped off, depending on what side of that fence you sit on) to all of these films, but, to this point, his crowning achievement may very well be Kill Bill.

Kill Bill’s story revolves around The Bride (Thurman), an assassin who was part of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad led by the enigmatic Bill (Carradine). The operative word is “was” as she is seen after being beaten by the other members of her Squad, and finally shot by Bill as the film opens. We then fast forward to the home of fellow assassin Vernita Green (Fox) an expert knife fighter whom The Bride comes to take her revenge, but finds the venue not what she expected. We then are treated to flashbacks to show how she survived being shot, to how she gets a truck named “Pussy Wagon”, and her journey to Okinawa to have a special sword made by Hattori Hanzo (Chiba, who also played the character in his Shadow Warriors TV series in 1980).

The Bride then makes her way to Japan, to settle the score with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), who controls the Yakuza, with her crazy sidekick Gogo Yubari (Kuriyama) and her right hand man Johnny Mo and his Crazy 88’s. The Bride intended to murder and kill her way to a confrontation with Bill, who has secrets of his own that could change everything…

Kill Bill is first and foremost a revenge film, and one of the best of its kind at that. Uma Thurman, in what is probably her best role, is fantastic as The Bride, and is able to convey the vengeful emotions that can make you sympathize with her, even though she is really no better than any of the people she dispatches in the film. You don’t get to see David Carradine much, but his voice and presence is felt throughout the entire film. You barely see Michael Madsen at all in this film, but sets himself up nicely for the next. Vivica A. Fox makes the most of her small role, and provides a good mix of menace and vulnerability. Lucy Liu is the main antagonist for this film, and she pulls it off nicely. Gordon Liu, who probably should have the name “Master” in front of his name, like the Brits get knighted and called “Sir”. Gordon doesn’t have much to do acting wise, but he’s cool doing it. Sonny Chiba, on the other hand, shows he hasn’t lost any of his on screen charisma, and while he doesn’t get to fight, does a great acting job, especially his hilarious back and forth with long time friend and protege Kenji Ohba in the sushi house scene. The only disappointment is there wasn’t more of them. Chiaki Kuriyama is great as the insane Gogo, and pulls off the craziness really well. Daryl Hannah, like Carradine and Madsen, makes an appearance and sets her character up very well, but we don’t get into her character until the next film.  The anime that tells the story of Oren Ishii is fantastic, and takes what could have been something ho-hum in live action and makes into a great scene in animation. My one gripe, if I have one, is that for a film that features so many Japanese characters Tarantino couldn’t get Yasuaki Kurata into the mix? I think there is scientific evidence that exists proving Kurata makes everything 100% better.

Yuen Woo Ping does his normal masterful self in choreographing the fights, and it was pleasant to see him doing so for an American film without tons of wire harness stunts. The opening fight between Thurman and Fox is simply a fantastic way to set up the film, as it is so well done, and both women look way more convincing as martial artists than anyone in the later Matrix films. That fight, a brutal mix of knife play and hand to hand combat is masterfully shot, and sets up everything else in the film nicely, even though the style of choreography changes as the mood of the film does.

The Bride’s fight with Gogo is also great, and features the most wire work in the film, and I think that was done to pay homage to the films that DO use wire harness stunts, as the sound effects puts everyone on notice that yes, they are doing something unreal. The crowning achievement here is the fight between Uma Thurman and the Crazy 88’s, which is a bloody masterpiece of severed limbs and gigantic blood sprays. The fight with Lucy Liu is also well done, but there are a lot of far away shots, so it’s hard to tell how much of it is them or their stunt doubles.

Kudos to Tarantino for mentioning Charles Bronson and Chang Cheh in the film credits.

 Kiai-Kick’s grade: 10 

A fantastic achievement of a film by Tarantino that respects and pays homage to the kung fu and samurai sword films of the 70’s and early 80’s. A well-told story that never lets up, and finishes in an exciting and bloody climax!

NEXT: Shu Qui, Karen Mok and Zhao Wei take on Yasuaki Kurata in So Close!

Review: Karate Bull Fighter (1977)

Posted in Sonny Chiba with tags , on July 11, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Sonny Chiba, Masashi Ishibashi, Kenji Imai

Fight Choreography by Sonny Chiba

Directed by Noribumi Suzuki

Matsutatsu Oyama is the Japanese name for Choi-Baedel, a Korean Karate master who founded Kyokushin Karate, and has been the subject of a few films, the last being the excellent Fighter in the Wind. Before that Sonny Chiba took a few stabs at the character, and made a film that looks as if it tried to be somewhat accurate, but then remembers that this is a Sonny Chiba film, and folks gotta die…badly.

The film starts as Matsutatsu Oyama (Chiba), dressed in a raggedy gi, comes to a karate tournament, ran by Chairman Nakasone, to test his skills, and Oyama wins, but is upset when he finds that all of the sparring is basically a dance, and no real contact is made to test his skills. While leaving the hall angry, he runs into a young man named Shogo Ariake, who wants to train with Oyama, and eventually Oyama takes him in as a disciple, even though Oyama is preoccupied with Chiako, his true love, but Oyama finds that Ariake is more unhinged than he could’ve ever imagined, and soon he uses the karate Oyama teaches him to go wild, killing anyone who insults him or Oyama, and causes a chain of events that leads to Oyama killing a man in self-defense, and takes penance by working on the farm of the man’s widow and son, hoping for forgiveness, but Nakasone has a trap planned to make sure Oyama never returns to the city…

I had a really odd time with this film, as I always have Fighter in the Wind always playing in my head, as some scenes mirror that film, but the events are a little different in some cases, very different in others. The film is properly dramatic, and even somewhat tragic, but in the last act it’s gets tossed out of the window. So Oyama kills this man, who tried to kill him with a knife, by the way, and Oyama is so torn up about it he leaves Chiako to go live in the barn of the widow’s house, befriend the son, but then, after he’s forgiven, leaves the farm to go kill about half the population of Japan without batting an eyelid. It’s as if a producers said “Enough of this historical sh**t! This is a Sonny Chiba film, dammit, and there hasn’t been nearly enough of a body count!” 

While I enjoyed the end fights, it just seemed contrary to everything that happened in the previous hour. Sonny Chiba is…well, Sonny Chiba, but does a good job, and Mashashi Ishibashi once again plays Chiba’s whipping boy, whom Chiba’s killed in so many films I wonder if it’s in his contract. I found that Nakasone was a weak villain, but Ariake was a far more formidable opponent, but his story is cut short just as he was a more compelling problem for Oyama to deal with.

The fight scenes were good, as Chiba’s usually are, but as I’ve said before in other reviews, if you aren’t used to Japanese Karate movies it may take some time to get used to, as their fights have a different cadence and choreographic style from Kung-Fu films. The final fight is the best, but once again abandons the earlier story of the film. The best moment may involve the fact that as the fight goes on Oyama gets tired, which you rarely see in martial arts films. He’s beat, and has to catch his breathe as the fight goes on, and in one moment he hides in tall grass from the men chasing him, and one man falls on him, and the terrified look on his face was classic as he braced himself for the death strike he knew was coming, but died badly anyway.

Now that’s Sonny Chiba. But not necessarily Masutatsu Oyama…

( On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (6) The fight in the middle of the film and at the end are okay, and Chiba gets to show off his trademark karate skills, but it’s weaker in many respects to some of his other films. I looked forward to getting a showdown with Ariake that never came.

STUNTWORK: (7) The stuntmen did a great job, and really sold their scenes, particularly when one of them gets killed by Chiba. These guys know how to make it look as painful as possible.

STAR POWER: (9) It’s Sonny Chiba. Look out for the real Masutatsu Oyama at the very end of the opening credits…

FINAL GRADE: (6) Karate Bull Fighter is a decent film hurt by the fact that they chose the wrong storyline to follow. Ariake was the correct one. Ditching the drama to shoehorn in Sonny Chiba action ultimately hurts this film (and yes, I see the irony of saying that).

NEXT:  Stephen Chow and Norman Chui retell the legend of Beggar So in King Of Beggars!

Review: The Executioner (1974)

Posted in Hiroyuki Sanada, Sonny Chiba, Yasuaki Kurata with tags , on September 5, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Sonny Chiba, Makoto Sato, Eiji Go, Yutaka Nakajima, Yasuaki Kurata, Hiroyuki Sanada

Fight Choreography by Sonny Chiba

Directed by Teruo Ishii

There are karate movies and then there is The Executioner. There are batshit crazy films, and then there is The Executioner. There are Sonny Chiba films, and there is the Executioner. This is a film that defies all expectations and genre definitions. Did I mention It’s also really insane? Insane like “are you f***ing kidding me?” crazy.

The film stars out normal enough. The story begins as we meet a young Ryuichi Koga (a really young Sanada) who is heir to the Koga ninja clan, and his father, who brutally trains his son in order for him to be ready to take over the clan. He constantly disappoints his father at every turn. Years later the adult Ryuichi (Chiba) absolutely hates his training, and decides after a brutal joint dislocation training, he decides to hell with this, and after a small fight with his father, bails. He decides to then use his ninja skills to open up his own…wait for it…private investigation agency. By the way, I do have to mention two important items. One, Ryuichi is a great fighter, but sucks as a ninja. I know TMNT Foot ninjas who are better. Also, he sucks at being a PI, and is in dire need of money. This brings him into the orbit of one Takeshi Hayabusa (Sato), a former police narcotics section chief who resigned in disgrace and now works as an Assassin who only kills other Yakuza mobsters. Both men are teamed with a third, Ichiro Sakura, and are hired by former Commissioner to take down Yakuza man Mario Mizuhara, who is involved in the massive drug trade that is washing over Japan. Together, the crew go on a mission to bring it all to an end once and for all, or at least until the next film. It all sounds pretty straightforward…

…and then they lose their minds.

Where to start? Okay, just for instance, at the beginning of the film Hayabusa bursts in on his target, a mobster who is making love to a woman. The mobster offers Hayabusa money to kill the man who hired him, and Hayabusa accepts, but since he never balks on a deal, he kills the man. The naked woman who witnesses this begs for her life by offering herself to him, which Hayabusa accepts, and they have sex right next to the body of the dude he just killed. Also, Hayabusa has a crazy habit of laughing for no apparent reason. A crazy-he-should-be-a-Batman-villain kind of laugh.

Now we come to Ryuichi. Sucks as a ninja, awesome fighter, but he suffers from one giant weakness. Naked women. Yes, he has a thing for naked ladies, and anytime he sees them he gets distracted enough while fighting hardened killers to take note of every part of them. Really takes the time to burn them into his memory. Chiba is his awesome self as always, and is a brutal killer, even ripping a dude’s rib out during a fight! For Chiba, he did fatalities long before Mortal Kombat did. He should probably sue, or ask to be put into the game.

This film also takes a moment to be sure to cram as many naked women into the film as possible. Does it serve any purpose? Not. A. Damn. One. Also, each of the three principle characters play mean practical jokes on each other the entire film. Like commenting constantly on Sakura’s penis size, or leaving someone chasing their own getaway car after a heist. There’s even a scene where Ryuichi beats up an assassin in front of the assassin’s naked girlfriend, who cheers for Ryuichi to kill her man. There’s also dudes who die by getting punched on top of the head so hard their eyes pop out of their sockets in hilariously fake scenes. There’s even a death where a good guys yells out one of the most ridiculous last words ever committed to film that will have you laughing for quite a while.

The fights are done in the classic Sonny Chiba style, meaning it’s brutal. It doesn’t have the back and forth of Hong Kong fight choreography, as most of the battles are decided in only a few hits, many times only one hit is needed to end someone. Some of them do end with crazy kills like strikes so hard it pops out someone’s eye, gouging another dude’s eyes, or a rib gets ripped right out of the person’s body. I actually feel sorry for most of the bad guys, as they all die really horrible, painful-looking karate deaths. Yasuaki Kurata has a really small scene in the film, but it gives him a chance to fight using Bruce Lee style fight choreography, which he does well, doing a fantastic homage to Bruce.

So you may ask, should you watch it? Yes, it’s crazy like a Troma film. But it has Sonny Chiba and Yasuaki Kurata, which is never a bad thing. It also has lots and lots of nudity, which can be good or bad, depending on your own POV. It all adds up to a film that is extremely entertaining and fun. I honestly never knew what was going to happen next, or what I would see next. It sure as hell isn’t for a general audience, but if you love Sonny Chiba, it isn’t anywhere near his best film, but far away from his worst.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The fights are all classic Chiba style and done well for a karate film, and Yasuaki Kurata does well in his Bruce Lee style fight. There could have been more fights, though.

STUNTWORK: (8) All of the stuntmen did a good job here. They took some nasty looking spills, and their acting is great. Probably the best “death-throes” acting stunt team out there.

STAR POWER: (9) Chiba is here, as is Yasuaki Kurata, but Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai,Twilight Samurai, The Promise, Rush Hour 3 (no one’s perfect)) was a star pupil of Sonny Chiba who was able to get into this, his first film. He just finished his work on 47 Ronin with Keanu Reeves.

FINAL GRADE: (8) This is a Sonny Chiba film that came from the asylum. Crazy and eclectic, this is a karate film that has a logic all its own. I’m sure many drinking games can be made here. Not Sonny’s best, but very entertaining.