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  Sister Street Fighter Don't mess with the twisted sister
Year: 1976
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Stars: Etsuko Shiomi, Sonny Chiba, Masashi Ishibashi
Genre: Action, Thriller, Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Our heroine, Tina Lee (Etsuko Shiomi) limbers up using Sonny Chiba’s trademark wheezing technique, then busts some karate moves over the funky, opening credits. Welcome to Sister Street Fighter! Strictly speaking, this isn’t part of the Street Fighter series, but was re-dubbed and marketed as such by international distributors, New Line Pictures. Originally titled: Lethal Fist Woman, this was the first in a four part series starring Chiba’s protégé, Etsuko Shiomi. There was no one quite like Etsuko in Japanese cinema - a karate chopping, kickboxing, pop star/actress/daredevil stuntwoman. She was barely nineteen when cast as Tina (called Kaoru in the original Japanese, Karen in film sourcebooks, and Tina in this dub - go figure), the half-Japanese daughter of a Hong Kong police commissioner.

After her detective brother goes missing in Tokyo, Tina jets off to Japan where she uncovers a drug smuggling ring. Going undercover in a sleazy bar, she wipes the floor with some salty sailors before meeting her contact: a drug-addled prostitute. Unfortunately, the poor woman is murdered by a blowgun wielding, painted native. He kills her pet canary too - just so they’ll be no witnesses (You know how those birds sing!). Mysterious master of martial arts, Sonny Chiba (wearing awesome white flares and playing, uh, Sonny Chiba), intervenes when Tina is attacked by yakuza and she tracks him down to the benevolent Shorinji school.

With their help, Tina tracks down Mr. Big, who lounges in his luxurious mansion staffed by bikini girls, and commands an army of karate killers. These include pyjama clad nunchaku-twirlers, a one-eyed ninja, a disco dancing pimp, Australian judo champion Eva Parrish (shown once, never mentioned again), a whole tribe of Amazons in leopard-skin leotards, and a spear-gun-wielding Catholic priest. His deadliest fighter is Hammerhead (Masashi Ishibashi), who battles Tina atop a picturesque cliff before throwing her into the ocean. Tina claws her way back to launch a string of midnight raids. Little does she know, her beloved uncle works for Mr. Big. When his daughter is kidnapped and threatened with rape, he agrees to lure Tina into a trap.

Sister Street Fighter is breathlessly paced, with bursts of karate action every ten minutes. Scripted by Norifumi Suzuki (a dab hand at delinquent schoolgirl movies and samurai girl actioners like Sex & Fury (1973)), the film includes his trademark, off-kilter mix of nudity (every girl except clean-living Etsuko!), sadism (Tina hung upside down in a torture dungeon drenched in Mario Bava-style, psychedelic lighting), and silly comedy. Less gritty than the Street Fighter films, it’s more like a girl’s adventure manga brought to life with fantastical characters and blazing, comic book colours. Indeed, Shiomi was very popular among young Japanese girls (who turned their backs on her adulterous, rock star husband Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi). Over the next ten years she thrilled fans with action-thrillers (Dragon Princess (1981) being her best solo outing), pop singles, publicity stunts (leaping off tall buildings was her specialty), and critically acclaimed dramatic roles.

A thrilling warehouse fight, where Tina faces one opponent after another, allows Shiomi the chance to show off her mastery of many disciplines. High kicks, back flips, twirling nunchakus - you name ’em, she’s got ’em. The pulse-pounding climactic act sees Sonny ride to the rescue with his all-girl karate squad, but it’s Shiomi who takes down Mr. Big in a delirious showdown that takes her from a spooky cave engulfed by vampire bats to a craggy, cliff top finale, amidst crashing waves. Sadly, since Etsuko retired in 1986, no successor has stepped forward to take her place.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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