DirectorKazuhiko Yamaguchi/Shigehiro Ozawa
Release Date(s)1974/1974/1975/1976 (March 5, 2019)
Studio(s)Toei Company/New Line Cinema (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: B-
- Overall Grade: B+
A spin-off of The Street Fighter starring Sonny Chiba, the Sister Street Fighter series stars Etsuko Shihomi as Li Koryu AKA Tina Long, an ass-kicking woman of justice who comes to the rescue of various friends and family members when they're in trouble with Japanese gangsters. Uniquely stylistic and occasionally graphic, both it and The Street Fighter series became staples of kung-fu grindhouse cinema, as well as an inspiration to people like Quentin Tarantino.
In Sister Street Fighter, Li Koryu comes to the aid of the Hong Kong authorities who task her with searching for a missing agent. With the help of a local shorinji kempo student (Sonny Chiba), she takes on drug lords who are hell-bent on getting rid of her or anybody else who gets in their way. In Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread, she takes on diamond smugglers in Yokohama, whom her sister is in league with behind her back. In Return of the Sister Street Fighter, she brawls with gold smugglers after they kidnap her friend and leave a little girl motherless. In Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist, which has nothing to do with the previous films, Shihomi is Kiku, an eager, young black-belt who battles movie mogul mobsters.
It should be blatantly obvious by now, but most of the Sister Street Fighter films are basically the same in structure. The stories are only excuses for groups of martial artists to show off their amazing fighting skills, which isn't a bad thing as it's what we’ve come to see, and we get it in abundance. The stories are just compelling enough to keep watching, but each film has its own set of highs and lows. The fourth film, in particular, is potentially the least interesting as there isn’t quite as much action as the three before it.
Regardless, all three films have incredible flair, with frequent camera movements and Dutch angles galore, not to mention still frames of each fighter with their names and their abilities displayed on-screen before they throw down. And like The Street Fighter films, there’s also sporadic uses of gore, which were excised for their original state-side releases. The only real drawback about the series for me is that we only get one film with Etsuko Shihomi and Sonny Chiba together as a team. Chiba didn’t return for any of the follow-ups, and although they did other films together, he’s sorely missed in the Sister Street Fighter sequels.
Arrow Video's release of all four films comes sourced from transfers provided by Toei, which have all been remastered from unknown elements. To be honest, there’s not a world of difference between each presentation, which is a good thing as the quality is consistently high. The final film, Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist, is a little softer in spots due to the use of burned-in Japanese subtitles for English dialogue. Each presentation is crisp and organic with a strong field of film grain, a rich color palette, high levels of fine detail, deep blacks, and excellent contrast. Everything also appears stable and clean aside from some mild speckling.
The audio is much of the same. The first film features a choice between Japanese or English mono, both LPCM tracks, while the latter three films feature Japanese mono LPCM tracks only. The English track for the first film sounds like it's been pieced together from different elements, but they generally jibe well together with only minor treble fluctuations. The four Japanese tracks are potent with an obvious emphasis on score and sound effects. Dialogue is perfectly audible as well, and there are no issues with distortion or crackle. Some mild hiss is present, but nothing too intrusive. Each film is also equipped with subtitles in English SDH, which play automatically when the Japanese audio is selected, while the last film includes an extra English subtitle option.
SISTER STREET FIGHTER (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/B+/B+
SISTER STREET FIGHTER: HANGING BY A THREAD (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/B+/B+
RETURN OF THE SISTER STREET FIGHTER (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/B+/B+
SISTER STREET FIGHTER: FIFTH LEVEL FIST (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C-/B/B+
For the extras on Disc One (which features Sister Street Fighter only), there's Sonny Chiba: A Live in Action, Vol. 3, a 10-minute interview with the martial arts star about finding and working with Etsuko Shihomi; Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Kick-Ass Sisters, a 10-minute interview with the director about his career; Masahiro Kakefuda: Subversive Action, an 11-minute interview with the screenwriter of the first three films about working with Yamaguchi and co-screenwriter Norifumi Suzuki; 12 minutes of isolated score highlights from the film; the original Japanese trailer in HD; and a still gallery containing 126 images from all four films of behind-the-scenes stills, promotional shots, lobby cards, posters, print ads, home video artwork, and a promotional sales flyer. Also included under International Releases is the R-rated 81-minute U.S. version of the film, recreated by splicing together a combination of HD and SD footage; the U.S. theatrical trailer in HD; a set of German opening titles for the film; and a German theatrical trailer.
On Disc Two (which contains Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread, Return of the Sister Street Fighter, and Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist), there are 20 minutes of isolated score highlights for Sister Street Fighter: Hanging By a Thread; 11 minutes of isolated score highlights for Return of the Sister Street Fighter; and the original Japanese trailers for all three films in HD. In addition, there's a 44-page insert booklet featuring the essays The Legend of Lady Karate by Patrick Macias, Made in Japan – and Reborn in the U.S.A. by Chris Poggiali, Etsuko Shihomi Biography by Patrick Macias, and notes about the films' transfers.
For fans of the series, the Sister Street Fighter Collection was a long overdue addition to their home video libraries. Arrow Video has consistently released Asian cinema in high definition these past several years, so it’s fitting that they would eventually get to some of the more popular titles. Although it would have been nice to have heard audio commentaries on each film from genre experts, just to get more background information, this is still a dynamite Blu-ray release.
– Tim Salmons