Tag Archives: Sonny Chiba

Quentin Tarantino’s kill bill volume i

“You know, I bet I could fry an egg on your head right about now, if I wanted to.”

What was once a film that would star Warren Beatty in the title role, wherein Bill would have been more James Bond and less David Carradine, tensions mounted as production stalled due to Uma Thurman’s pregnancy. Beatty grew impatient with not only the delay in production, but the constant reference to Beatty playing the role like Carradine would. Beatty inevitably left the picture, imploring Tarantino to cast the only actor alive or dead to play Bill, David Carradine.

The film marks one of Tarantino’s most dynamic screenplays, a soundtrack featuring score tracks only used in other films films, Robert Richardson’s richly fulfilling cinematography, and an ensemble bread from his most organically diverse cast.

What is encompassed within is his most seminal and homage laden film to date is referencing everything from Mark Goldblatt’s THE PUNISHER, to the STREET FIGHTER films, with a ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST capstone.

This isn’t just some hardcore, stylishly sexy revenge flick (which it is), at its heart is a story about a scorn lover whose hubris sets a deadly chain of events in motion. Bill, who is only heard and whose hands and boots are only seen, loves the heroine so much, he would rather kill her than to be without her. Potent stuff.

What ensues is a tale of bloody revenge where Tarantino’s most ass-kicking character stops at nothing to exact a near equal measure of revenge to those who killed what was supposed to be the greatest day of her life, marrying “some fucking jerk” and leaving behind her life of being a member of the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad.

In the Tarantino-Verse, things get much more colorful and downright self indulgent, but baby, it is absolutely glorious.

Uma Thurman gets shot in the head, Daryl Hannah is featured in the best Brian De Palma homage ever, Michael Madsen acts as the thread that directly leads into the second volume, Production I.G. came in and did an amazing animated segment, RZA supplied the sound effects, Lucy Liu gets a reintroduction sequence that any actor would kill for; not to mention getting scalped, Sonny Chiba gives an encore as Hatori Hanzo, Michael Parks returns as Sheriff Earl McGraw, Vivica A. Fox delivers one of the most memorable on screen deaths in a QT movie, and David Carradine is the man.

None of that even begins to scratch the surface.

The first volume of KILL BILL is what rebirthed Tarantino into an acutely self righteous auteur. Making films for not just his rabid and loyal fanbase, but most importantly films that he, as a passionate fanboy of cinema, would want to see on screen.

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KILL BILL VOLUME I – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

“How did you find me?”

“I’m the man.”

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When you strip away all the genre and sub-genre elements from Quentin Taraninto’s KILL BILL VOLUME 1, what lies beneath is a heart wrenching story of a woman seeking vengeance against a former lover who tried to kill her, her unborn child, and her fiance and the new life she constructed after she fled from him.

What we end up with, is the genius of Quentin Tarantino. This film is a full on culmination (obsession, even) of everything that is Quentin Tarantino. His obsession with actors, westerns, kung-fu, women’s feet, popular music; absolutely everything he loves is smeared all over the screen. A faceless David Carradine, a sly Michael Parks, the resurrection of Sonny Chiba, an iconically cool Michael Madsen are all acute aspects that support the greatness of this film.

Tarantino uses the camera to make love to his muse, Uma Thurman, constructing one of the fiercest alpha females to ever be on screen. She’s a woman on a one way mission. She is going to lay waste to everything her path, as she slowly crosses names off her hit list, until she gets to her former master and lover Bill.

KILL BILL is a lot of fun to watch – Tarantino’s homages from Sergio Leone to Brian De Palma, his love for all aspects of cinema is blatant. It’s not just that love for cinema that makes his films such an explosion, but it’s also his love for pop culture, comic books, and music that creates such a fertile pallet for his films to create themselves upon.

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The short anime segment, explaining Lucy Liu’s background is supremely emotional! Perhaps even more emotional than most give it credit for. It’s heartbreaking! The beauty of Sonny Chiba crafting and passing his sword over to Uma Thurman so she can progress on her mission of vengeance; and one of the best action sequences in modern film that achieves it all without any explosions, monsters, or superheroes is an enormous cinematic feat.

This film really hits the mark on every level. Cinematography, stunts, editing, costume design, production design, sound design, original music by RZA; every single corner of every single frame of this film is fleshed out in full detail. It truly is a marvel to watch. At the core of this film, apart from all the sheen and the cinematic perfection, Tarantino delivers us his most heartfelt and emotional film to date.

Sushi Girl: A Review by Nate Hill

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Sushi Girl. What a title for a film. Could go one of many ways, and the filmmakers here have wrought a neat little genre package that would make Tarantino applaud. It’s bloody, pulpy, larger than life and a siful little cinematic treat. After a diamond heist blows up in the face of a group of hapless criminals, they gather in a dank warehouse to smoke out and eliminate the one who has betrayed them, inch by ultraviolent inch. Their leader Duke (the awesome Tony Todd) is a dangerous dude who will go to any lengths to obtain the stolen wealth. Fish (Noah Hathaway) is the punching bag for their little inquisition, taking quite a disturbing beatdown at the hands of Crow (Mark Hamill) the deranged lunatic of the group. Hamill steals his scenes, injecting a bit of his Joker persona and a whole ton of really scary energy into a psychotic performance that keeps the intrigue buoyant and electrically charged. The other two members of the group are two unsavory lowlifes called Max (Andy MacKenzie) and Francis (James Duval). The group doesn’t know how to play nice,  especially Hamill, and we are treated to delightful vignettes of profanity, distrust and extreme violence for much of the film. This all plays out while a nude girl (Courtney Palm) splays out on the table in front of them, covered in sushi prepared by a strange chef (Sonny China, who else). This seems arbitrary.. trust me, it’s not. It’s pure pulp with a vague horror vibe, due to the presence of such genre titans and the graphic nature of the violence. It’s also got a brain in its head, a geniune story to tel which took commendable effort, and a cast that’s game to have a little fun as they take a trip into a twilight zone that’s part Reservoir Dogs, part Agatha Christie with just a dash of the macabre. Watch for a trio of hilarious cameos from Danny Trejo, Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn, who are short lived in the film, playing the joke to the hilt.

THE STREET FIGHTER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Like many people of my generation in North America, the first exposure to The Street Fighter (1974), starring Sonny Chiba, was probably the brief clip shown in Tony Scott’s True Romance (1993), which was written by Quentin Tarantino, a big fan of Chiba, an actor who got his start appearing in science fiction and crime thrillers but is best known for his martial arts movies, chief among them The Street Fighter series. True Romance’s main character celebrates his birthday by going to see a Sonny Chiba triple feature at a local theater and there he meets the girl of his dreams. In explaining the allure of Terry Tsurgui – Chiba’s character in the film – he sums it up best by telling her, “Well, he ain’t so much a good guy as he is just one bad motherfucker. I mean, he gets paid by people to fuck guys up.” Based on the worldwide success of Enter the Dragon (1973), the Toei Company decided to release its own martial arts action films and the result was The Street Fighter. It would be this film that would make Chiba an international movie star. The film went on to garner a notorious reputation for its bone-crunching violence, which earned it an unprecedented X rating in North America – the first film to do so based solely on violence.

Terry Tsurgui (Chiba) is a mercenary hired by the Yakuza to free a convicted killer named Junjo (Masashi Ishibashi) from prison who is about to be executed. The man killed seven people with his fighting skills, which one prison guard says sarcastically, “He must think he’s Bruce Lee.” Terry enters the prison under the guise of a Buddhist priest (?!) and engineers quite a clever breakout by zapping Junjo with a move that induces paralysis thereby making him unfit for execution. It takes less than four minutes into the film and we get a pretty cool fight sequence in slow motion complete with funky sound effects that were the hallmark of 1970s era martial arts films. If that weren’t enough, a fantastic spaghetti western-esque theme song by way of Shaft-era Isaac Hayes plays over the opening credits sequence and off we go.

With his sidekick and comic relief Ratnose (Goichi Yamada), Terry hijacks the ambulance carrying Junjo en route to the hospital. When the man’s brother and sister are unable to pay up, Terry proceeds to mess them up, including sending the brother out a window to his death and selling the sister into prostitution. When Terry dares to ask for more money to kidnap a rich Japanese heiress in order to control her fortune, his employers decide to kill him because Terry knows too much. As we all know from these kinds of films that that is a fatal mistake and boy, does he make them pay.

Terry only really cares about money and asks a lot for his services. He is a gruff, no-nonsense kind of guy. The film wastes no time in establishing Terry’s badass credentials as he takes on more than six guys that stupidly try to ambush him in his apartment. There’s a wild-eyed intensity that is quite unnerving to his opponents. What Terry lacks in finesse, he more than makes up for in ferocity. Subtlety is certainly not his forte. For example, he attempts to tail his target in a car without caring about or knowing to follow from a discreet distance. For his troubles, the car he and Ratnose are in is grabbed by a construction vehicle and dropped off a bridge! However, Terry’s not invincible and gets his ass handed to him when he takes on the head of a karate school who knew his father. There’s no denying that Sonny Chiba has a unique screen presence and an intense stare that puts guys like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal to shame.

Goichi Yamada’s Ratnose is a character whose only purpose appears to be as comic relief (“Who do you think you’re talking to, Madame Butterfly?” he says to Terry at one point in reference to his lousy cooking skills), groveling and being endlessly insulted by Terry. However, he does get his self-sacrificing heroic moment in the sun and this selfless act draws a rare tear of emotion from Terry, which in a weird sort of way humanizes the film’s brutal protagonist.

The Street Fighter is chock full of great, cheesy B-movie dialogue intoned by a guy dubbing Terry’s voice trying to affect a gravely Clint Eastwood-esque vibe. One choice gem has Terry tell some assailants, “So I’m to die because I know who it is that controls the Yakuza here? Isn’t that mean and nasty?” Another gem comes when Junjo goes into an oxygen coma, collapses right before being executed and a prison official asks someone nearby, “You’re a lawyer – what must I do?” It is how this line is said – in stilted, badly done dubbing – that makes it funny. However, there are also some pretty cool lines, too, like when Junjo confronts Terry and tells him, “I’ve waited a long time to settle the score.” Terry replies dismissively, “Sorry, I’ve more urgent things right now.” How cool is that? Yeah, I’m not too busy completing a job to kick your ass right now… maybe later.

In The Street Fighter, Terry punches, kicks and viciously gouges his way through a series of brutal encounters. Among the scenes that earned the film an X rating are one in which Terry castrates a would-be rapist with his bare hands, which still manages to shock with its intensity and graphic nature even by today’s standards. Guys are punched so hard they spit out mouthful of teeth and spew judicious amounts of blood. But the film saves the best (and nastiest) move for the final showdown, an impressive battle as Terry proceeds to single-handedly decimate a tanker boat full of henchmen with a climactic fight on deck in the pouring rain.

Shigehiro Ozawa’s direction is appropriately dynamic with plenty of skewed camera angles, slow motion, black and white flashbacks and even an X-ray shot of Terry crushing a guy’s skull with his fist. How badass is that? He makes excellent use of the widescreen frame, especially during the fight scenes, letting them play out along the entire length of the frame.

When New Line Cinema picked up the film in North America, it was renamed The Street Fighter from its original title, which translated into the infinitely cooler sounding, Clash, Killer Fist! It earned an X rating for the gory violence and the studio re-edited the film significantly, cutting out 16 minutes in order to get an R rating. The Street Fighter was an international hit spawning two sequels, Return of The Street Fighter (1974) and The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge (1974) as well as a spin-off film, Sister Street Fighter (1974). None of them hold a candle to the one that started it all – a cult film that dispenses with niceties like political correctness and restraint for an unbridled romp through the criminal underworld led by Chiba’s unrepentant mercenary. For fans of down ‘n’ dirty martial arts movies, this one is pure catnip and a potent reminder of how good a decade the ‘70s was for the genre where you could have a mainstream masterpiece like Enter the Dragon along with no-holds barred carnage on display in The Street Fighter.