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  Karate Warriors  
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     | "It's really me! I swear!"
Sonny Chiba looks blurry in Karate Warriors
 
  Japansese: Kozure satsujin ken  
  Literally: Killing Fist with Child  
  Year: 1976  
  Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi  
  Producer: Kenji Takamura  
  Cast: Sonny Chiba, Isaac Matsuki, Ben Amatsu, Akane Kawasaki, Akiko Koyama, Hideo "Harry" Hurota, Tatsuo "Terry" Umemiya  
The Skinny: In essence, this film takes the concept of Yojimbo, crosses it with Lone Wolf and Cub, but updates the story to 1970's era Japan. Sex, sleaze, and plenty of cheese populate this surprisingly entertaining riff on the samurai sagas of old.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

     In yet another variation on his Street Fighter persona, Sonny Chiba stars as Chieko (Hell, it could be Chico, for all I know*), a mysterious stranger who wanders into town and stumbles onto some gang violence in the streets. Since none of the onlookers seems eager to help out a young punk lying facedown in the gutter, Chieko takes it upon himself to get the man some medical attention. Of course, he drags the guy feet first all the way to the clinic, but that's just Chieko's style.
     In what will be the first of many trips to the doctor, Chieko drops off the patient and makes nice with the locals. While befriending the clinic's kindly doctor and his pretty nurse Yumi, Chieko learns that he has wandered right into the middle of a turf war between the Iga and Nishi mobs. Led by opposing brothers, each group is at each other's throats over a fortune in heroin that has gone missing since the imprisonment of the mob's true leader, Kuriko. Looking to find himself some work, Chieko leaves the clinic and ends up making friends with Nanu, a young boy fishing on the pier. Chieko also meets the boy's father, Mizuki, a man who has the strange penchant for walking around dressed in traditional samurai garb and carrying a sleek cane sword at all times. After some thugs show up to rough up Mizuki, the two strangers dispatch the attackers and forge an uneasy friendship.
     In a tip of the hat to Yojimbo, Chieko seeks employment from the two rival gang leaders, each of whom tests our hero's mettle with their best warrior. Of course, Chieko handily disposes with the strongman of the Iga gang, but later bows out of fighting the Nishi gang's resident badass, the samurai Mizuki! Eventually, Chieko finds himself caught between the two gangs, playing each side against the other in a bid to find the lost heroin. And though Chieko saves Mizuki's son on several occasions (at one point even giving the kid a blood transfusion), the contemporary samurai warns our hero that someday the two will have to do battle. The plot takes a series of twist and turns before Chieko finally uncovers the hidden location of the missing drugs. But with this discovery, our hero is brought face to face with his newfound friend in a battle to the death.
     Oddly enough, the story doesn't end with this duel. After nabbing the drugs and defeating his enemy, Chieko takes it upon himself to reunite little Nanu with his purportedly dead mother. If you've seen Takeshi Kitano's Kikijiro, you'll be prepared for what happens by journey's end. But don't think that the movie has gone completely touchy-feely just yet, since a pulse-pounding climax remains in which the evil Kuriko, just out of prison and looking to take back his heroin, ambushes lone Chieko and kid. On the shores of a beach, Chieko takes on Kuriko and his flunkies, but this time with the help of Mizuki's blade. After that, things start to get really emotional. Your heartstrings will be tugged…well, just a little.
     The blandness of the title Karate Warriors doesn't match this movie well. There's a lot going on in this flick. On one hand, it's an action-packed update of the whole Red Harvest/Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars storyline as well as the Lone Wolf and Cub series. Yet, it's also a really sleazy exploitation movie with loads of naked skin and sexual situations, not to mention the tons of abuse carried out on the poor women who serve as little more than window dressing for the story. And underneath all that, there's a tender story about a gruff loner learning to become a father figure to a lonely, young boy. Sure, he killed the kid's real father, but don't let that bother you. It certainly didn't bother Nanu!
     Those looking for another entertaining Sonny Chiba romp will not be disappointed with Karate Warriors. The man does his usual thing here, but is actually given a character with a little more depth than you'd expect. Chiba deftly switches modes: he's equally believable in the tender father-son moments as he is during the wrathful bloodletting scenes. Not many actors can do all that, and have their performance transcend cheesy English dubbing. When compared to a more prestigious film, Karate Warriors probably seems like total crap, but it's enjoyable crap nonetheless. (Calvin McMillin, 2003)

 
Notes:

• *All character names are approximated. There's no liner notes accompanying the film, nor do there seem to be alternate resources in existence online.
• The literal title of the film Killing Fist and Child is significant considering the fact that the Japanese names for Chiba's Street Fighter series all carried the phrase "Killing Fist" somewhere in the title. Even so, this film is not related to that series.
• The picture quality for the Brentwood DVD is atrociously poor. The aspect ratio for the film is cropped for this DVD release, with the exception of the opening title sequence, which is shown in a "squeezed" letterbox format.

 
Availability:

DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Brentwood Home Video
Pan and Scan Format
English dubbed
Sonny Chiba Biography
Available as part of Brentwood Home Video's "The Ten Faces of Sonny Chiba" 10-pack and "Sonny Chiba's Greatest Hits" 4-pack

 
   
image courtesy of Brentwood Video
 
   
   
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