• Spinning Man (2018)

    Spinning Man is a quite unconventional psychological and philosophical thriller which has its positive and negative sides. The story revolves around a young cheerleader who has gone missing. Witnesses have reported seeing a car next to her work place just before she disappeared. The car is believed to belong to a popular professor. When police routinely wants to search his car, he reacts defensively which makes him suspicious. Soon enough, work colleagues, superiors, police officers and even his wife, children and ultimately himself start believing that the professor might somehow be involved in the disappearance.

    On the positive side, this movie has a psychological touch that will make more intellectual audiences think. Is truth a fact based upon proof or rather a personal interpretation of events believed to be fully accurate? Is memory something reliable or something which can easily be corrupted? Is the perception of others going to determine who you really are or is it rather based upon your own actions, convictions and thoughts? These are the kinds of questions the movie asks and the beautiful thing about it is that two different viewers might come to two completely different conclusions.

    On the negative side, the movie is certainly slow-paced and repetitive at times. There are no particularly intense scenes or memorable moments. The film kicks off slowly, plods along and ends vaguely as well. The mood is slightly sinister but not enough to make it really gripping. There isn't any tension, humour or action at all. It's a movie that makes you think and that might actually work better in form of the novel it is based upon. It made me think of the South Korean movie Burning but that one had more detail and precision to it. If you like this film, make sure to check the other movie out as well.

    In the end, I would recommend this movie to people who are looking for an experimental psychological thriller. It's not an entertaining film to watch with the whole family or a flick to switch your brain off to and get entertained by but the kind of movie to sit down to, watch attentively and think about for a while to come to your own conclusion. It's a challenging movie and it's great to see that such a movie doesn't take its viewers for clueless customers but the film is nevertheless hard to sit through for the most cooperative cinephile.

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  • Onna Hissatsu Godan Ken / Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist (1976)

    Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist is only an entry in the critically acclaimed franchise about empathic, resilient and tough martial artist Li Koryu on paper. This movie doesn't involve the same characters at all. There are however three similarities between this film and the three previous movies. They are all produced by Toei Company, they all feature Etsuko Shihomi as lead actress and they are all about a female martial artist who faces off against a sinister criminal organization.

    In this case, the protagonist is actually named Nakagawa Kiku. Her parents desperately try to marry her to a socially awkward banker and then to a misogynist police officer who claims that women certainly desire cooking meals for their husbands and raising children because all women are the same. The protagonist couldn't care less however and prefers training at her karate dojo where she is however stalked by a clumsy undercover police officer. It only makes sense that she enjoys spending time with her best friend who she considers being her sister and her half-brother. The siblings share the same Japanese mother from Okinawa but the sister's mother was a white American soldier while the brother's father was a coloured American soldier. They got racially intimated as children and moved away but dream of returning home and opening a restaurant to prove by their actions that they are good people. Their ambitious dreams are shattered when the brother is hired as a hitman by an organization that smuggles cocaine hidden in Buddha statues to assassinate an international narcotics investigator. The brother manages to kill the investigator but is surprised in the act by the protagonist and other witnesses and has to go into hiding. Since he has now become a liability, the organization that hired him decides and manages to get rid of him. His sister is heartbroken and her best friend decides to help her have her revenge while the misogynist police officer and the clumsily stalking officer also get involved.

    If compared to the Sister Street Fighter films, this movie features less fight scenes and rather focuses on its numerous characters and their ties. The film also follows the police investigation that takes place in art shops, during parties and in a Korean bar. The movie actually shows a lot of cultural diversity and criticizes racism towards multiethnical children, features several dialogues in English with Japanese subtitles and shows Korean dance and music performances. The misogynist police officer sticks out like a sore thumb. The movie also has a few mildly humorous scenes involving the clumsy officer and the protagonist's father who is afraid of his wife and helps the protagonist get out of embarrassing situations from time to time.

    The movie certainly has its merits since its characters are intriguing and locations diversified. However, most people would never have watched the film if its misguiding title weren't associated to the internationally successful Sister Street Fighter series. While being decent, the movie certainly lacks the drive of that franchise and the protagonist pales in comparison to the charismatic Li Koryu.

    After all, it certainly isn't essential to watch Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist. If you have watched the original three Sister Street Fighter movies, you don't need to watch this one. However, the movie is entertaining enough thanks to its investigative plot and fascinating characters. The final fifteen minutes or so feature some decent fight scenes but the rest of the film is certainly lacking in that department. This movie is a solid action-thriller of the seventies but can't be considered a great martial arts movie. I would recommend this film to fans of Japanese cinema and culture and those who can't get enough of Etsuko Shihomi who finds yet again the perfect balance between empathy and brutality.

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  • Kaette Kita Onna Hissatsu Ken / Return of the Sister Street Fighter (1975)

    Return of the Sister Street Fighter is the third and last official entry in the franchise around empathic, resilient and tough martial artist Li Koryu. The story isn't a far call from the first two entries. A friend and police officer approaches Li Koryu in Hong Kong since his sister disappeared when investigating a shady company that smuggles gold by using chemicals. The man gets assassinated and Li Koryu needs to take care of his niece. They travel to Yokohama in hope to find the young girl's mother alive. The protagonist brings the charming young girl to her aunt but she has become a drug addict who quickly betrays them. Li Koryu has to confront a charismatic boss in a wheelchair with an artificial hand who organizes brutal death games between exotic martial artists to find a team of four fighters willing to stop the nosy protagonist from uncovering the company's dark secrets and setting the kidnapped woman free.

    The movie has the same elements that made the two previous entries so entertaining. The quirky characters are quite diversified as we meet a sinister villain with a dark secret that could have come from the James Bond franchise and a martial artist who looks like a shady cowboy on one side but also a tormented drug addict forced to betray her own sister and a charming, dynamic and joyous young girl who must witness her family's slow demise on the other side. The locations are once again very interesting and especially the dramatic scenes close to an abandoned mine are quite fascinating and flirt with the western genre. The camera work is precise this time around and the vibrant soundtrack blends in very well.

    The main reason why this movie isn't as great as its two predecessors is the fact that the fight scenes are quite brief this time around. Especially the two final duels only last about thirty seconds each when there would have been room for some more climatic duels. The film is also about ten minutes shorter than the other two films and seems to be slightly rushed as if it had been produced on a shoestring budget. The film would have been much better with a more generous budget, extended fight scenes and an additional length between ten to fifteen minutes.

    Nevertheless, Return of the Sister Street Fighter is brutal, dynamic, entertaining, quirky and sinister all at once as it will entertain you from start to finish. It isn't the perfect conclusion to a great franchise but a very solid one. Fans of contemporary martial arts movies or action thrillers of the seventies will certainly get their money's worth. The perfect balance between empathic scenes and brutal sequences is the movie's greatest strength and one would have liked to see more movies in this sympathetic franchise and this comment comes from someone who usually dislikes endless sequels, prequels and franchises these days.

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  • Onna Hissatsu Ken: Kiki Ippatsu / Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread (1974)

    Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread is the second film in the martial arts franchise about the empathic, resilient and tough lead character Li Koryu. This time around, the movie doesn't feature actresses or actors from the Street Fighter franchise that helped kickstart this spinoff series that would turn out being as great or even slightly better than the original series. This entry is the franchise's emancipation and easily proves that versatile actress Etsuko Shihomi can stand her ground all alone.

    The story isn't a far call from the first entry but neither this franchise nor Sonny Chiba's Street Fighter films stood for particularly creative plots. Li Koryu is asked to find a former classmate who got kidnapped and is forced to be the mistress of the boss of diamond smugglers who surgically implant the precious stones into the buttocks of Chinese prostitutes. To make matters worse, Li Koryu's own sister is linked to the criminals and forced to betray her sister. Li Koryu however gets assisted by a mysterious stranger who is initially hired as a hitman tasked to kill her but has his own hidden agenda.

    The film is on par with its solid predecessor. The story is entertaining, fast-paced and quirky. The fight scenes involve more hand-held camera sections which adds a new touch to the series. The characters are eccentric, memorable and unique. The locations are fascinating as fight scenes take place on a rolling train, in an abandoned stadium and even on logs on the water. It's the most brutal movie in the franchise that involves some graphic scenes that conveniently spice things up from time to time. The funky soundtrack underlines the film's dynamic touch at the pulse of the wild seventies.

    This movie is entertaining from start to finish and will appeal to anyone who likes contemporary martial arts films or quirky action thrillers from the seventies. The movie has aged rather well thanks to its charismatic protagonist and modern camera techniques. It's one of the few examples when the sequel is as great as its predecessor.

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  • Onna Hissatsu Ken / Street Sister Fighter (1974)

    Hong Kong martial arts movies were incredibly popular all around the world in the mid-seventies to a point that millions of fans enrolled in martial arts schools to learn kung fu. Japanese Toei Company jumped on the bandwagon in order to promote Japanese karate skills and created the commercially successful Street Fighter franchise consisting of three surprisingly brutal movies featuring cold-blooded Sonny Chiba. In response to these brutal and pitiless films, the company also brought the Sister Street Fighter series to life. Lead actress Sue Shiomi had a short role in the first Street Fighter film and Sonny Chiba now has a minor role in the first film of the new franchise. This movie as well as its two sequels are less brutal and more warm-hearted. That doesn't mean that there aren't some graphic torture scenes and incredible fights however. The Sister Street Fighter series are actually much more balanced than the Street Fighter series and even though both are great, I tend to prefer Sue Shiomi's empathic performances over Sonny Chiba's rude character.

    In many films back then and still today, female lead actresses are supposed to look beautiful and weak but you will get the exact opposite here which is quite refreshing. Lead character Li Koryu, known as Tina Long in international versions, is shown as tough heroine with an empathic side that never tries to seduce or dress well. Ironically, this natural and self-confident approach is exactly what makes her so sympathetic and even attractive. Even by contemporary standards, her character feels fresh and is intriguing enough to make audiences care about her fate. After three successful movies, fans were craving for more to a point that Fifth Level Fist, a movie completely unrelated to the series but featuring Sue Shiomi in a similar role, became an unofficial sequel and is now often seen as fourth entry in the franchise. This proves that this franchise might have been even more popular than the original Street Fighter series.

    The story is entertaining, fast-paced but nevertheless by the numbers. Li Koryu is asked to find her brother who disappeared when investigating a shady company that imports heroin hidden in wigs. The locations of the movie are quite intriguing and vary from sinister dungeons over traditional martial arts schools to shady pubs. The characters are also interesting and feature a series of martial arts hitmen with unique skills who all face off Li Koryu. Several actors from the Street Fighter series are featured in this film such as Sonny Chiba who plays a mysterious stranger who helps out the heroine but has his own motives, Milton Ishibashi who was involved as resilient villain in two Street Fighter films and plays the main hitman asked to kill the heroine and Asao Uchida who was also present in two Street Fighter films and has a quite similar role here as wise leader of a martial arts school with an intact moral compass that offers the heroine shelter.

    If you like the Street Fighter series, you will adore this movie as much as the original franchise. Martial arts fan will certainly appreciate the numerous fights showcasing different weapons, techniques and locations. The movie also flirts with spy films from the sixties and seventies and you will get an eccentric antagonist living in a gigantic mansion who assembles unique assassins around him. This movie really represents the dynamic spirit of the cinematic seventies but has aged quite well thanks to its fresh heroine. The new BluRay boxed set including all four films of the franchise by Arrow Films is highly recommended.

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