Fresh off the success of BCI's first Blu-ray double feature, 'Night of the Werewolf/Vengeance of the Zombies,' the indie delivers their next great one-two punch of drive-in nostalgia, 'Sister Street Fighter/Sister Street Fighter 2: Hanging By a Thread.' Actually the third and fourth entries in the famous Japanese cult kung fu franchise 'Street Fighter,' these two Kazuhiko Yamaguchi-directed pics certainly need no introduction to fans of the genre. You can tell exactly by the title what you're gonna get here -- lots of distaff martial arts action,terrible dubbing, sleazy underworld bad guys with '70s Sonny Bono hairdos, and a little bit of gratuitous T&A thrown in for good measure.
One can almost smell the stale popcorn from the grindhouse floor the minute you start up the first feature, 'Sister Street Fighter.' Although Sonny Chiba (the "street fighter" of the original franchise) does return for a brief appearance, this is really Estuko Shiomi's show, who stars as kick-ass avenging angel Koryu Lee). Seems her brother (Hiroshi Miyauchi) was an undercover cop who fell victim to a drug cartel, so, pressed into service by the police department, she goes all 'Death Wish' on their asses and takes down the drug lord herself. Combining the aesthetic of all the great "women wronged" vigilante flicks of the '70s with non-stop chop-socky cartoon violence, 'Sister Street Fighter' truly broke the mold for female heroes in the martial arts genre.
Produced in the same year as 'Sister Street Fighter,' its sequel, 'Hanging By a Thread,' lacks the fresh punch of seeing Shiomi do her thing as in the original flick, but it's still a hoot. Not so much a continuation of the story as a rehash of the same basic plot, this time it's Koryu's female friend Birei who is kidnapped by diamond smugglers, leaving our little Sister Street Fighter to track her down while wasting a lot of baddies who look like rejects from a James Bond flick. Typical of most sequels, there's a bit more blood, violence, and boobies, plus slightly better production values (I assume they were able to increase the budget by about, oh, ten bucks?)
As I'm not very familiar with the martial arts flicks of the '70s, so I'd never even heard of these films before, or Shiomi. She is a very fetching heroine, with a terrific physical presence plus a welcome vulnerability that makes for a nice deviation from the usual male-dominated formula of these flicks. Both 'Sister Street Fighter' and 'Hanging By a Thread' are also a bit more stylish affairs than I expected, even if they are awash in some of the worst excesses of the '70s. The ridiculous special effects, dated styles, and relentless use of slo-mo absolutely scream kitsch, but it's still better produced than most grindhouse flicks of this ilk. (And with the films clocking in at about 85 minutes a pop, neither overstays its welcome.)
Lest anyone think that either of these 'Sister Street Fighter' films are feminist anthems, however, the change in gender is about the only subversive element on display. The gender of our hero(ine) aside, there is plenty of T&A on display, and just about every male character is a misogynist pig. Any fan of over-the-top violence and ample female skin won't be disappointed, and ultimately neither film has much to say about anything. Both 'Sister Street Fighter' and 'Hanging By a Thread' really only exist to highlight some great martial art work with a female protagonist thrown in largely as a box office gimmick. That certainly limits the cultural value of these flicks for anything other than their camp appeal, but I suspect that if you've read this far, that's probably enough. It's almost impossible not to have a riot of a time watching this 'Sister Street Fighter' double feature.
BCI presents both 'Sister Street Fighter' films on a single BD-25 single-layer disc, in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The good news is that the quality of the two features is more consistent than BCI's previous double-feature Blu-ray release, 'Night of the Werewolf/Vengeance of the Zombies.' The bad news is that they are consistently... mediocre.
The source BCI has utilized is rough around the edges. There are considerable dirt and blemishes, and even some larger scratches. Grain is expected and, particularly during a few brief composite/matte shots, quite heavy. The color palette has your typical '70s muted look, but saturation and consistency aren't bad for the era (of the two, 'Sister Street Fighter II' is superior here, with slightly more robust primaries and fleshtones).
Unfortunately, the smooshing of two flicks onto one disc results in some compression artifacts. Noise is usually present, and there are even some noticeable posterization and motion artifacts. As you would expect, detail can't hold a candle to a modern film (or even an above-average '70s catalog remaster), and both flicks are quite soft. Shadow detail is also often poor.
All in all, these 'Sister Street Fighter' transfers are perfectly watchable, but decidedly below-average as a high-def experience. (Individual Video scores: 'Sister Street Fighter' 2.0 / 'Sister Street Fighter II' 2.0.)
Audio options include a remixed Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track (a lowly 448kbps), plus Japanese and English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (both 192kbps). As the original films were mono, there is little the 5.1 remaster can accomplish -- at best this sounds like a mediocre '70s stereo track.
The Japanese 5.1 is lacking in surround activity -- I could barely hear any bleed to the rears. Stereo separation is also middling at best, with an echo-y, almost ping-pong quality to the silly sound effects. Dynamic range is pretty bad, with next to no sense of low bass and screechy highs. Dialogue sounds utterly fake (the ADR is painfully obvious), and given the lack of any real 5.1 presence to the Japanese remix, the English dub is actually more fun to listen to because it's so ridiculous. (In case you do want to go with the Japanese, there are fairly legible English subtitles provided.) Don't expect much of anything from the audio here, though I will give BCI props for at least attempting a 5.1 mix on such dated elements. (Individual Audio scores: 'Sister Street Fighter' 2.0 / 'Sister Street Fighter II' 2.0.)
Unlike BCI's recent (and fairly packed) Blu-ray double feature release 'Night of the Werewolf/Vengeance of the Zombies,' the company offers next to nothing in the way of extras for the 'Sister Street Fighter' series. Even a still gallery of vintage marketing would have been nice...
The 'Sister Street Fighter' movies really need no explanation -- they exist now to be enjoyed purely as chop-socky nostalgia. They're campy, silly and a whole lotta fun. This double-feature Blu-ray release is a bit of a fallow effort from BCI. They've crammed two movies on a single BD-25 disc, with only decent video and audio, and almost no extras. Fans may find this a slight upgrade over the previous standard DVD release, and I am giving this a better overall score than I would otherwise simply because you do get two flicks for one low price. But this is hardly a high-def tour de force.