|Index||7 reviews in total|
Sonny Chiba, as everyone knows, is the man. In this film, he portrays Mas Oyama (1923-1994), a real martial artist who fought over 50 bulls with his bare hands and won (interesting guy look him up). Anyway, Chiba only kills one bull in the film but it's a memorable scene and as the liner notes say, right up there with the zombie vs. shark scene in Zombi! The film also offers up loads of hand-to-hand combat and a decent plot to boot, though I don't believe all of it is true. This film is the first of the Oyama trilogy Chiba made and is recommended for fans of martial arts action. Finally, three neat little tidbits; part of the opening theme was used in Kill Bill Volume 1, Oyama himself appears in the opening sequences, and that is because he trained Chiba in real life for five years!
Mas Oyama was the most successful karate master of the late 20th
century. He rejected the "training" of the karate clubs of the time
focusing on an intense no holds form of training. He eventually built
his system into a huge business empire with hundreds of schools across
the world, without compromising his teachings. The testing in the
Kyokushin schools are still some of the most physically challenging
tests any martial art school requires. One non- physical hardship Oyama
faced was prejudice due to his Korean ancestry and he spent time
proving that loyalties were to Japan and Japanese Karate. This movie
series was part of that effort although anyone who had the chance to
meet Oyama (I did) would never question his allegiance to Japan. In
this series, Oyama's most famous student, Sonny Chiba, is called upon
to portray his master.
Oyama arrives from the countryside where he has been training alone. He challenges and makes short work of the established Karate schools he encounters. Disgusted by the state of karate, Oyama returns to his lone training. He eventually picks up a student, falls in love and gets in the way of gangsters who are allied with the established karate schools. In the middle of this is the legendary bullfight with a mad bull. How much of the film is true is questionable.
That Oyama could kill a bull with his bare hands is true. He was called on to repeat this feat numerous times. There are filmed instances of Oyama actually doing this, although sometimes the bulls seemed to be tethered as Oyama was getting on in years. Sonny Chiba portrays his master with conviction and the karate is quite good. Chiba may not have been the best karate practitioner but, at this point in time, he was certainly above average.
As a whole the movie is good, much better then most martial art films in the drama department. I always wondered why it's not more well known. Possibly it the very realistic depictions of martial arts. People are shown getting tired and hurt unlike 99% of action film where the hero is a limitless fountain of energy and each blow instantly dispatches an opponent to death. Chiba seems so exhausted at one point that it hurts to watch. Perhaps viewers rather not have their entertainment reflect reality so closely.
Recommended especially for martial artists.
This film is a biography of Korean karate master Oyama, whose students
include the actor that drew me to watch this film, Sonny Chiba. I
wasn't sure how I felt about a film about someone who, ignore the one
heroic bull fight shown here, he did make a career out of "fighting"
and killing tamed and tethered bulls with his bare hands; given my
feeling on blood sports generally, this seemed to be a rung down the
ladder from even those. That said I thought I'd watch the film to see
what Chiba could do. The first thing that hits you is that the film has
dated and unfortunately it is well enough made that it has not dated in
a cheesy enjoyable way.
The story told here is interesting enough in its very brisk flit through the early life of Oyama. We see his frustration with the world of karate, his killing in self-defence of a man and his subsequent attempts to make it right in regards the man's widow and young son. There isn't a lot of drama in the telling though and not a great deal of characterisation to gets one teeth into interesting in the overview to a point but not a gripping story. This leaves the martial arts action to carry the burden and this it does, to a point. The fights are reasonably enjoyable but they are pretty "straight" in their delivery with very little in the way of impressive choreography or design to them. They aren't helped much by the very shaky camera which doesn't look like a deliberate choice since it tends to detract rather than add (those that think the Bourne movies etc just have "shaky cameras" should watch this to see the difference between it working as a device and not working as a device). The actions and tough standoffs are quite good though, but having Chiba in there makes them a bit better.
As a physical presence I didn't see here why he has a big name, since to my amateur eye he is not as good as others I have seen make it into film, but he does have a decent presence as a leading man in this film. Yamaguchi maybe doesn't make this a thrilling martial arts film that I was hoping for, but there are some very good locations that are used well, a rain storm, the long grass of fields etc that I thought looked better than they played out.
Maybe I'll try the rest of this short series of films from Chiba, but on the basis of this one I'm not so sure. It lacked a strong plot and characters to draw me in and the action was solid but not spectacular or thrilling. Still a solid martial arts film, but not a great deal more than that.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Kenka Karate Kyokushinken" aka. "Karate Bullfighter" (1975) is the
first film of the Oyama Trilogy, starring Sonny Chiba as the legendary
real-life Karate master Mas Oyama (1923-1994). The collaboration of two
prolific Japanese Exploitation filmmakers, "Karate Bullfighter" was
scripted by Norifumi Suzuki ("Sex and Fury", "Girl Boss Guerilla"...)
and directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi ("Delinquent Girl Boss - Worthless
to Confess"), and, in regard of that it is actually pretty tame. Even
though violent, the film is nowhere near as gory as some Chiba
highlights (such as "The Street Fighter" or "The Executioner"), and
while he often plays anti-heroes, he plays an overall very heroic and
moral character here (though some of his deeds lack morality).
After WW2, martial arts were banned in Japan by the Americans for a short time period. At one of the first Karate tournaments after the war, in 1949, a man dressed in dirty rags beats all the well-established masters. The rag-clad champion is Mas Oyama (Sonny Chiba). Since he detests how Karate 'is becoming a dance', conflict is inevitable... While this film is an account of Mas Oyama's life, it is obviously highly fictionalized. As the title already suggests, Chiba fights a Bull in this film - which, to my surprise, the real-life Mas Oyama actually did over 50 times in his life. Other events, such as the scenes in which he fights small armies of armed men, killing many of them, are probably fictitious. The real May Oyama himself appears in the credit sequence, practicing Karate. Sonny Chiba is great as always, both in his incredible martial art skills and his charismatic screen presence. Chiba's younger brother Jirô Chiba plays his disciple, Masashi Ishibashi ("The Steet Fighter") plays the bad guy, and the beautiful Yumi Takigawa ("Graveyard of Honor", "School of the Holy Beast") is lovable and innocent as Oyama's girlfriend.
Overall, I personally still like Chiba best when he plays brutal anti-heroes as in "The Street Fighter", but this is doubtlessly another fantastic Karate flick with the man. I am now eager to watch the two sequels, "Karate Bear Fighter" and "Karate For Life", which are supposedly even better than this one. Highly recommended to my fellow Sonny Chiba fans.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Oddly enough, the Independent Film Channel showed this film a week
AFTER it showed KARATE BEAR FIGHTER--even though the bear film was the
second in the trilogy and this film was the first!!! What were they
thinking?! While all three of these films are supposedly based on the
life of this great Kyokushin Karate master, you can't help but think
that they MUST have embellished the story quite a bit--especially in
this first film. Sure, the guy evidently DID fight and kill a bull and
later a bear (in fact, he fought and killed MANY bulls during his
career), but in this film set in the early 50s, at the end of the film,
the hero actually fights about 60 guys and kills many of them brutally.
I just can't imagine that this really occurred. So I did some checking
and found that while many of the details are correct, some of this film
is pure bunk! Yes, he DID kill a man in self-defense and YES he did
follow the widow and her son and spent a year working for them--trying
to get them to forgive him. But the end of the film is great to watch
but hogwash. Seeing one of his opponents get a staff thrust through his
head and all the other gory details couldn't have happened or else the
Japanese government would have locked Oyama up to protect society! The
film is entertaining and the fighting is excellent. There are no
complaints about the action or acting. The only minor complaint is the
camera work--which is a tad sloppy during some of the fight scenes.
Despite this minor complaint, this is a most enjoyable film. In many
ways, the wandering Karate master theme is pretty reminiscent of the
Zatoichi films--which are also lots of fun to watch but many of the
exploits are truly impossible.
FYI--There is an Englished dubbed version of this film entitled "Champion of Death" and I just saw it as well. It's not a bad dubbing and it was letter boxed (a big plus), but still I prefer the subtitled version.
In the 2nd of his Historical Martial Arts films, Chiba portrays his real life sensei Mas Oyama. The film even recreates Oyama's incredible feat of killing a raging bull with his bare hands (Oyama did this feat over 50 times in real life). Dynamic fight choreography featuring authentic Kyokushinkai techniques. Ironically this is one of the rare Sonny Chiba films in which he DOESN'T tear out or rip off body parts of opponents. A must see for Sonny Chiba fans definitely one of his top 5 films
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie would receive a much higher vote from me in general and I
will talk about why, but first and foremost it receives four stars and
should stay at four stars because of the directors ridiculously
tasteless portrayal of rape and sexual assault. Not far into the movie
Oyama sexually assaults a woman he rescued earlier, and while she
briefly becomes somewhat miffed by his actions this attitude only lasts
about five minutes before loving adoration sets in and carries her
character through the rest of the film. I know many will argue that
it's not that important in a kung fu beat-em-up, and as a fan of the
genera I can't say that it's all that unusual, but that doesn't stop it
from being completely tasteless every time I see it.
What I will say in this movie's defence however is that it's somewhat refreshing to see a martial arts, or even action movie of any sort, that offers no actual hero for the viewer to get behind. Oyama is portrayed as a rapist and murderer; a societal outcast whose only student becomes completely mentally unbalanced before being gunned down by the police. The final shots of the movie leave one with the feeling that Oyama himself is poised for a major breakdown and no longer seems to care for the woman he earlier assaulted into loving him and has since followed him with puppy-dog like devotion.
Whether this was truly the intended message of the movie or not, one can't help but feel a little hopeful that Oyama might be on the brink of suicide by the time the movie is over. This is a rare emotional treatment from the martial arts genre and its interesting to see a film that leaves you with a sense that its violence is not to be celebrated. If only Karate Bullfighter had treated the subject of sexual violence better, either by creating more emotional depth and recognition between the two characters involved, or by leaving it out all together, this would have been a much more interesting film.
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