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Sonny Chiba Action Pack (Virus/Golgo 13/Bullet Train) 
Written by: on August 20th, 2006

Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1980 (Virus), Japan, 1977 (Golgo 13), Japan, 1975 (Bullet Train)
Directors: Kinji Fukasaku (Virus), Yukio Noda (Golgo 13), Junya Sato (Bullet Train)
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Chuck Connors, Glenn Ford, Olivia Hussey, George Kennedy, Masao Kusakari, Edward James Olmos, Henry Silva, Bo Svenson, Robert Vaughn (Virus), Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Callan Leung (Golgo 13), Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Callan Leung (Bullet Train)

DVD released: August 22nd, 2006
Approximate running time: 156 minutes (Virus), 93 minutes (Golgo 13), 115 minutes (Bullet Train)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Virus), 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Golgo 13 & Bullet Train)
Rating: NR
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 & Stereo
DVD Release: BCI Eclipse/Ronin Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.98

Virus: A mimic virus to end all viruses is accidentally unleashed on the world when a plane carrying a vile of it crashes. The virus accelerates in warmer temperatures with the handful of human survivors relocating to the cold of the Antarctica. The survivors’ frantically search for a cure and a way to resurrect the human race before the virus makes it extinct.

Virus (Fukkatsu no hi) is Japanese/American co-production that was directed by Kinji Fukasaku who had also directed other epics like Tora! Tora! Tora! and the epic Yakuza series Battles Without Honor and Humanity. Fukasaku direction for Virus is near pitch perfect as he creates one memorable image after another. The pace of Virus is greatly helped by the editing and the American version which basically omitted all the Japanese scenes greatly disrupts the films flow. The version contained on this set is the full length version which is the only way to watch this mesmerizing film about the decay of the human race.

Virus has a solid star cast that includes Sonny Chiba, Chuck Connors, Glenn Ford, Olivia Hussey, George Kennedy, Masao Kusakari, Edward James Olmos, Henry Silva, Bo Svenson and Robert Vaughn. Sonny Chiba’s role like many of the films he made around the same time is limited too a few brief scenes. Henry Silva also has a small role as a crazy general and he gets a lot of mileage out his limited screen time. The acting by everyone involved is top notch even down the most minor part.

Overall Virus’ is daunting as it tips just beyond the two and half hour mark, still despite some of the films slower moments the piece as a whole is more then rewarding by the time the final frames fade away.

Golgo 13: On behalf of the U.S. drug syndicate Ricky Brown hires notorious hit man Golgo 13 (Sonny Chiba) to assassinate Chow Lui Fung who has had falling out with the syndicate. Captain Sminny (Callan Leung) currently has Chow Lui Fung under surveillance for drug trafficking and he is about to make arrest when his partner Lin-Li (Sue Shihomi) goes missing. Golgo 13 has found the prefect time and place to dispose of Chow Lui Fung at the dedication ceremony being held on his behalf. Golgo 13 is unable to complete the job when another assassin completes the job right before his eyes. The police now are on the look out for Golgo 13 who is now being blamed for a murder he didn’t commit. Golgo 13 now seeks revenge against those who have double crossed him as he tries to stay one step ahead of the law.

Before Sonny Chiba starred as Golgo 13 there was a Golgo film that was made fours years before that starred Ken Takakura as Golgo 13. Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment is an action filled adventure that visits various exotic locals and has it share of beautiful women. This film does contain many similarities to the James Bond series; still the tone of the two films couldn’t be any more different. Unlike most secret agent or hit man films Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment is a film that never really takes itself seriously which is part of its charm.

The films director Yukio Noda has worked with Sonny Chiba before on several of the Yakuza Deka films. They re-team for Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment and while this film is more hard edge then the Yakuza Deka films there is a quirky humor that is evident in both. Yukio Noda direction is solid through out with my only minor complaint being he fetish for zooming in. All the locations are beautifully photographed and used to there fullest.

The main attraction is of course Sonny Chiba who gives another hard hitting performance as Golgo 13 an assassin devoid of mercy and ready to put a bullet in his next target. Chiba also gets too show off his fighting skills in this one with a few moments rivaling his most brutal caught on film like when he stabs another man in the mouth with a knife. His character also shows a softer side as he befriends as woman who is being beaten in an alley by her boyfriend. When she kills her boyfriend Golgo lies for her when the police question him and later in the film when he is injured and in need of help she returns the favor. This is rarity in Chiba films from around this time in which he shares a romantic moment without force.

Even though Golgo isn’t as down and dirty rip your balls off like most of the characters Chiba plays his charisma as an actor makes this film all that more enjoyable. Japan action club regular Sue Shihomi has a brief cameo as undercover agent Lin-li. There really isn’t much in this film in regards to character development which is ok since this film is all about kicking butt and taking names later.

Bullet Train: Tetsuo Okita (Ken Takakura) has fallen on hard times over the past year with his business going bankrupt and his wife leaving him. Okita concocts a plan to solve his financial problems and with the help of two of his former workers who have remained by his side during these hard times. They have attached a bomb on Hikeri 109 bullet train that will go off if the train ever goes below 80 mph after the train has started. They contact the authorities with their 1.5 billion yen ransom demand and too prove that they aren’t bluffing they have attached a similar bomb to a cargo train. To save them some time the authorities tell the lead conductor Aoki (Sonny Chiba) to keep the train at a speed of about 120 mph which will give them about ten hours to defuse the bomb before the train reaches its final destination.

Genre filmmaking was at its peak in the 1970’s and in many cases this was due to the fact that directors at this time had more control then they ever had before or since. Big budget disaster films The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno were drawing big crowds around the world so it would only be natural for the Japanese to want to make their own home grown disaster films. Bullet Train was directed by Junya Sato who also directed the excellent True Account of Ginza Tortures and the first Golgo 13 film.

Junya Sato’s directing through out Bullet Train is nearly flawless as he lets the performances tell the story instead of showing off with fancy camera angles. One minor set back with this film it is special effects which for the most part look acceptable despite a few shots that really look cheap. Junya Sato also co-wrote the films screenplay with Ryunosuke Ono. The intricate plot is well written as each new obstacle is revealed to its fullest effect. This film was cut by nearly forty minutes when released outside of Japan upon it original release and this DVD contains the shorter U.S. version of Bullet Train. The bulk of the missing scenes take place during three flashback sequences which are important to the overall feel of the film as they add more character depth and give the viewer more insight into why Okita puts his plan of terror into action. The cast filled with colorful characters most of which are sympathetic and likable. Ken Takakura performance as Tetsuo Okita is mesmerizing as his character is on the verge of breaking down and losing everything. Sue Shihomi has a brief cameo as a telephone operator.

Sonny Chiba may not be the lead in Bullet Train, still he plays one of the films most important characters as the bullet trains lead conductor Aoki. Virtually every moment that involves a scene with Chiba in the film sees him sitting nervously behind the wheel of the train and even though his character lacks mobility Chiba is able to convey so much just in his facial expressions. The police are by far and away the least sympathetic characters in the film as they go back on their promises time and again. They are often overzealous as they try to capture criminals and in most instances they kill the criminals before they can get any information from them. This inept police work also helps keep the plot going as now they have to find another way to find and disable the bomb. Surprisingly the Okita and his two sidekicks are the three characters that are the easiest to identify and care about. Some of the elements in the plot of Bullet Train would spring up nearly twenty years later in a film called Speed. Overall Bullet Train moves at a brisk pace and has enough plot twists that keep the film interesting through out.

The DVD:

Ronin Entertainment presents all three films included in this collection are anamorphic widescreen and in their original aspect ratios. Colors look vivid and nicely saturated through out. Black levels are solid and details look sharp in the background and foreground. There are no problems with print damage, artifacts, compression or edge enhancement. Overall all three films have never looked better on DVD.

Virus comes with a Dolby Digital stereo that is dual language English and Japanese through out with English subtitles during the Japanese portions. Golgo 13 comes with three audio options a Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital stereo Japanese audio mixes and a Dolby Digital stereo English audio mix. Bullet Train comes with one audio option a Dolby Digital stereo mix in English. All the audio sources expect for the Dolby Digital stereo English audio mix on Golgo 13 are free of distortion or any major sound defects. The Dolby Digital stereo English audio mix on Golgo 13 has some noticeable hiss and some minor distortion issues. The audio for all three films sound robust and evenly balanced. All three films come with removable English subtitles that are easy to read and follow.

Extras for this release include a collection of Sonny Chiba trailers The Shogun’s Samurai, The Killing Machine, Karate Bearfighter, Karate Bullfighter, Karate for Life, Shogun’s Shadow, Shogun’s Ninja, The Executioner, The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno, Legend of the Eight Samurai, G.I. Samurai and Ninja Wars all in Japanese with English subtitles. Also included are the English language trailers for Legend of the Eight Samurai and Ninja Wars. This set comes with a DVD insert that talks briefly about each film and the version included for this release.

The Sonny Chiba action pack contains three distinctively different films from the legendary Sonny Chiba and best of all the set retails at a ridiculously low price, highly recommended.

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