10,000 Bullets   Exploring the world of Cinema from the Arthouse to the Grindhouse™

Sonny Chiba’s Dragon Princess/Karate Warriors (Welcome to the Grindhouse) 
Written by: on August 3rd, 2007

Theatrical Release Dates: USA/Japan, 1981, 1976
Directors: Simon Nuchtern (Sonny Chiba’s Dragon Princess), Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (Karate Warriors)
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Jirô Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Yasuaki Kurata (Sonny Chiba’s Dragon Princess), Etsuko Shihomi, Hiroshi Miyauchi, Sanae Obori, Kenji Ohba, Tatsuya Nanjo, Sonny Chiba, Emi Hayakawa, Masashi Ishibashi (Karate Warriors)

DVD released: September 14th, 2007
Approximate running times: 80 minutes (Sonny Chiba’s Dragon Princess), 89 minutes (Karate Warriors)
Aspect Ratio: 2.3:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Both Films)
Rating: R
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English (Both Films)
Subtitles: N/A
DVD Release: BCi Eclipse/Deimos
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $12.98

Dragon Princess: A young child (Etsuko Shihomi) witnesses her father Agaki (Sonny Chiba), as a quartet of karate thugs called the Big Four lead by Nikado nearly beat him to death. Nikado will do anything to take Agaki’s title as “the top Karate instructor” and instead of playing by the rules Nikado and his thugs beat Agaki until he agrees to leave Tokyo. Blinded in one eye by Nikado’s thugs Agaki flees to New York City with his daughter (Etsuko Shihomi), where Agaki rigorous training lasts for years taking away his daughters childhood and Shiomi goes to Tokyo in honor of her fathers last wish to settle score with Nikado and the Big Four. Once in Tokyo Shiomi goes to live with her grandfather where she plans her father’s enemy’s demise.

Despite the film being titled “Sonny Chiba’s Dragon Princess” the star of the film is Etsuko Shihomi. Sonny Chiba who plays Shihomi’s father in the film is in only the first twenty minutes and then his character passes away. Then the remaining hour of the film is spent with Shihomi as Yumi getting revenge against those who brought about the demise of her father. The box art for this release incorrectly lists the films running time as ninety minutes when it is only eighty minutes in length. There appears to nothing cut or missing from this version of Dragon Princess.

The film opens with a pre-credits fight scene in which Chiba shows off his superb fighting skills and this scene sets up the rest of the plot. The films opening credits are more like a montage as we see Yumi train and literally grow up right before our eyes into a young woman who is now ready to avenge her father.  Dragon Princess it your typical revenge tale where the plot isn’t as important as the action and this film nicely showcases Shihomi and her Martial arts skills. Shihomi’s co-star Yasuaki Kurata (of G-men 75 fame), is equally impressive with his fighting scenes.

Once again seeing a film in its proper aspect ratio can vastly improve it. The pacing of scenes and framing of compositions are all well done. The films score doesn’t fare as well with it’s a typical 1980’s sounding kung fu soundtrack. Etsuko Shihomi through very little dialog is deadly and beautiful as she exacts her revenge. She more then proves that she can hold her own against man or woman. My favorite moment in the film is the films grand finale where Yumi gets her chance to exact revenge against her father’s enemies in a field of tall grass. Ultimately Dragon Princess is a solid tale about revenge which also features many first rate action sequences.

Karate Warriors: Chieko (Sonny Chiba), a mysterious stranger arrives in town and is caught up in gang violence in the streets. When Chieko comes across young thug lying face down in the gutter, he takes the man to hospital to get him medical attention. One of the nurse at the hospital Yumi informs Chieko that there is an on going turf war between the Iga and Nishi mobs. Through out the rest of the film Chieko will befriend both the Iga and Nishi mobs as he plays them against each other.

Karate Warriors starts abruptly with Yakuza thugs destroying various businesses. Having never seen the Japanese version of Karate Warriors I don’t know if this quick start at the beginning is intentional or if it because something has been edited out of the beginning footage. The film features several Toei regulars from this era including Chiba protégée Etsuko Shihomi in a brief cameo at the beginning of the film. She is playing dice and invites Chiba’s character over before the game being broken up by the Yakuza.

Karate Warriors is like a melting pot of other movies, part Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars and part Lone Wolf and Cub. The action sequences are all first rate and they are all enhanced by the film excessive us of slow motion photography. Sonny Chiba gives one of his better performances as he shows his tender side in father son scenes and shows that he kicks some serious ass in the bloodletting scenes. One of the films best moments the Yakuza show up at a shack where Chiba, the young boy he befriended and the boys samurai father are staying. This scene features some of Chiba’s most exciting moves of his career.

The story is your typical Yakuza story about double crosses. There is plenty of sleaze and most of the woman characters either are raped or killed. Chiba’s character Chieko even has sex with one of them after they are assaulted. One thing that I really enjoyed about Chiba’s character Chieko is that he is not your typical cold hearted anti-hero and that he shows compassion by helping those in need. Karate Warriors is expertly directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi who also directed the Sister Street Fighter and Karate for Life trilogies. Ultimately underneath all this sleazy exploitation is a tender story about a loner learning to become a father figure to a young boy who father was murder?

The DVD:

Both films have been given anamorphic widescreen transfers and both films have been flagged for progressive playback. While the image is not reference quality it is certainly the best these two films have looked on DVD in North America.

Both releases each come with one audio option Dolby Digital Mono English. The audio sounds clear and balanced.

Extras for this release are limited to trailers. Two more Sonny Chiba films finally get a DVD release in which they are presented in aspect ratios that are very closely framed to their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios. Both films are only presented in their English language versions. BCI’s Dragon Princess/Karate Warriors double feature is a more than affordable DVD release.

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