Thanks to Quentin Tarantino Sonny Chiba has had a bit of a career revival. Since Tarantino featured a Chiba fanatic main character in his screenplay for True Romance Chiba's been brought back to public attention in the U.S.
Over the last few years many different Sonny Chiba collections have been released on DVD. Some of them are good, some not so good. This one, The Sonny Chiba Collection, is one of the better releases. BCI has again teamed up with Adness to release anamorphic widescreen versions of some of Sonny Chiba's best movies....along with a couple titles that don't really belong in a "Sonny Chiba Collection."
First, the classic Japanese hijacking/extortion film (and the basis for the movie Speed), Bullet Train is included in both the international edit (English dub, 115 minutes) and the original Japanese version (152 minutes). The sound on the international version is pretty thin and tinny, and English dubs of Asian movies is usually mediocre at best - although this one isn't too bad. The Japanese version, however, is very good. The picture quality is excellent for a non-restored print of a 35 year old movie, and the sound is more than acceptable for a film of that vintage. The only downside to this movie (as part of this set)? Not a lot of Chiba. He has a major supporting role, but is not the main character (that role went to the great Ken Takakura). Still, this is a classic thriller (and I would have paid $[...] for an anamorphic widescreen release of the Japanese version by itself).
Golgo 13 is a top notch Chiba movie, where he plays an international hit man. While this one has more action that Bullet Train, it has less action than many of Chiba's samurai or karate movies, and it plays as more of an action thriller than your typical kick ass Sonny Chiba action movie. Don't take that as a negative, however, as the script is actually one of the best Chiba got to work with in a leading role during the 70's. The Japanese audio is again noticeably stronger than the English dub.
Karate Warriors is more of what many Chiba fans go for - out and out action. This time it's a variation on Kurosawa's Yojimbo. Kurosawa this is not - but Kurosawa never got to work with Sonny Chiba, either. Chiba's got IT, and this is one of those movies that really shows his charisma and screen presence. This is one of the stronger movies that Chiba headlined (again, the difference is a decent script), and it is another highlight of the set. English dub only on this one, and while the sound is again a little thin (and sometimes just a tad muddy), it is adequate. The picture quality is uneven, but it is anamorphic widescreen, and it looks much better than most public domain releases.
The Bodyguard has some of that cheese that many people associate with 70's martial artus/karate movies, but it also has a fairly complex plot and a decent script (although, this is one of the 4 movies in the set that do not have the original Japanese audio, so it's hard to tell what the original script was like - it could have been significantly better than the English dub script). There are several good action sequences, and some genuine suspense in this movie. Good to very good picture quality, and the sound is again adequate to good.
Then we get to the two titles that probably shouldn't have been included in this set - Dragon Princess and Sister Street Fighter. Neither one features Sonny Chiba in anything more than a glorified cameo role, and neither one is as good as the other movies in this set. Sure, there is lots of action, and some good fight scenes, but weaker scripts hurt these films. As for the audio? English dubs only, but the sound quality is decent for both. The picture quality is noticeably poorer for Dragon princess (lots of very fine vertical emulsion layer scratches from time to time, and the color level shifts dramatically - whether that's intentional or not I'm not sure). Sister Street fighter fares a little better, but not a lot.
Two of the discs in this set are from BCI's "Grindhouse" series, and that probably explains the inclusion of Dragon Princess and Sister Street Fighter (as they were paired up with legit Sonny Chiba movies as double feature discs, and BCI just used their previously mastered and pressed discs).
Overall, this set (at around $[...]) is a great value and a must have for any fan of Sonny Chiba - or for anyone interested in (or just curious about) Chiba's movies. Considering the [...] this set is Highly Recommended.