Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Which is Stronger Karate or Tiger (aka Tiger vs Dragon)

Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Starring: Yasuaki Kurata, Jiro Yabuki, Masashi Ishibashi

Disregard the various websites that erroneously tag this film as an alternate title for "Dragon Princess" which stars Etsuko Shihomi. This is NOT the same film. What it is, is an enjoyable (if all too typical) blood and guts Japanese karate flick starring favorite Hong Kong import villain Yasuaki Kurata. In his home country, Kurata found himself playing mostly heroic roles, though usually as a supporting player. Here the lighting fast and charismatic actor finally gets center stage. And yes, he fights a REAL tiger.

Kurata's charater is portrayed as a masked ring brawler who is out for revenge against an evil, meglomaniac entrepeneur played by Japan's most reliable bad guy of the '70's, Masashi Ishibashi. Flashbacks show that ten years ago during a fishing trip that netted hidden gold bars, Kurata and his older brother were betrayed by Ishibashi. His brother was murdered and so presumably was Kurata. He survied...

'Which is Stronger Karate or Tiger' (just rolls right off the tongue, don't it) isn't too big on originality. Most of it's plot devices (including Kurata initially being bumped off a very familiar looking cliff, only to be nursed back to health) have been used in many Japanese karate flicks before. Ishibashi's character has a definate Han (as in Enter the Dragon) feel (as does the fortress itself). Fortunately what this film lacks in originality (tiger fight aside), it makes up for with a very high energy level and some excellent fights. Watching Kurata own this film the way he does made me sad to realize how few chances he has had to really shine at home. He carries the film with self assured ease, both as a fighter and a thesp.

As for the aforementioned tussle with the tiger (understandably the film's big selling point), anybody who has seen Sonny Chiba in Karate Bullfighter and Karate Bearfighter will have an idea what to expect. Yes, it was real and Kurata is shown grappling with it (quickly edited though it was). I gotta say that even though it's obvious that the feline was domesticated, I give Kurata a lot of credit for agreeing to do this scene. A definate "do not try this at home" situation...

Overall with or without the piece de resistance , this adds up as yet another solid '70s karate smackdown from the land of the rising sun.

**1/2 / ****

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