In 1974 Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba starred in my favorite anti-hero film of all time, the Japanese karate exploitation film THE STREET FIGHTER (aka. Attack! Iron Fist). In it he plays muscle for hire Takuma “Terry” Tsurugi, a man whose martial arts skills are matched only by his nasty disposition, and total contempt for others in his line of work. In his first appearance as the character (followed by the sequels RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER and THE STREET FIGHTER’S LAST REVENGE, all in ’74) he is asked by the mafia to kidnap the daughter of a tycoon, but instead he decides to force his way into being her bodyguard. He angers a lot of different, very dangerous groups in the process, and what follows is plenty of bloody karate mayhem.
Chiba brought a ferocity to the screen that was very much in contrast to Bruce Lee, behaving more like a psychopathic, animalistic karate madman, as opposed to the ultra-cool of Lee’s characters. If Lee was a panther, then Chiba was a rabid honey badger (or wolverine)! While in Hong Kong cinema we were seeing beautifully shot, and intricately choreographed kung fu sequences, the Japanese karate-action films were often shot with shaky, hand-held cameras, odd angles, and focused more on attitude, and the destructive power of the art’s strikes. So instead of defeats by complex aerial knockout kicks, the opponents in Chiba’s films were literally torn apart or smashed to death with life-obliterating blows. Throats, ribs, genitals, and arms were ripped from Chiba’s on-screen enemies, eyes were popped out, and they were dealt pulverizing kicks and punches that shattered bones and resulted in jellified organs. Countless stuntmen spewed bright red blood from their mouths as they were struck down, one after another, in various jaw-dropping manner. And best of all, Tsurugi would chuckle as he did it. How could you not love something with so much obvious charm? – Kung Fu Bob
The design depicts one of the most memorable moments from the film, an absolute fan-favorite shot that always gets mentioned in discussions of the film. One of Tsurugi’s strikes is shown, for just a split second, in X-ray vision as he delivers a skull-crushing punch to the top of a thug’s head. As far as I can tell, this is the first time this had ever been done on film, and it’s since been imitated in other martial arts films. This brief bit left such an impression on fans that they often mis-remember the film as having several X-ray shots, and this bit being much longer and more graphic. But it’s only shown once, for maybe four seconds, and was very simply accomplished by showing negative footage of a rubber skull being struck. No matter, it is an iconic moment in a much loved film, and I’ve been thinking of drawing this scene since way back when I was around 15 years old. It took decades, but I finally got around to it. There are two versions: one depicting the scene as if on a ’70s style theatrical poster, full of hyperbolic text and credits, and the other (the “Variant Version”) simply focusing on the imagery of the scene.
The original art was accomplished as a mixed media piece, utilizing markers and watercolor paints, and completed on February 27, 2016.
This artwork has been professionally reproduced on acid and lignin-free, glossy 12 pt. light card-stock paper for all 11×17″ prints, and on high-quality, semi-gloss poster paper for all 18×24″ and 24×36″ poster prints.
The design can also be separately purchased on a T-shirt at 36 Styles.