Shinichi Chiba, best known to fans abroad as “Sonny” Chiba, first became famous in the West as Japan’s answer to Bruce Lee. Playing a martial arts master who protects a rich heiress from would-be kidnappers in the 1974 actioner “The Street Fighter,” Chiba fought with a coiled style and highly charged intensity that echoed the on-screen moves and persona of the Hong Kong megastar. But his explosive power and hard-edged, dirty-hero performance made him more than just a Bruce Lee imitator.

Distributed abroad by New Line Cinema, “The Street Fighter” and its sequels launched Chiba to international stardom. In the process he acquired a new first name, Sonny, bestowed on him by New Line founder Robert Shaye, and an overseas cult following that proved as enduring as Lee’s, though Chiba never acquired Lee’s “dead legend” status.

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