Asiansanity - Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky
And now back to our regularly scheduled Asiansanity part two! Check out part one here!
I want you to stop for a second and imagine a parallel Earth…nearly identical to our own up to a point. Where our timeline diverges from this particular alternate Earth is in 1990. Consider if you will a Sam Raimi that, after completing Darkman, had grown tired of working with larger studios just after one collaboration and opted to head east on a sabbatical. As he walked the earth, he finds himself in Hong Kong and becomes completely enraptured with the kung fu films made there. He begins to ply his own special talents toward gore (as so aptly displayed in Evil Dead 2) in this fresh genre and, in this alternate 1991, he reveals his masterpiece: Riki-Oh, The Story of Ricky.
Obviously…this isn’t the way it happened. Raimi would collaborate with Universal yet again, giving us Army of Darkness…the third installment of the Evil Dead series. And yet, this masterpiece still got made on our Earth…so let’s take a moment to explain how that happened. It all started in Japan. [Of course it did. – Ed.] The film is based on a manga of the same name sans the redundancy: Riki-Oh. Hong Kong chop-socky studio Golden Harvest picked up the rights to turn the manga into a film…and if that name sounds familiar, pat yourself on the back TMNT fan, as this is the studio that went in with New Line to bring about the original 1990 Ninja Turtles live action film…so we’ve got some solid geek bona-fides here. So, perfect for our Asiansanity theme, we have an idea that started in Japan but was made a film in Hong Kong.
The plot is pretty threadbare: Riki…or Ricky…I’m gonna go with Ricky here just so Word will stop giving me the red underlines…anyway, Ricky is incarcerated for killing some drug dealers that were kinda vaguely involved in the death of his girlfriend. The plot hinges on the fact that the jail that Ricky is to serve his time in is a privately managed facility…as this is a future where correctional facilities have been taken over by private companies. [We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention that the film takes place in the far flung future of 2001. – Ed.] Needless to say, this very transparently telegraphs the fact that yes, this prison is rather a corrupt place. As such, Ricky gets quickly initiated as he comes to defense of a rather meek prisoner who is being mercilessly picked on by one of the “captains”, prisoners who keeps order throughout their block and usually have their shenanigans overlooked by the guards…and this is where the gore starts to flow. Hearing of Ricky’s power, the assistant warden sets out to find a way to bend Ricky to his will…either as a “captain” or as a member of his “Gang of Four” who end up being your stereotypical ‘big boss’ characters. But as you would expect, Ricky ain’t got time for that jibba jabba because, you know, he’s the good guy. So this leads to the Gang of Four being sent to take Ricky down, not only for his insolence, but also to protect the heroin production that is going on at the prison. [And if that feels shoe-horned in, well…it is. – Ed.]
But you’re not here for the plot…or at least you’d better not be! No, no, you’re here for the gory kung-fu madness! And what wonderful madness it is. Now, I’ll be right up front about it, there are a few gore effects that don’t look the greatest…oddly enough, they bookend the film…but everything else? Man, you couldn’t have asked for better if they had Tom Savini on board! I’m gonna stick on this point for a moment because in some of my recent reviews (most notably Zombie Fight Club, but I’m sure there are others), more recent Hong Kong offerings have opted primarily for digital blood effect and they look terrible…whereas when you watch Riki-Oh, sure, some of the effects look flawed here or there, but there’s no denying a more visceral film experience and ultimately, a more satisfying one. Sure, I may watch these films at home, usually by myself, but when you see the practical effects in Riki-Oh, I know I was 100% more likely to yell “Oh shit!” at my TV than anything digital from more recent Hong Kong efforts. In many ways, this film is late 80s/early 90s anime come to life…where everyone has EXCEPTIONALLY high blood pressure so that when the blood gushes, it does so in veritable GUYSERS! Again, think the blood effects in Raimi’s Evil Dead flicks to get an idea of what I’m talking about. That’s where this film is at its best…and the film itself knows that, trying to insert as much of this gore as it possibly can. While Ricky’s power levels really don’t lend themselves to any long, drawn out, awesomely complicated fight sequences…well, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as you know that each kick, each punch, each move is going to result in some comically exaggerated wound and for the 90-ish minutes of the film’s running time, well, it simply doesn’t have the time to get old.
When we as an audience find ourselves removed from the prison, either in a flashback to Ricky’s past or following the Warden (not the assistant, mind you), this is where the film slows down and does present us with the weaker material. As I said above, the plot is pretty thin and much of it simply doesn’t make sense…particularly the circumstances surrounding Ricky’s girlfriend’s death. Ricky’s training with his uncle seems a little overlong, I mean, just how many tombstones does one need to smash on one’s chest to finally determine that yes, he is the ultimate badass? [The answer, as with all things, is 42. – Ed.] And the Warden’s son really only adds more annoyance to the film.
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky was the first Hong Kong film to ever receive a Category III rating without any erotic content. In terms of our ratings system, that puts it at an NC-17 rating. That’s a little extreme, as most of what I saw here was solid R…if you’re a fan of slasher films, you’re not going to see anything here that you haven’t seen before in terms of gore. And while it does have some negatives, let’s face it, for me, this film is the cinematic equivalent of the first time someone mixed peanut butter and chocolate. Kung Fu? And gore? In one movie??? AWESOME!!! And that it is. With tongue firmly in cheek and fully aware of where its strengths lie, Riki-Oh doesn’t pretend to be anything more than what it is: a fantastically gory kung fu film that punches you unrelentingly in the gut…with its fist and your intestines spewing out of your back. And you’ll love it for that. It’s a little hard to find on disc as I believe it is currently out of print (although I did manage to snag one on Amazon), but those of you with streaming services should be able to find it…as I’ve heard it’s been on both Netflix and Shudder. If you’re a fan of gore or Hong Kong action films, you owe it to yourself to track this film down.