RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY (1991) – Back when I started Balladeer’s Blog in 2010 this Hong Kong martial arts/ splatter film was among the first movies I planned to review. Feeling intimidated by the need to describe the sheer scale of the joyously tasteless violence in this movie I kept postponing it. Eventually, it seemed so notorious that I figured too many people knew about it for me to bother.
This week I was floored to meet a fellow fan of bad movies and learn that they had never even heard of Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. That galvanized me to finally post a review of the movie.
WARNING: For people who shy away from ultra-violence and the like, I will point out that this film usually grosses out and disgusts viewers just as much as some other flicks I’ve reviewed, like Father’s Day, Mandy, Lewd Lizard, Headless, etc. If you hated those reviews, you’ll likely hate this one, too.
Riki-Oh (pronounced Ricky-HO) is also known as Violence King and with good reason. This Category 3 Hong Kong movie does the seemingly impossible – it more than lives up to the Japanese Manga it was based on. Siu-Wong Fan stars as the title character. Ngai Choi Lam directed and wrote the screenplay adaptation.
Get ready for a kung fu film which combines the violent sensibilities of the Three Stooges crossed with the gore of Psycho Gothic Lolita, Dead Alive plus the aforementioned Mandy and Father’s Day. Not to mention more shots of men standing at urinals than you’d see at a major league ball park.
Set in what was then the future year of 2001, our story centers around the dystopian prison system of that future. The penal system is run by private corporations apparently like Nike, the NBA and Disney which have no qualms about slave labor.
The newest prisoner is Riki-Oh, a young Chinese man corralled for killing the drug lord who caused the death of the woman our hero loved. Riki-Oh accomplished that after being taught the ultra-violent martial art form Qi Gong, which can elevate a practitioner’s strength to that of fifty men. No, it’s not a comedy, this is meant seriously.
Our hero was taught this deadly skill by his father’s friend who used to work as a bodyguard for Chiang Kai-Shek. (Some reviews call this man Riki’s uncle but veteran fans of kung fu films will remember that “uncle” is simply a respectful way of addressing any older man.) Riki is so badass that he still carries five bullets in his body from the drug lord he killed. “Souvenirs” he calls them.
The assistant warden is nicknamed Cyclops Dan because he has one artificial eye in which he stores his personal supply of drugs. (Don’t ask.) He also has a hook hand. His superior, the main warden, has a rotund, sadistic son who causes the deaths or mutilations of multiple prisoners and guards during the movie.
Take the brutality of standard men-behind-bars films, combine it with the gleeful sadism of the Ilsa movies, then MULTIPLY IT BY A HUNDRED and you’ll have Riki-Oh. Cruelty and/or kung fu fights are part of every minute in the slammer at this perverse penitentiary.
Human bodies are treated worse than crash-test dummies as blood and gore flow by the gallon. The special effects range from graphically semi-realistic one minute to cartoonishly surreal the next, but the red stuff flows like fountain water at all times. It’s tough to avoid feeling like your face may get sprayed with stray blood, brains and bone fragments from the screen at any moment.
Martial arts blows puncture through bodies to tear out hearts, sharp objects flay open the lower half of people’s faces, heads explode on impact with a fist, you name it. One prisoner who serves as muscle for the assistant warden literally carves open his own stomach so that he can use his entrails to try to choke Riki at one point. No, I’m not kidding. There’s even a “beyond Mr Creosote” death scene as a fat man explodes from within.
Want to see a prisoner get crucified? This flick’s got it! Want to see Riki get his mouth stuffed with razor-blades only to spit them out with such force they embed themselves in his tormentor’s face? This flick’s got it!
By the time this movie gets to the part where a man is forced to eat raw his own arm which was just ground up like hamburger you’ll either have switched off in disgust or be ready to declare this the most transcendently gore-soaked piece of entertainment ever committed to celluloid.
Throw in the usual surreal martial arts moments from Hong Kong cinema, like people apparently defying gravity, punching through walls, etc, and all accompanied by the wildest sound effects imaginable. There’s a reason people make “kung foley” jokes.
The plot – which matters as little here as one does in a Marx Brothers movie – is the usual cliched prison flick nonsense about our main character surviving endless attacks from other prisoners as well as mindless sadism from the prison authorities.
You’ll question your own sanity when those scenes are punctuated by “tender” moments like Riki teaching a fellow prisoner his trick of making music by blowing into leaves. But rest assured, the guards will soon cut out the pupil’s tongue and all will once more seem normal.
Even during the few scenes when there’s no bloodshed on screen the WTF moments fly like shrapnel in this little honey, like when a prisoner sings a very eccentric rendition of Satisfaction or when Riki and his martial arts master use their mad skills to literally pulverize countless tombstones in a cemetery. Dick move, boys.
As a nod to Chinese political history from decades ago, the quartet of convicts who control the prison’s most violent criminal cliques are called the Gang of Four. Kind of funny in a dark way.
SPOILER: Ultimately, Riki-Oh learns that part of the slave labor operation at the prison involves growing poppies and refining them into drugs. At this point our hero has “taken all he can stand and he can’t stands no more” Popeye style and he kills off the Boss Villain, who also knows Qi Gong, then punches an enormous hole in the prison wall so he can escape.
If you’re into fringe cinema and/or extreme martial arts movies you need to see Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky at least once.
FOR MY REVIEW OF SIX-STRING SAMURAI, A POST-APOCALYPSE SAMURAI FILM/ SPAGHETTI WESTERN, CLICK HERE.