The Film: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky
The Principles: Siu-Wong Fan, Mei Sheng Fan, Ka-Kui Ho, Yukari Oshima. Director: Ngai Choi Lam
The Premise: In the year 2001 prisons are privatized and controlled by corporations. A young man with superhuman strength is incarcerated in a corrupt system run by cruel officials and vicious gangs, but he uses his extraordinary martial arts skills to clean up the place from the inside out.
Is it good: I’ve seen some brain-shattering cinema in my day, but nothing had ever prepared me for the face-shredding insanity that is Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. I first saw it when Edgar Wright was doing his annual Wright Stuff film festival at the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. several years back. He showed it as a surprise third feature after an Evil Dead 2 and Raising Arizona double bill. I was tired and prepared to go home because it was a little after midnight and I had to get up early the next day, so I decided to check out the first ten minutes and if it didn’t look worthwhile I’d bail. Needless to say I stayed for its entirety and couldn’t have been more delighted in my decision.
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is set in the far off future of 2001 A.D. where all the prisons in China have been privatized by a greedy corporation that treats the inmates like animals. Hmmmm. Anyway, the prison staff gets a shit-ton more than they bargained for when the new prisoner Riki-Oh steps onto the scene. We figure out immediately that the man is a total badass with inhuman strength and an amazing pain tolerance when he sets off the metal detectors because he has five bullet slugs still embedded into his chest from a previous skirmish of some sort. When asked by a guard why he didn’t let the doctors remove them he replies, “Souvenirs.” Awesome.
Next thing you know Riki-Oh gets himself into hot water with one of the leaders of the “Gang of Four” when he defends a helpless old man who’s just had his nose sheared off by one of the them. He trips the thug, causing him to land on a board full of nails that protrude through the scumbag’s hand and one of his eyes. An enormous bald, slobbering man-child named Zorro is sent to kill (and if he so desires eat) Riki in the showers after that incident, but our hero punches his guts out instead. Literally.
This attracts the attention of the insidious assistant warden who has a metal hook for a hand, a voracious appetite for food and drink, an enormous pornography collection on display in his luxurious office, and sports a glass eye filled with mints (!!!). Riki-Oh is brought before him and the meeting doesn’t go very well. The assistant warden threatens Riki-Oh to tell him who he really is, but how do you intimidate a man who cannot be hurt?
I guess you sick every murdering psychopath in the place at him for starters. Riki-Oh fights the tattooed Oscar who throws ground glass in his eyes, blinding him, while he slices a tendon on his arm. But Riki-Oh busts open a drain with his forearm, cleans out his eyes and ties the tendon back together using his good hand and his teeth (!!!). Oscar fools Riki-Oh into thinking he’s committing hara-kiri by slicing his stomach open, only to attempt to strangle him with his own intestines when our hero draws close. It’s pure blood-porn. Riki ends up shattering Oscar’s skull with one fucking punch to the head, finishing him.
Riki-Oh then launches a war with the rest of the “Gang of Four” and the suppressive prison staff. He learns that the warden is using the inmates to grow poppy for heroin, so he burns down the greenhouse. Tarzan, a giant beast of a man who squashes an inmate’s head like a tomato when he’s first introduced, is sent to kill Riki-Oh for this latest insult. Riki-Oh punches off Tarzan’s jaw and one of his fists with ease. Unfortunately, the warden arrives along with his obese, sadistic young son in tow, and orders that his fellow inmates who’ve all grown to love and admire him bury Riki-Oh alive.
But do you really think burying Riki-Oh in concrete is going to stop him? Really? Fuck no! He escapes that shit no probz and squares off against the rest of the gang leaders, finally concluding with an epic battle between Riki-Oh and the warden, who we discover has the uncanny ability to turn himself into a giant monster (!!!). In the end the warden gets his just desserts in a grotesquely violent over-the-top manner and Riki-Oh punches the wall of the prison down and walks free to the delight of all his fellow prisoners!
Needless to say, this movie doesn’t let up for one second. It’s gangbusters from start to finish. The violence is on the level of Dead Alive, only it’s martial arts gore and it’s excessive and awesome. There’s enough eyeball-trauma alone to make Fulci wince. It also has a twisted sense of humor and the look and feel of the outrageous Japanese magna it was based on. I’ve only seen this movie dubbed in English, and that combined with the general gonzo tone makes me love every second of its sheer unadulterated madness. The pulsating synth score is just the icing on the cake.
Is it worth a look: If you’re a fan of complete cinematic annihilation to the senses, then you simply must see this one at once. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is a sci-fi, action, martial arts, comic book kind of a film, but at its heart, it’s one of the absolute wildest, bloodiest and downright craziest prison flicks ever created by human beings. Imagine Cool Hand Luke meets Fist of the North Star. It’s also an excellent example of all the amazing Hong Kong action and exploitation movies that were being pumped out of China back in the nineties. If you’ve never seen it, you really owe it to yourself. This movie will make your head explode!
Random anecdotes: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is the first Hong Kong movie to receive a “Category III” rating for violence rather than sex.
Cinematic soul mates: Cool Hand Luke, Dead Alive, Turkey Shoot, Escape From New York, The Shawshank Redemption, Ichi the Killer, Lock Up and Fist of the North Star