Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991): Hong Kong/Japan – directed by Ngai Kai Lam
Not rated by the MPAA – contains extreme and ridiculous violence and gore, and some drug content
Note: This review contains some descriptions of violent content, and a picture that might offend those not expecting cartoonish, ridiculous violence.
Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is one of the most amazing movies ever committed to celluloid. It is nearly inconceivable that it was ever made, and a pure joy to watch if one is blessed with the right mindset. It must be understood that Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is not a good movie. It is not a work of great art, or hardly any art, for that matter. In some ways it is a wretched film, truly awful; the joy lies in that it appears its creators were taking it seriously, as is the case with Troll 2 [review here].
The story is a little bit silly, the gore effects are absurdly violent, and the acting and technical skills are lacking. However, despite its shortcomings (all of which add to the true charm of the film) Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is, at its core, the story of a very strong Jesus-figure.
Ricky-Oh (Siu-Wong Fan) (alternately called Ricky-Ho depending on the dubbing) is sent to prison in an age when the prisons have been privatized due to the expansion of capitalism. He has committed manslaughter and assault, and has five bullets in his body as souvenirs. He has been somewhat wrongfully imprisoned but doesn’t let that fact get him down. In prison he finds out that four gangs control the four quadrants of the facility. Each is headed by a boss, and each boss reports to the assistant warden (Faan Mooi Saang), who in turn is frightfully terrified of the warden (Ka-Kui Ho).
Ricky soon discovers that business (because prisons are privatized, obviously) is not above board at the prison. Some of the gangs are growing and selling drugs, and they rule the rest of the inmates ruthlessly and cruelly. Ricky has never been one to stand by while evil and sin go unpunished, and fights to destroy the heads of the gangs and the warden and assistant warden.
But Ricky is not an avenging angel or harbinger of doom. He is a thoughtful, pensive character, always taking compassion on the weak and innocent. He prefers nonviolence to violence, but is sometimes pushed beyond what dialogue can endure, like Jesus in the temple filled with money-changers. It is these times when his training, given to him by his uncle after his father died, comes in handy. He is immensely strong, like Samson with a full head of hair and no Delilah. He is capable of breaking through walls, a fat person’s belly, or an enclosure made of concrete. He breaks numerous bones, hands, jaws, skulls, and faces, and manages to sew up his own wounds without any difficulty. He can even survive a strangulation attempt by one of the gang members, with the gang member’s own intestines after Ricky has liberated them from his abdomen.
Ricky’s goal is not violence, however. He is merely defending himself and the poor inmates on whom he takes compassion. Some minor spoilers may follow as the analogy between Ricky and Jesus unfolds. Ricky is even willing to sacrifice himself. At one point he is left for dead and buried in the ground for a week, before arising from the grave to save the souls of the oppressed. It is a magnificent, if unorthodox, picture of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. At the end he even breaks down the wall separating the sinners (those in prison) from freedom, smashing a 20-foot tall section of wall with a single blow.
In one scene Ricky takes down the cross of Andrew, another inmate who has fallen in trouble with the gangs, and bears it upon himself. And he even wishes to save his enemies, attempting to pull one of them from the crushing weight of a hydraulic press even after he has broken the man’s hands and forearms, punched a hole from under his chin through his mouth, and inflicted other horrid injuries upon him. But even after defeating him physically Ricky is still concerned with the man’s life.
It is this strong analogy between Ricky-Oh and Jesus that makes Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky a transcendent movie experience. Alongside the gratuitous violence, filled with not-so-special effects and laughable prostheses, the cornball moments between Ricky and his girlfriend (Gloria Yip), seen only in flashback, and the utter seriousness with which most of it is played, the story is an extremely positive message with strong correlations to the story of Jesus as told in the Bible.
That’s not to say that the film is perfect, even if it is entirely enjoyable. There is a strange mixture of violent scenes, hilarious slapstick comedy, and overwrought melodramatic moments that would better fit a John Woo action epic. Technically, the film is terrible. Many scenes are shot with a very yellow hue, almost as if they were added in later, after the print was considered final. There is very little continuity, camera-wise, and the lighting is consistently off. But again, all of these faults contribute to the film’s success. No more appropriate film exists to watch with a group of friends who enjoy ridiculous violence, and the strong themes of a man who fights for justice, rescues poor sinners, and is willing to sacrifice his own life as he battles demons (and then Satan himself after the warden mysteriously transforms into a gigantic ogre) will provide fodder for dialogue long after the end credits roll. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is a unique experience, entirely unforgettable, and absolutely wonderful.
P.S. The Film is remarkable enough to warrant an unprecedented score of Five Pirate Flags, making it ideal viewing for Piradicals.