Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky
(Lik Wong) (1991)
Directed by Ngai Kai Lam

Artistic Value: * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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In the near future, 2001 to be precise, Riki-Oh (Siu-Wong Fan), a young man convicted of killing the drug dealer responsible for the death of his girlfriend, Keiko (Gloria Yip), is sentenced to serve ten years in a privatized prison. Once there, Riki quickly finds himself in conflict with the Assistant Warden (Faan Mooi Saang), who, while the Warden (Ka-Kui Ho) is away, is running the prison with the help of four powerful prisoners, the Gang of Four, all of whom are deadly martial artists. Riki defeats a number of petty thugs who, one after the next, decide to attack him and eventually discovers that the Warden is using the prison grounds to grow poppies and produce opium. Angered by this, Riki, despite the number of deadly fighters he will have to oppose, continues his battle against the corrupt officials and their henchmen.

There are movies that are so bad they are entertaining, and there are movies that are so weird that they are entertaining. I am happy to say that Ngai Kai Lam's Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is both so awful and so strange that it is consistently amusing.

The story the director tells is, to be honest, negligible, and his characters are all as deep as puddles. Neither of these facts takes away from the film, however, since both the story and the characters are present only to provide the means for introducing one outlandish, and outlandishly gory, action sequence after another.

Fortunately, these are, without exception, fun to watch. At different points, various villains crush one man's skull, skin another man (starting with the lower half of his face), lop off several individuals' limbs, kick a dog in half, use a woodworking tool on a person's face, and more. One thug even disembowels himself so that he can strangle Riki with his intestines. Of course, Riki is given sufficient opportunities to display his own grisly talents. He kicks off the top of one man's skull, disembowels a grossly fat man, breaks off countless arms and legs, literally shatters limbs, smashes skulls, and, on numerous occasions, punches a hole completely through some opponent's torso. Admittedly, the hero does suffer quite a few injuries throughout these fights. In one battle, shards of glass are blown into his eyes and his arm is sliced open, forcing him to use his teeth to tie his muscles back together. In another contest, his palm is pierced with a metal spike, and, in yet another encounter, a pair of hooks is driven through his hand. He is even buried alive for a week at one point. Fortunately, Riki is apparently indestructible. No matter how severely injured he is in one scene, he is invariably completely healed by the next.

As gruesome as all these sequences are, I should add that they are consistently cartoonish. The film is genuinely goofy. The characters, for example, though lacking in complexity, are often hilarious. The Assistant Warden has a glass eye he keeps filled with mints and a pair of deadly hooks in place of one hand (these are the hooks used on Riki, and on others too). The Warden is a sadistic dandy who is capable of transforming himself into a giant demon and who has a cruel, obese, and apparently mentally deficient son who dresses in a bright green school uniform. The members of the Gang of Four are all deadly fighters, each of whom employs a specific style of combat. One, Yomi (Yukari Oshima), also happens to be a women, though her character is, I believe, meant to be male. The list goes on and on.

The film's weird, cartoonish feeling is further enhanced by its wonderfully bright colors. The prison, with its pink walls, blue cell doors and bars, and its vibrantly red floors, looks like it was lifted straight from the pages of a comic book. The same can be said of the costumes. All of the prisoners wear black. All of the guards wear bright blue. The Warden and his son are both brightly dressed, the former like a gentleman from another age and the latter like a caricature of an English schoolboy.

Even if all of these elements are not sufficient to make Riki-Oh engaging for the viewer, he should still be able to enjoy the film for its sheer dreadfulness. The special effects are laughable. The acting is atrocious, and the English language dub is one of the worst I have ever heard. I do not make these comments as criticisms of the film. They add to its appeal.

I cannot imagine that anyone would claim that Riki-Oh is a good movie - it certainly is not - but it is fun to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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