Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky (1991)

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So, I’ve covered a handful of Supernatural Horror movies from Japan, and I’m going to return to Japan later on to cover the more extreme films that the country has to offer, but now it’s time to move over to Hong Kong to continue my coverage of the Asian Extreme Cinema series; starting with a real extreme cinema gem: Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky.

Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky is a Superhero Action/Splatter/Prison movie, but more importantly, it’s a live action adaptation of the first book from the ultra-violent Japanese manga series Riki-Oh, the plot of which sees violent Kung-Fu Superman infiltrate and take over a prison in order to search for his brother. As far as movie adaptations of comic books go, especially those released in the early 1990s, Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky is surprisingly one of the more faithful adaptations. There’s a few changes here and there, such as changing a few characters names (e.g. Saiga Riki-Oh is now Ricky Ho) and removing the ‘brothers’ plot in order to keep the movie self-contained and out of the way of sequels, but the majority of the film is very faithful to the original Manga, even carrying over the exact same dialogue exchanges and plot threads. Unfortunately, that does mean that the numerous superhero cliches that plagued in the original manga are faithfully adapted as well, but the film more than makes up for the numerous cliches by carrying over the bizarre moments that made the Manga so ridiculously fun to the read, and the violence that personified the Manga is exaggerated tenfold in the movie.

That being said, despite how faithful Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky is to the original source material, it has quite a lot of flaws that prevent it from being as revered as other superhero movie adaptation such as The Dark Knight or Deadpool. To begin with, most of the dialogue and characters of Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky come from the original manga, but the scenes which have been added by the studio specifically for the movie stand out like a sore thumb because of how clumsily written they are, such as the scene where Ricky learns the Qigung fighting style from his Uncle Ghost, a scene which was clearly re-written for the movie because of how poor and clumsy both the dialogue and the action is. Poorly written scenes such as this are scattered throughout the movie, but the majority of the plot is very faithfully adapted from the Mange, and it turns out that the Riki-Oh manga works incredibly well when adapted to cinema. It’s very well paced, simple to follow, and jumps from Action, to comedy, to heart-warming character drama very seamlessly. In tone, Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky is very similar to a lot of Superhero movies today, as it tonally jumps from scene to scene, but it always has a very lighthearted feel to it despite having quite a few dark scenes sprinkled in here and there in order to develop the characters and the struggle of prison life, but these dark scenes aren’t held on for too long before returning to the adrenaline pumping action.

Unfortunately, however, the worst aspect of Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky is the atrocious acting. None of the actors give what can be called ‘good’ performances, and a lot of the acting in the film is very wooden, unconvincing and totally distracting. Only Fan Siu-Wong (Ricky) and Hong Kong legend Fan Mei-Sheng (Assistant Warden/Cyclops/Dan) stand out amongst the terrible performances. Mainly because Fan Siu-Wong looks like his trying his best to act seriously, but he definitely needs more experience, and Fan Mei-Sheng looks like he doesn’t care about the film at all and is just having the most fun with his performance as he can. However, after all is said and done, these hilariously bad and very silly performances weirdly suit the film to a tee. This is because the film has a very silly, lighthearted tone to it, and these incredibly bad, yet incredibly enjoyable performances exaggerate that particular tone, and it manages to add a whole new dimension of comedy to an already ridiculous film.

However, the most important aspect of Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky, the aspect that made it a cult classic film, is the movie’s unrelenting violence and gore. Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky is widely recognized as one of the goriest movies ever made, and that title is well deserved. From start to finish, Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky is an absolute bloodbath, and the special effects that create those scenes of carnage are incredible at best, ridiculously ropy at worst. In all honesty, the special effects aren’t the most consistent – sometimes the dummy will look like the actor, other times the dummy looks nothing like the actor – but they are always over the top and violent to the nth degree. Not a single death scene in Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky is pragmatic, every single scene of evisceration is cartoon-ish and overly silly. As a result, I could never take the death scenes seriously, and I found myself enjoying each and every gory fight because the blood was way too ridiculous to be disturbing and the characters were far too removed from reality to emotionally affect me, like a Tom & Jerry, or more appropriately, an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. Hell, even the sensibility of the fight scenes have been thrown right out of the window with Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky. For example, one very iconic scene involves a character trying to strangle another with his own eviscerated intestines. The action scenes are that stupid, and it’s all incredibly enjoyable, as long as you have the stomach for wall to wall blood and gore.

Personally, Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky is one of my favourite action/kung-fu movies. The martial arts isn’t anything special, but the action scenes, comedic personality and lashes of impressive gore more than make up for any of the film’s flaws. Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky has a low-budget charm unlike any other prison film. It’s a flawed masterpiece that deserves to be seen and enjoyed by Gorehounds from around the world. It’s a cinematic spectacle, and I absolutely love it. In conclusion, I definitely recommend giving Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky a watch, especially if that viewer is a lover of Kung-Fu flicks, ridiculous action films and can handle bucket-loads of the red stuff, like myself.

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