Stars: 4.9 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Siu-Wong Fan (IP MAN, SUPERCOP 2), Mei Sheng Fan (YEAR OF THE DRAGON, HIT MAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA), Ka-Kui Ho (PRISON ON FIRE, INFERNAL AFFAIRS 3), Yukari Oshima (LETHAL COMBAT, LETHAL GIRLS 2), Frankie Chin (GUARDIAN ANGELS, TO BE NUMBER ONE), Philip Kwok (HARD BOILED, FIVE DEADLY VENOMS), and a very special appearance by Tetsuro Tanba (HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS, HARA-KIRI, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, GREED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT).
Best one-liner: "Enough! We're human beings! HUUUMAAAAN BEEEEIIIINGS!"
"RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY." Is that a typo? Is this the story of "Riki," or is it the story of "Ricky?" It doesn't really matter. What does matter is that this is a grand martial arts-prison film-adventure masterpiece from the unhinged director of THE CAT, Ngai Kai Lam. It's the Looney Tunes carried to their logical, deranged end point, and they've learned a little along the way from DAWN OF THE DEAD to BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA to every movie that's ever combined eye trauma, tight pants, and bad dubbing.
It's the kind of prison movie where every prisoner is wrongfully committed and every warder is a cartoonishly evil kung fu master. It's also the kind of movie to lay all of this on 'ya with a straight face– and that's the way I like it.
Because of my fervent commitment to film scholarship and to the use of Caps Lock in order to embody said bad dubbing, this article will boldly and eloquently try to complete, many times over, the following, near-meaningless sentence:
"RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RIKI HAS SURE GOT A LOT OF..."
Yesiree, RIKI-OH has got a lot of guts, just ask Oscar, Oscar has got a lot of guts. Oscar even uses his guts to strangle Riki-Oh, prompting the deputy warden to pontificate:
"ALRIGHT! YOU'VE GOT A LOT OF GUTS OSCAR!"
#2. "...GRAVE DESECRATION."
That there is Japanese film legend Tetsuro Tanba hurling gravestone after gravestone at our hero Riki-Oh (Siu-Wong Fan), who proceeds to smash them into small pieces of styrofoam. It's part of his generic training as a "martial arts good guy." But whose graves are those? He must smash 30 or 40 of them. I'm pretty sure that must violate some local ordinance. At the very least it undermines any possible Zen ideals they were (probably) going for.
Overuse of the word "bastard" is key to any poorly-dubbed film, Chinese, Italian, or otherwise. For example: "BASTARD WHY ARE YOU GROWING OPIUM!"
#4. "...VIDEOCASSETTE TAPES."
The Cyclopic deputy-warden (pictured on the left) has got shelves and shelves of videotapes in his office. I don't know if they're supposed to be soft-core pornography or what (many of their spines appear to be decorated with scantily clad ladies), but wait a minute, maybe they're supposed to be security tapes! We occasionally see security camera footage and monitors. Maybe Ngai Kai Lam said "ALRIGHT GUYS DRESS THE SET WITH SECURITY TAPES LOTS AND LOTS OF SECURITY TAPES GUYS" and then the crew just raided their own collections, hoping that we wouldn't notice.
While technically, RIKI-OH does not have a lot of shivs, allow me to rephrase the sentence: "RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RIKI HAS SURE GOT A WHOLE LOTTA SHIV." In one eventful scene, some prison gang justice is about to be handed down, and the above, ridiculous, serrated-war-club shiv is proffered. I don't think, in all of prison movie history from the silent COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO to BRUTE FORCE to COOL HAND LUKE to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK– that a better shiv has ever been devised.
#6. "...GREEN SHIRTS."
I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on 1991 Hong Kong fashion, but this feels a little excessive to me. Maybe everyone was in charge of costuming themselves, and they filmed it mostly on one eventful St. Patrick's Day? That would explain why everyone seems to be drunk...
A bag of sequins is at one point employed in order to effectively blind Riki-Oh. Shades of BLOODSPORT?
#8. "...HIGH SCHOOL GYM DECOR."
That hideous, orangey-brown linoleum floor? The blank white walls? The doors and banisters accented with the most grotesque shade of blue in all of Sherwin Williams? Clearly all robbed from my high school gymnasium!
Riki-Oh is impervious to any injury, but on rare occasions requires forms of medical attention. As depicted above, he can even fashion a tourniquet from his own severed veins and tendons, expertly tying them with his teeth! It's kinda like 127 HOURS, but with less product placement.
#10. "...RAZOR BLADES THAT ARE GOING IN YOUR MOUTH!"
#11. "...SCHWEET, EARLY 90's HAIRCUTS."
This member of the prison-enforcing "Gang of Four" (whose preferred weapon is apparently knitting needles on elastic strings) sports a lovely early 90's skater bowl cut with bleached bangs, handsomely parted down the middle. Because, seriously, where else would you part it?
#12. "...COMPLEX HOMOEROTICISM."
Most prison movies can sorrrrt of be classified as homoerotica, whether intentionally or unintentionally– I mean, they're filled with desperate, sweaty dudes who talk dirty and take showers together. But RIKI-OH takes it to Golan-Globus levels of ludicrosity (but unfortunately without Van Damme's splits). And I applaud the distrubutors for dubbing Riki with a voice flaming enough to match his appearance!
Or, let me put it this way: RIKI-OH contains one memorable scene where a total bear named 'Zorro' binds Riki's arms with bent prison bars, announces "I WAS PROMISED SEVEN BAGS OF RICE TO TURN YOU INTO MINCE MEAT AND PUT YOU IN A PIE," and begins pounding his backside as the man-child son of the warden jumps and giggles in the foreground, shouting "GOODY!!!"
Ladies and gentlemen, now that's what I call a TABLEAU!
And look at this magnificent twink, a leading member of the prison-enforcing Gang of Four:
It's sort of like if gay, Japanese Jason Schwartzman were to portray a martial arts supervillain!
Now– full disclosure– this role is actually portrayed by a female martial artist named Yukari Oshima, but, come on, she's still playing a man, and I wholeheartedly applaud that decision.
Now this is just getting ridiculous.
#14. "...RIDICULOUS FLASHBACKS."
RIKI-OH was so happy with his lady before she leapt off a building because she was sort of cornered by some gangsters. They used to frolick together in fields and play with a remote-controlled biplane (am I having flashbacks to MOONWALKER?) and he used to wear this one schoolboy outfit that was pretty schnazzy, too, cause I guess he was in school?
He is carrying books, after all.
I forgot to take a screenshot of this, so just take my word for it. There is a lot of flute-playing. There is even underground flute-playing. Someone even is killed for flute-playing. Flute-playing is something to be taken seriously.
#16. "...VISUAL POETRY."
Yes, that is a human skull being demolished by a Riki-Oh fist as depicted through the radioactive lens of an X-Ray, thank you very much, and I'll bet you didn't see that in a Terrence Malick film, ya visual poetry-luvin' prissypants.
(Apologies again- see #3- to Terrence Malick).
#17. "...PIPE-WRENCH-THWACKS TO THE FACE."
Note the warden's Siberian tiger-print rug!
In one notable scene, our friend with the skater bowl cut thwacks Riki-Oh, who is encased in a weird S&M/rusty iron bar torture device, with a pipe-wrench in the face, at the very least 20 or 30 times. And still you get the feeling that this is not being done for laffs; it's being done to show the severity of the impingements on human freedom which our hero Riki-Oh is facing.
And in a grand finale of blood, guts, and depravity, the meat-grinder gets his due, making the world safe again for peace-loving, green-shirt wearing, wrongfully imprisoned men everywhere. Some might say this is the most impassioned anti-totalitarian plea since DARKNESS AT NOON, but I'll go one step further. I'll say this is the most impassioned anti-totalitarian plea since CHAINED HEAT. Amen.
Side note: the Augustus Gloop-esque evil ninny son of the Warden (shown here greeting the Deputy Warden by affixing used chewing gum to his forehead)
deserves special mention, as does his propensity for junk food and wearing Jack-O'-Lantern pin buttons and bow-ties. I could probably write an entire article on this kid... but I didn't. Ah, well.