Trying to describe the undeniably demented cult classic Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky to those who have not yet heard of it is quite a perplexing task. On the surface, the film is just a campy "man goes to prison" yarn mixed with a hefty dose of grisly violence and non-stop hilarity. It's one of those pictures that actually has to been seen to be believed, and I'm not just saying that because I have a somewhat limited grasp of the English language. My articulation is admittedly elementary, so you'll excuse me if I don't do the film justice. You have my sincerest apologies.
No, Riki-Oh is an honest to God cinematic experience, one that has to be viewed countless times in order to completely digest everything this silly film has to offer. I'd even go as far as to say that it's unrivaled in terms of gore, stupidity, and audacity. If you think I'm just some overreacting fanboy with a propensity for ballyhooing obscure trash, ask anyone who's seen the film to explain it to you. Chances are they'll say the exact same thing, though they may be a bit more eloquent and concise than this review is likely to be. Again, I apologize for my literary limitations. My bad.
Riki-Oh tells the heroic tale of Ricky Oh Saiga, a virtually unstoppable killing machine sentenced to spend a few lonely years inside a franchised maximum security prison for butchering the lowly tub of lard who contributed to the untimely death of his gorgeous yet incredibly clumsy girlfriend. Gotta hate it when that happens. While he may be just another pretty face in a sea of murderers, thieves, rapists, and degenerates, Ricky has a bit more class than your average inmate, not to mention balls the size of genetically-altered grapefruit.
Unlike the other prisoners who turn a blind eye to the daily violence all around them, our hero doesn't sit idly by while the Gang of Four — a band of ruthless thugs who control each wing of the prison — viciously mistreat the weak and the helpless. When a particularly nasty thug brutally abuses an elderly man who desperately wants to see his family, Ricky distributes a fair amount of damage to his midsection, resulting in a gaping flesh wound and a waterfall of grue.
This, of course, greatly irritates the one-eyed assistant warden and the other misanthropic gang leaders, forcing them to take drastic measures to ensure their power within the prison. Ricky is promptly submitted to a number of ludicrous confrontations, each more violently absurd than the last. With the support of the common inmate fueling his lust for justice, our hero sets out to destroy the rest of these seedy gang leaders, that one-eyed assistant warden, and the prison ringleader himself.
The term "cult classic" was coined with movies like Riki-Oh in mind. Within the first ten minutes, we're presented with pounds of pointless gore, a stable of ridiculous characters, and little to no logic or common sense whatsoever. In fact, the only reason you're likely to keep watching this garbage is to see what kind of insanity is lurking just around the next corner. Will it be a glass eye containing dozens of tiny delicious mints? A tattooed killer using his own intestines to asphyxiate our hero? Or will it be the insertion of a deranged monster into the prison's enormous on-site meat grinder? If you can accurately predict what kind of bizarro shenanigans await your tender senses, then I'll need your psychic assistance with some lotto numbers before the next Powerball drawing. Seriously — we can split the booty 50-50. Super triple pinky swear!
Oddly enough, what perplexes me the most about Riki-Oh is the film's tone. Is it a comedy? A straightforward action film? Some sort of brain-damaged prison drama masquerading as a superhero flick? You never can tell, exactly, what the film was meant to be. Of course, it doesn't help matters any that I watch the hideously-dubbed English language version provided by the good people at Tokyo Shock. God bless those goofy bastards. Anyway, I'm not sure what the hell it's supposed to be, but I love it just the same.
Though purists will probably insert a wicked sharp stake directly up my precious little anus for saying so, I strongly believe that Riki-Oh must be seen in this format to be completely appreciated. I've tried watching the film in its original language and it's simply not the same. The goofy overdubbing only adds to the picture's kitsch value, turning it from a lame Hong Kong B-movie into a mouth-watering slice of comedic pie. Savor the juiciness.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this absurdist account of one man's struggle against a corrupt penal system is the staggering amount of gore on display. Stomachs are literally ripped open and emptied with reckless abandon; tendons are severed and repaired as though made of elastic; limbs, hands, and fingers are destroyed with little concern for their owner's lofty insurance deductibles. It's essentially a gorehound's sick and twisted wet dream. Few films have achieved such a grotesque level of manic violence. Brilliant? Maybe.
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky gets my highest recommendation, something that doesn't happen very often. While others are singing the praises of such lavish art house productions as Pan's Labyrinth, Inland Empire, and Children of Men, I'm instructing you to spend your entertainment dollar on Ngai Kai Lam's unusual camp masterpiece. I can honestly say without a doubt in my mind that you've never seen anything quite like it.
Thankfully, those shackled by their Region 1 players can enjoy a quality presentation by Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters, complete with that wonderfully awful English language track mentioned above. Excessive, outrageous, and unabashedly cheesy, Riki-Oh stands as a rare example of a genuine cult classic. It's still one of my all-time favorite movies.
They should issue this thing at birth.