Welcome to the fifth edition of The Eggducator – a retrospective column where I look at bad movies and see whether they’re so bad, they’re good. Or maybe they’re so bad, they’re just really bad. I will look at the positives and negatives of these commercially or critically maligned films, and judge whether they deserve to be thrown in the incinerator or hatched to be enjoyed by everyone.
Hmmm… it looks like the cinematic goose has laid another egg. Let’s see what it is:
For my return to the Eggducator, I wanted to tackle a film that’s pretty notorious in bad film circles. I could have gone with Miami Connection, or The Room, or even Troll 2. But as someone who probably hasn’t discussed enough martial arts films, it was only fitting that I would return with thoughts for 1991’s Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. Based on a manga, my first exposure to this film was through The Daily Show back when Craig Kilborn was the host. Watching a man’s head explode as a recurring joke on the show elevated my interest in this film. Is this the only good part of the film? Is the rest of the film just as nutty as this clip is? After watching Riki-Oh a few times, I can honestly say the film is absolutely epic. Dumb as a bag of rocks, but epic nonetheless.
In the year 2001, young Ricky Ho (Fan Siu-Wong) is sentenced to a maximum security prison. He has been convicted of murder, stemming from revenge over the kidnapping and death of his girlfriend (Gloria Yip) by opium drug dealers. By his revenge has reason, as Ricky has figured out that the prison warden (Ho Ka-Kui) is the one in charge of the drugs and wants to confront him. Unfortunately, Ricky has to deal with sadistic prisoners and a devious Assistant Warden (Fan Mei-Sheng) who want to torture and kill him for standing up for himself and other prisoners. However these bullies have no idea who they’re dealing with, as Ricky has learnt special techniques that have granted him strong will and super-strength.
WHY RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY IS WORTH HATCHING
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is probably one of the most outrageous and goriest movies ever put to film. Like the manga it’s based off of, it’s a comic book brought to life. If you’re expecting good storytelling, top notch special effects, or logic – just look somewhere else. But if you’re a big fan of cheese, then Riki-Oh is right up your alley.
Like I mentioned earlier. the moment where a head explodes put Riki-Oh on my radar as Craig Kilborn kept using it on his version of The Daily Show. I figured that this gore effect was probably the highlight of the film, sort of how the head explosion is the best part of 1981’s Scanners. Nothing could top that, right?
Man, where do I begin with how crazy the violence is in Riki-Oh? Even after a couple of times watching it, the film still seems to shock and awe me at times. We have various broken noses. We have faces falling into a bed of nails. We have saws rammed into skulls. People are skinned alive. Eyes are poked right out of their sockets. Men are mutilated by a meat grinder. Body parts destroyed by punches right through them. Did I mention people explode? There’s so much going on in terms of gore and violence, that you laugh at it all due to desensitization. If you love 1992’s Dead Alive, Tokyo Gore Police, or the Evil Dead franchise – then you’ll probably love Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.
Speaking of laughs, the English dubbing is (in my opinion) the only true way to watch Riki-Oh. Every single stereotypical thought you have in your mind about how martial art films are dubbed are correct when it comes to Riki-Oh. The heroes are soft spoken. The villains cackle and sound like they need to clear their throats. And probably the highlight of the film – a little boy (who is probably a twenty-five year-old man in a school’s boy outfit) dubbed by a woman pretending to be a child. It’s so terrible that it’s incredibly charming. Sure, you could watch this film with sub-titles and enjoy the okay acting. But the dubbing truly puts Riki-Oh in the “so-bad-it’s-good” category for me.
The special effects aren’t great, but they add to the appeal. It’s obvious that mannequins are used whenever major brutality is brought upon someone. And one character mutates into a Hulk-like creature to hilarious results. But you have to give the film credit for trying to bring a comic book-like visual presentation when it came to the violence and some of the characters. Seeing limbs ripped off and body organs used as weapons adds to the appeal, and the effects look believable enough in this world to not be bothersome.
It’s helped that director Lam Nai-Choi knows what kind of film he’s making, using the visual style of the film to be the focus over the story. The film moves briskly, not once letting that logic settle in your mind to ruin the experience. You get action scenes, followed by hilarious flashbacks that add to Ricky’s character, followed by more action scenes. You never feel bored. You never feel like the film is making you dumber. For a ninety-minute film, it feels a lot shorter. Riki-Oh knows it’s schlock, but uses that to its advantage for a good time.
And while you don’t get an elaborate story that creates bold character arcs for our main characters, the simple premise of revenge is really all you need in Riki-Oh. We learn why Ricky is arrested. We learn how he gained his abilities. And we learn why he doesn’t just break out of the prison with his super-strength, as he has a reason to stay inside the prison to complete his revenge. Sure, the other characters are cartoonish and are just there to be obstacles for Ricky and/or be lambs to the slaughter. But sometimes less is more. The message is told through the action, not the dialogue. That’s not always a bad thing in terms of a film like this.
WHY RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY IS WORTH INCINERATING
If anything I wrote above isn’t your bag, then Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is not for you. If you don’t like gore, don’t bother. If you don’t like over-the-top characters, don’t bother. If you don’t like really terribly funny dubbing, don’t bother. If you’re a film snob, why are you even reading this article?
Seriously, Riki-Oh won’t be for everyone and it’s not a perfect film. Yes, the film could use more story in terms of the drug sub-plot. Yes, the film could explain Ricky’s powers more. Yes, Ricky could punch out a wall, let the abused prisoners escape, and still get revenge on the Warden (but waits until the end to do that). Riki-Oh is not a film that builds upon sense and logic. If you want a great story that you can bite your teeth into, you’re not finding it here. It’s just a gory and violent film, which might upset some.
And I will say that while Lam Nai-Choi does fine with the action sequences and highlighting the violence, he never really builds any atmosphere or tension with Riki-Oh. In fact, the set pieces are pretty bland. Yes, the film takes place in a prison, but I think more could have been done with the location. Especially when there are a Gang of Four – one boss in each directional block of the prison. Yeah, we never really go into these different blocks to see how one differs from the other. Yes, this technical stuff is not the point of Riki-Oh. But it could have been cool to see more than one section of the prison.
Also, watching this without the dubbing will probably cause Riki-Oh to lose what makes it appealing to many. There are multiple versions of this film – both in its native language and subtitled in other languages; or in its dubbed form. Riki-Oh is probably an okay film on its own, but the dubbing elevates the film (in my opinion). Usually the dubbing could be a major hinderance. But since the story for Riki-Oh is pretty much bare bones, the hilarious voice acting actually provides an upgrade. For those who hate dubbing, I say take a chance this time around. You’d lose something if you didn’t.
GOOD EGG OR BAD EGG?
Even though Riki-Oh:The Story of Ricky is a hard film to review, it’s not a hard film to enjoy. The story is pointless, the main plot is basic, the acting is second to the hilarious dubbing, and you’re not going to get any logic or character development that’ll make you heavily invested in most of the characters. That being said, what Riki-Oh does well, it does extremely well. And what the film does well is showcase over-the-top violence that’s so brutal, you can’t help but laugh at it and wonder if they’ll top it in the next sequence. Riki-Oh is the perfect example of a “so-bad-it’s-good” movie – made to have you and your friends be entertained while eating popcorn and drinking beer in front of the television for ninety-minutes. Sometimes you’re in the mood of Oscar bait. Other times, you’re in the mood for dumb, mindless entertainment. There’s a reason why Riki-Oh is still a favorite for “bad movie” lovers. It knows what it is and proudly shows it off to the point of excessive. If you love splatter, you’ll love Riki-Oh.