Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick…Lam Nai-Choi’s Riki-Oh: the Story of Ricky.
Riki-Oh: the Story of Ricky takes place within the corrupt prison system in the distant future of 2001, once all prisons have been completely privatized. We follow Ricky-Ho, a man with apparent superhuman strength as he punches dudes in the face until there are no more dudes to punch. I say this a lot here on Cult Corner, but this movie is really light on plot, and I am completely fine with that.
Riki-Oh is a wonderful film, because it was doing what the recent Kung Fury did but it did it almost 15 years earlier and did it better. The characters are great. I can’t say the acting is good, especially with the terrible dubbing, but that’s all part of the charm. If you’re used to old martial arts films then you know exactly what you’re getting into and this is one of the best examples of that. Every character is a cartoonish and completely over the top caricature, from the morbidly obese assassin to the man-child acting warden to Ricky-Ho himself. Each of them is a totally different kind of weirdness and they are what makes this movie what it is. Ricky-Ho comes off as un-phased by the punishment he endures over the course of the film and acts as an unstoppable juggernaut of pure martial artistry. Everyone else is just cannon fodder, existing for the sole reason to create more violence.
It’s a martial arts film, and while the actual fighting is serviceable, the major draw of this film is the plethora of interesting and practical gory death scenes. Ricky-Ho literally punches holes in people. You’ll see limbs severed, razor blades spit out, people crushed by falling ceilings, needles piercing arms, and full on human explosions. Things do get genuinely gruesome on occasion, but for the most part these aren’t particularly realistic effects. They’re not trying to be. If you’ve watched things like Wolfcop or Hobo With a Shotgun then you have a general idea of the way that Nai-Choi treats violence in his movie, but here it’s taken to an even more extreme degree. For example, before a man explodes he puffs up like a balloon, almost looking like something out of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It’s based on an anime, and you can definitely see the influence in the style and overall tone here.
A film like this easily could have fallen apart. They often do. When trying to do something tongue in cheek and totally out there, filmmakers seem to fall short because they are holding back slightly or trying to force in more of an actual plot. They try to make their movie more of a…movie. This is a mistake. Riki-Oh: the Story of Ricky holds absolutely nothing back and rarely ever hits a lull. The plot is simple, and this works to its advantage, because it never slows down. We are constantly bombarded with weird and interesting things to gaze at in wonder. Almost any of the deaths in the first half of Riki-Oh could have been the climax in almost any other movie.
Riki-Oh: the Story of Ricky is the kind of splatter film that only comes along every once in a while. It’s the perfect blend of ridiculous characters, terrible dubbing, and completely over the top gore. On a surface level a lot of people take this as a “so bad it’s good,” movie, but for my money this campy and ludicrous tone is exactly what they were going for. When it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s god damned amazing.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.