Usually, when it comes to Hong Kong movies, I generally like to watch films with expertly choreographed fight scenes, with complex and intricate moves; sweeping direction with kinetic camera moves following the action of long kung fu battles. Recently however, I just fancied watching something super-violent and bloody! I remembered sometime back in the early 2000's, I bought a film that this description fits perfectly, so I thought I'd re-watch it, and review it here.
Be warned, this film is not for the faint-hearted!
What's it all about?
Set in the near future (2001 no less!), where capitalist countries have privatised all government organisations, and prisons are now run like businesses; the protagonist, Ricky (Louis Fan Siu-wong) is incarcerated for manslaughter and assault, after killing the man indirectly responsible for the death of his girlfriend.
The prison he is placed in is run by a sadistic warden and his subordinate officer, the assistant warden known as Cyclops, so called because of his glass eye. They treat the inmates like animals, routinely punishing them with torture or even death if they put a foot wrong.
The prison is split into four wings; North, South, East and West, each controlled by a group of inmates known as The Gang of Four, who are equally as vicious as the Warden and Cyclops. When Ricky stands up to them, and fights for other the inmates, he soon becomes a hero among them, and a target for those in charge.
Can Ricky end the brutal oppression inflicted by the evil and corrupt warden?
Made in 1991, and based on Tetsuya Saruwatari's manga “Riki-oh”, this Hong Kong adaptation doesn't hold back when it comes to gore and violence! I have no knowledge of the manga, so can't really say whether this film is in any way faithful to the source material or not, but this it certainly does feel like a live-action manga! The amount of blood spurting and heads exploding, really wouldn't feel out of place in some other violent manga or anime such as “Fist of the North Star”.
The gory make-up effects are beyond ridiculous, and are extreme to say the least. I'd say they're somewhat akin to the effects in some of Peter Jackson's early work such as “Bad Taste” or “Braindead”, and yes, they're not necessarily all that realistic looking, especially by today's standards, but they work rather effectively in conveying the extreme violence on screen. In one scene, we see a man slice open his own stomach, grab his intestines and then try to strangle Ricky with them!
The martial arts on display here doesn't quite have the style and finesse of a film such as “Hero”, or “Fearless”. Instead, the action is in your face; bloody and visceral. The choreography consists mainly of Ricky punching someone's head off, or punching through somebody's stomach!
A young Fan Siu-wong, perhaps now better known for his role as Jin Shan Zhao in the “Ip Man” films, stars as the protagonist in his break-out role. Although he does get to show off some martial skills, it's not really up to the standard he has shown more recently. However, “Story of Ricky” is not really the type of movie that needs beautiful kung fu. The graphic scenes of over-the-top violence more than makes up a lack of quality choreography!
One bad point to the movie, however, is that there's never really any sense that Ricky is going to lose, or be defeated in any way. He seems so invincible and super-human for most of the time, that there's little suspense, or surprise as to what may happen. Perhaps this is how it is in the manga too, but you don't for one minute, ever think things are going to go the warden's way. I guess this movie is more about the blood and guts, rather than any suspense or drama.
Upon viewing this film, it's quite clear that the budget for this film wasn't exactly huge; it's quite obvious when a body or head is a special effect, and not the real thing. The movie's overall look is fairly cheap, and the camera work is pretty unsophisticated and simple. Having said that, it doesn't detract from the one's enjoyment of the film.
The film kind of comments on the treatment of the inmates; that they're still human beings underneath it all, even though some of them are thieves and murderers. At one point, Ricky actually punches a hole in the prison wall giving the inmates their freedom. Now it's probably fair to say that most, if not all of the prisoners actually deserved to be there. Whether or not this is the right way to go, I suppose the film does need to get the audience on the side of the inmates, and in turn root for the hero as he goes up against the evil prison staff. The movie does, however, seem to depict them all as helpless, innocent victims, as though they had done nothing wrong.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure this film really isn't asking the viewer to seriously contemplate the civil rights of prison inmates. It just wants you to sit back and enjoy the fun, and I suggest you do!
Sound and Vision
Dialogue is adequate, with no real stand out moments. I watched this in Cantonese with English subtitles, though from what I have heard, the English dub makes for quite an entertaining and funny film, with the dialogue being so badly written and acted. I may have to give the film another watch with the English dub at some point.
Also, from other reports, it seems there is inconsistency in the character names. They appear to be completely different in the English dub compared to the English subs. For example, in the English dub, there's a character called Zorro, yet in the subs for the Cantonese version, the same character is called Mad Dragon. Anyway, this isn't really important while you're watching the film, so I suppose it doesn't matter.
There isn't a lot of music throughout the film, and what there is is fairly nondescript, often employing a cheap sounding synthesiser to create the mood of the scene.
The disc includes a feature-length audio commentary by Hong Kong stunt man Jude Poyer and critic Myles Wood, a thirty six minute interview with Fan Siu-wong, along with a martial arts showcase running at about two minutes forty seconds, also from the leading man.
This live-action adaptation of Tetsuya Saruwatari's manga “Riki-oh” is fairly badly put together in terms of camera work and acting, and in this sense it's quite a lacklustre film. However, while it lacks quality acting and slick visuals, the inventive gore and action set-pices lift the film to create something that is more than the sum of it's parts. Despite the movie's shortcomings, it's an effective translation from comic book to screen.
I've spent very little time dwelling on any story that this film has, as I don't think that's what's really important about it. The sheer absurdity of the violence is what makes this film so enjoyable, whether it be seeing a fist punching through a man's jaw or stomach, or another's arm being shoved into a meat grinder. The spectacle of it all is so ridiculously over-the-top, that you can't help but enjoy it!
If you can see past the low budget, and limitations in style and finesse, then I'd heartily recommend this film!