Riki-Oh, aka Lai Wong
A martial arts film like no other
William Ho Kar-kui
Running Time: 88 minutes
UK Certificate: 18
Country: Hong Kong, Japan
There are certain things you expect from all prison films. A sadistic warden. An innocent prisoner. A confrontation in the showers. A fight in the workshop. A skirmish in the yard. An escape, or at least an escape attempt. And then there are motifs particular to individual prison films: the prisoner whose resistance becomes a source of inspiration for the other inmates ('The Shawshank Redemption'); the prisoner who investigates the corruption of the authorities from the inside ('Brubaker'); and social commentary on the evils of privatised prisons ('Ghosts…of the Civil Dead').
'The Story of Ricky' has all this and more, and yet from about seven minutes in, it becomes clear that this is no conventional genre movie, as one character has his face sheered off with a carpenter's plane, while another is pushed face- (and hand-) first into a bed of upturned nails – and before you can say 'Braindead', you are being subjected to some of the most over the top, inventive gore ever committed to celluloid.
It is also a martial arts film like no other, with characters' fists not just making full contact with their opponents' bodies, but actually going through them. When one person in 'The Story of Ricky' threatens to turn another 'into mincemeat' or to cut them 'into little pieces', their words are meant all too literally. So be warned – if blood and guts are not your thing, then avoid this film like ebola. If, however, you fancy a bit of gore, it does not come thicker, weirder or funnier than in 'The Story of Ricky'.
Based on a popular Japanese manga, and released in 1991, 'The Story of Ricky' has the honour of being the first totally sex-free Hong Kong film to receive a Category 3 rating (equivalent to the 18 certificate here). Apart from 'Ichi the Killer', it is the only live-action film ever to capture the anarchic, excessive, highly stylised violence of manga, making it something of a unique viewing experience. All the characters are comic-book cut-outs, whose bizarre costumes and idiosyncrasies more than compensate for their lack of depth. There's Ricky (Fan Siu-wong), all muscle and quiff, champion of the underdog, fighter for justice, crusader against drugs, absurdly Christ-like sufferer – and amateur flute player. There's the assistant warden Cyclops (played by Fan Siu-wong's father, Fan Mui-sang), with a sharp hook for an arm and a false eye in which he stores breathmints. There's the warden himself (William Ho Kar-kui), wiry, bow-tied and bespectacled and, as it turns out, more than just a metaphorical monster. And then there's the Gang of Four, who enforce the warden's corrupt rule over the prison with their murderous fighting powers. With these colourful forces lined up against him, Ricky proves that nothing can keep him confined for long, in a truly visceral film that will leave you feeling battered and bruised, but strangely liberated nonetheless.
It's Got: Maimings, gougings, bludgeonings and dismemberments aplenty. Ricky stitches up a gaping wound on his own arm, using his own sinew as suture. Rickys opponent Hai commits hari kiri so that he can strangle Ricky with his own intestines. And so on...
It Needs: That should be it bleeds
DVD Extras A good quality print, and totally uncut for the first time in Britain. Extras include the original trailer (which compares stills from the original manga to the equivalent scenes in the film); a 36 minute interview with amiable star Fan Siu-wong (who wants to be taken seriously as a pop singer); impressive, if boring, footage of Fan Siu-wong doing a demonstration of his kung fu skills; a well-informed commentary by stuntman and film critic Jude Poyer and film critic Miles Wood, who know the Hong Kong cinema scene and its genres backwards. DVD Extras Rating: 7/10
Alternatives:Braindead, Ichi the Killer
While not for the squeamish, or indeed for fans of Mary Whitehouse, this film is a cult classic – fast, silly, jaw-droppingly outrageous, and a true original, unlike anything else you will ever have seen. And impatient viewers will be delighted by the padding-free pace of 'The Story of Ricky', which never fails to cut (and slash) to the chase. Very highly recommended.