Last Saturday night, I watched Mary Poppins with my two-year-old daughter. Mary Poppins tells the charming story of a magical British nanny who helps the stuffy British father of two precocious, British children mellow out, while a homeless American affecting a borderline offensive British accent, provides commentary and wacky dance moves. It is a delightful film that both my daughter and I enjoyed greatly. I will not be discussing Mary Poppins any further in this post. No, this is a post about the movie I watched after my daughter brushed her teeth, listened to three bedtime stories and gave me "Eskimo kisses" (We call them, simply, "noses.") before wishing me "sweet dreams" and instructing me to "sleep tight." This is a post about Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.
I guess there is something "magical" about Ricky. Not magic of the "British nanny" sort, mind you, but more like superhuman fighting magic that allows him to literally punch holes in people as if they were sopping wet paper sacks of room temperature oatmeal. He's also pretty good at building wooden toy trains at a moment's notice.
If you choose to belief the crack team of synopsis writers at Netfilx, Riki-Oh is about a young man with a drug-addicted girlfriend, who murders a drug dealer after said girlfriend commits suicide in a, I don't know, drug-induced depression. This murder results in the young man, a never-not-insanely-intense lad named Ricky, being sentenced to prison. But that's only if you choose to take Netflix at its word. I wouldn't though, because they get everything wrong. Like, crazy wrong. It's mind-boggling!
Here's what Riki-Oh is actually about: In a future time (i.e. 2001), prisons have been privatized or something, which basically means everybody fights all the time and the prison guards do very little about it. Ricky, as we learn later but I will spoil right now, is technically in prison for murdering a drug dealer. See, Ricky's girlfriend--the only female character in the movie, but not the only actress...intriguing, right?--did die, but not of a self-inflicted death blow, but rather of clumsiness. While walking home from the office one evening, Ricky's main squeeze, Keiko, wanders into the middle of a drug deal. Concerned that she'll go to the cops, a couple of lackeys kidnap Keiko and take her to the friendly neighborhood opium dealer for "dealing with." He's a fat dummy, so he doesn't know what to do, and while he's trying to think, Keiko takes off, runs down a hallway, and trips off the roof of a building. Her body falls like a department store dummy being tossed by a production assistant with a thud onto the pavement below. Heartbroken, Ricky kills the drug dealer, but only after being shot five times in the chest. And next thing you know, Ricky's in future jail.
Once in prison, it doesn’t take Ricky long to run afoul of the assistant warden, a portly gentleman with a prosthetic claw, a glass eye filled with tiny breath mints and a porn collection that spans two large built-in bookshelves; the four brutal gentlemen who maintain order in each of the cell blocks; the warden’s overweight son, played by an overweight man in an ill-fitting schoolboy costume of some sort; and the warden himself, who stretches himself into a rubbery, snot-covered ghoul before his final bout with our hero. If all of this sounds extremely weird and vaguely off-putting, it should, because it is.
Let’s talk more about those four dudes that run the North, South, East and West cell blocks, shall we? I can’t even begin to remember who runs which because who gives a shit, but I can describe their abilities and eventual deaths at Ricky’s fists of furty. First, there’s Hai, a back tattoo enthusiast and the leader of Ricky’s cell block. He doesn’t seem to have any mystical powers, but I did initially think he’d be a fairly reasonable prison overlord. He’s very calm when he informs Ricky that he will be punished at a later date for punching a hole in a sociopathic sumo wrestler named Silly Lung’s belly during Shower Time. He doesn’t grimace menacingly at him or speak to Ricky in an elevated tone, he simply states a fact and returns to his private showering facility. When Ricky finally engages in a one-on-one with him, aside from having loose eyeballs (Ricky smacks him on the back of the head and it just pops out and is instantly devoured by three hungry crows), Hai doesn’t seem like much of a fighter. Actually, that isn’t true. After Ricky punches a crater in his abs, Hai does attempt to strangle Ricky with his intestines. That shows pluck and determination, I’d say. I’m sorry I sold you short Hai.
There’s Head Crusher (not his Christian name or name in the movie even). He enjoys crushing heads. He is crushed by a trash compactor, but only after Ricky punches him so hard in the fist that his hand explodes and most of his arm falls apart.
There’s a guy with blonde bangs and a scraggly middle school mustache who tosses ropes with knives attached to the ends of them. He dies a gruesome death probably. I can’t remember.
And there’s Huang Chuan, the snazzily-dressed lady-man schooled in “abstract kung fu.” He is Ricky’s only equal when it comes to martial arts, but he still bites it.
Look, it’s hard to write about Riki-Oh’s plot, because there really isn’t one. Ricky punches a bunch of flimsily constructed rubber dummies filled with red corn syrup while screaming, and then it’s onto the next blood-filled mannequin for more punching and screaming and spurting. It’s sick. No, really. Riki-Oh is super gross, but it’s just outlandish and campy enough to make the gore a total delight, albeit not the same kind of delight I got from watching chimney sweeps dance on the rooftops of London.
I’d like to wrap this up with a few Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky Points of Interest:
1) The warden’s spontaneous mutation from bald, weaselly slimebag with Hunger S Thompson sunglasses and a man-baby son, to snot-dripping, rubber ghoul, was unexpected, but maybe a little too much. I know this movie was based on a Japanese manga, but I'd already sat through an hour and twenty minutes of men getting holes punched through their stomachs, did I really need the stupid looking monster? The film get points for letting Ricky kill the warden by shoving him into a futuristic meat grinder, but still.
2) My favorite bit of gore: The prison snitch character gets a Ricky karate chop to the top of his skull, which pops off and falls on the floor with the brain still sloshing around inside. I call this the Brain Bowl Scene, and it is my favorite.
3) I’ve hopefully established that Riki-Oh is not a film to be taken seriously or held in any kind of esteem. It’s a gory good-time karate romp and nothing more. And I’ll let it have it’s third act monster warden. But the warden’s son? Really? What does he add? He’s just around to make the assistant warden look like a buffoon, which the assistant warden does pretty well on his own. I don’t think there are any, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of ‘hilarious’ “warden’s son farting on things’ scenes left on the cutting room floor. He felt like the kind of character that’d in an American film would be farting constantly.
4) The final scene in which Ricky punches a hole in the prison wall and invites his fellow inmates to drink deep from the cup of freedom, is great because you can clearly see all the cables used to pull the wall apart. It is a magical moment of stupidity that I loved.