If you try to review Riki-Oh by traditional standards you’re watching it all wrong.
Reviewing movies is pretty straightforward. After watching the movie, the reviewer critiques the acting, story, production, and overall watchability before assigning a score or grade. Sometimes there are nuances that improve the movie or questions that hurt it, but usually the most difficult part is whether it is a 7 or a 7.5.
Then there are movies like 1991’s Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. These are the movies that refuse to be defined by quality of acting, an interesting plot, or masterful production because, quite simply, they are so bad. Somehow, these movies overcome the issues that would bury other movies and prosper. The most well-known example would be Tommy Wiseau’s cult classic The Room.
The movie is about Ricky, a seemingly super powerful man who is sentenced to prison after literally punching a hole through a crime lord’s head. While in prison, Ricky must deal with a corrupt warden and the four gang leaders of the prison’s different cell blocks.
The plot is as bare bones as it gets. There are flashbacks to fill in Ricky’s backstory, but they are usually silly or just do not make sense. For example, the audience learns the main character’s real name is Rick but once his uncle saw how unusually strong he was he decided to call him Ricky. The Gang of Four (the leaders of the prison’s gangs) deal drugs and the warden has a spoiled son but none are fleshed out enough to be anything but generic villains.
The production is also very poor. There are strings seen throughout the entirety of Riki-Oh, most notably during the film’s climactic scene. There are numerous grotesque dismemberments complete with quite possibly the most fake looking body parts ever filmed. After a particularly violent fight which includes an X-Ray picture of someone’s skull getting crushed by a punch, the victim falls to their knees looking no worse for wear. Better special effects can be found on YouTube.
Despite all of the issues, Riki-Oh succeeds. The characters are shallow but also manage to engage the audience. Ricky is superhuman yet can charm a hardened criminal by playing the flute, one characther has a fake eye kept in a glass of water he drinks from, and an antagonist has to take medication to prevent himself from turning into a monster. None of it makes sense, yet it works.
Riki-Oh is most famous for its gory fight scenes. Someone getting tossed into a meat grinder is one of the movie’s tamer scenes. (It also one of the bloodiest as reportedly the movie’s star, Fan Siu-Wong took days to wash off the blood.) During the more violent moments, it is hard not to marvel at the creativity. During one fight, Ricky literally strangles his opponent with his own intestines. One infamous scene from the movie even became a regular part of Craig Kilborn’s The Daily Show.
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is filled with horrible acting, a plot that is barely there, and ridiculously bad special effects. It should be a movie you avoid at all costs but instead is the opposite. Riki-Oh takes pleasure in being over the top and delivers a fun movie that may not be good in the traditional sense, but definitely should be seen.