The Story of Ricky aka Riki-oh Review
The Story of Ricky aka Riki-oh is a live action adaptation of a Japanese Manga that was at the height of popularity in Hong Kong when this movie was commissioned. Thanks to an apparently faithful translation to the big screen Riki-oh has garnered something of a cult following as it recreates the extreme violence seen in the original Manga in all its gory detail. Due to this now legendary level of violence the film has received frequent cuts on various formats over the years so as you might imagine, this level of controversy has led to a huge fan base. As such those fans will be pleased to know that Hong Kong Legends have brought the film to the UK fully uncut as the screenshots accompanying this review will confirm, the question is, does gore alone make a good movie?
Set in the then future of 2001 The Story of Ricky opens like any prison drama where by we see the new tenants introduced to their home-to-be for the next few years or so. Oddly we are informed that in this future the prison system has been privatised though this fact really serves no purpose, other than to possibly offer an explanation as to why the prisoners can walk around at will within the compound. As we are introduced to the lead character, Ricky Oh, we discover that he is in for manslaughter and also has five bullets lodged in his chest that he left there as a souvenir. As this incidental fact suggests, Ricky himself is certainly out of the ordinary, but then so is the prison. Not only can the prisoners walk about as they please, but the actual prison is led by the 'Gang of Four', a group of prisoners who possess near superhuman strength and as such rule over the North, East, South and West sections of the prison.
When Ricky steps in to protect a weak old man from harassment (having his face disfigured!) at the hands of one of the Gang of Four's subordinates, he opens himself up to a world of torment as the Gang of Four, and subsequently the Prison wardens (who they are allied with) discover that Ricky himself is in possession of exceptional abilities and due to his siding with the common man, he poses a threat to those in control. As Ricky unwillingly faces up to those trying to kill him he soon becomes a symbol of hope to the other prisoners, who see him as their saviour from the brutal rule imposed by the Wardens and the Gang of Four.
In all honesty the storyline is mediocre at best and much like several other aspects of the film, it falls down consistently. The acting is just about passable with only Fan Siu-wong (as Ricky Oh) making any form of impact. Production design is dull and uninspired, the music is plain awful and the extras, well, the less said about their videogame style background action repetitiveness the better. Furthermore it is often very hard to fathom out exactly why Ricky behaves in the way he does, where at one point he is refusing to fight, accepts torture and in his spare time tries to give a glimmer of hope to the prison mute, and then a few minutes later he is ripping some ones chin clean off their face! But does all this really matter in a film that manages to provide much entertainment due to its wonderfully exaggerated comic book characters and violence? Of course it doesn't!
Despite all these woefully obvious flaws Story of Ricky can prove to be a superb 90-minutes of entertainment as you marvel at the sheer spectacle on display. Each and every major character is delightfully exaggerated. The assistant warden with a healthy collection of adult videos adorning his office walls, a hook for a hand and a glass eye that doubles up as a storage device for mints. Then of course we have the 'Gang of Four', a selection of men (one of whom is portrayed by a woman) who have the dress sense of a reject from the Thriller music video, the strength of the Hulk and the brains to match while they also spout complete drivel at each other as they bicker over who gets to kill Ricky. We also have the head Warden who looks like something out of Dick Tracy and has a spoilt overweight brat of a son at his side who sadly does not get the beating the audience so wishes he would, and last but not least, Ricky Oh. A flute playing 21 year old who spends his time reminiscing about the past and developing his special skills that allow him to punch some ones head clean off.
Yes, you read that right. This film is based on a comic book after all. Ricky punches his enemies guts out, splits their heads in two and even engages in a spot of mincing when the opportunity arises while his foes are not against the idea of using their own intestines to strangle him! This violence is portrayed in a very similar fashion to the Peter Jackson directed Braindead (of the same year coincidentally), though it does not quite hit the same level of extremity, technical excellence or sheer hilarity of that New Zealand made marvel for my liking, but the carnage on offer here will certainly result in a few chuckles by those of you who enjoy to see the red stuff fly around the screen.
This Hong Kong Legends DVD is Region 2 and 4 encoded.
For a change I will discuss the presentation of this HKL release that along with The Killer (released on the same day) has seen what is for me, an irritating change to the menu design. Now, in terms of graphic design the menu for Riko-oh is fairly interesting, with the sub-menus in particular using some suitable designs that are visually striking. In a similar vein the original music created for this DVD is very fitting and again works well. My gripe however is with the decision to use titles related to the film in place of the traditional Extras, Scenes, Audio headers that are traditionally used to access the various sub menus, but even worse is the replacement of extra features title names to obscure links. For example, you must enter the Graveyard to find the extra features that in turn are labelled Rising Star and Martial Hero, these represent the interview and martial arts demonstration with Fan Sui-wong. Maybe I am just being lazy, but I would much prefer the tried and tested method of simply labelling an extra feature as what it actually is.
You can read a review of the Region 0 release from Michael Brooke here.
Presented in a slightly cropped 1.78:1 Widescreen Aspect Ratio (down from the original 1.85:1) with Anamorphic Enhancement this transfer is fairly typical of what we have come to expect from the team at Hong Kong Legends, which for the non regulars is a good but flawed effort. Lets begin with the bad, obviously we have a case of minor cropping on our hands and if it were not for the generally tight framing in the first place this would be barely noticeable, but here on occasion I found the composition of shots to be cramped while any overscan on your display will make this worse. Other flaws include the occasional signs of edge enhancement and slight pixellation noticeable on backgrounds, while the most obvious encoding flaw for myself was the presence of trails from objects on sudden camera moves. For the most part these flaws are kicked into touch thanks to a beautifully restored print that to my eye did not contain a single scratch mark or speck of dust throughout. Furthermore detail levels are better than average for an early nineties Hong Kong title while the colours are rich in texture and blacks deep, making for a generally pleasing, but flawed experience.
Both the original Cantonese Audio and the optional English Dub tracks are presented here in subtle Dolby Digital 5.1 remixes that are free of any audio dropouts. The actual mixes are faithful to their source and are focused mainly on your front speakers for dialogue, though the surrounds are used where appropriate to open up the soundstage (a rainstorm is one such example). My only problem with the mix was the (on my set-up at least) overuse of the LFE channel where for several sequences my sub just emitted a constant rumble (this was present on both Cantonese and English tracks) leading me to recommend you simply leave your sub switched off to enjoy this film. With regards to the sound options available, I personally prefer the original language track though in this case I can safely say that the English dub, though essentially crap, in some ways adds to the films enjoyment level if you are watching to cackle at the sheer absurdity of it all.
Optional English subtitles are presented in an easy to read (if slightly large) white font with a black outline while there were no spelling or grammatical errors that I noticed, though the one glaringly obvious translation mistake (calling the lead character Ricky Ho) is vexing.
With regular audio commentator Bey Logan presumably all puffed out we have the talents of Hong Kong Stuntman Jude Poyer and Movie Critic Miles Wood on board to offer background to The Story of Ricky. This duo are returning for their third commentary track now and seem more comfortable with it as they provide an interesting commentary that covers a variety of subjects. These include the many forms in which the film has been available over the years due to its cult status and un-censor-friendly nature, the origins of the film (though they have little first hand knowledge of the manga) and general subjects such as the ratings and censorship of Hong Kong movies, backgrounds to the various actors and stuntmen seen and much more. Most important of all is they seem to be enjoying the movie while taking stabs at its content, and though they do run a little dry by the last twenty minutes this is still worthy of your time.
The films star, Fan Siu-wong provides a comprehensive 36-minute interview that is presented in crisp anamorphic widescreen with clear English subtitles to translate what is being said. Fan Siu-wong spends a significant proportion of his time discussing his martial arts training and of course the time he spent working on The Story of Ricky, for which he divulges many stories from the set and offers some personal discussion on his worries prior to the films release. This entertaining interview session is then rounded off as he discusses his recent activities in the industry and what plans he has for the future. Also present is a 2-minutes 40-seconds martial arts demonstration from Fan Siu-wong that I believe took place in the Hong Kong Stunt Man Association Training facility (as seen on the Red Wolf extras disc) and is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen. This is an impressive demonstration of the martial arts techniques Fan Siu-wong has developed over the years and will certainly fascinate any fans of the art.
The only other extra content present is the original Theatrical Trailer and the HKL Promotional Trailer for The Story of Ricky. Both are presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with optional English subtitles where necessary, while the former is of most interest as it includes stills from the original manga the film is based upon and proves just how close they came in capturing the likeness of each major character.
This is a film purely for the gore hounds amongst you that take a strange pleasure in seeing as much comic-book violence on screen as possible. If like me you fit into that category then you will be able to look past the risible plotting and, for a Hong Kong movie, mediocre martial arts displays yet still find a great deal to enjoy in The Story of Ricky.