Like many, I’m sure, I got wise to Riki-Oh back when Craig Kilborn hosted The Daily Show and 5 Questions was preceeded by the legendary head smash clip from this movie. Already deeply embroiled in the tape trading community, I hit the forums and started asking questions. It didn’t take long for me to find out what that movie was and shortly thereafter some dude got a dupe of Jess Franco’s Female Vampire in exchange for this gem. I was forewarned, though, there were no subtitles. Turns out, I didn’t need them. I could kinda/sorta figure out what was going on, but at no point did I show up for the story. The word on the streets was that this movie was full on demented and they were right!
There’s nothing new about bringing manga to the big screen. But like American comic book adaptations, they rarely ever work out. The problem with adapting manga is usually that way out crazy shit is happening on every page and the usual small budgets of the Asian movie industry just can’t allow for them to be properly realized. Riki-Oh, however, manages to make manga to movies a reality. It’s a gore soaked 90 minute assault on the senses that gives you no time to breathe. Watch it. You’re about to have your brain kicked out.
Set in a near-future dystopia, Riki is sent to a privately owned prison for an as yet unspecified crime. We learn right off the bat that Riki is bad ass. Extremely bad ass. I cannot stress enough how unbelievably bad ass he is. Riki sets off the metal detectors and a quick x-ray reveals that he has a whole shitload of bullets lodged in his body. Once inside, we learn that the prison is run by the crooked warden and his Gang of Four, four super-powered criminals that bully the other prisoners into submission. It seems like most of the population is a bunch if snivelling wimps, put in prison for the most minor offenses, but many are, in fact, terrible, awful people. With the heroic Riki in town, though, things are about to change. When Riki witnesses the bad prisoners tormenting the good prisoners, he leaps into action and starts punching holes in everyone. His Qigong martial arts allow him to ram his fists through people, resulting in splashy gore scenes where guts pour out of gaping wounds. We get a number of these scenes before Riki is dragged into the Assistant Warden’s office and is threatened before he whips the Assistant Warden’s ass, too. Riki is then subjected to a series of increasingly absurd prison yard confrontations, each one gorier than the last. In between nasty fight scenes, we learn a few things about Riki’s past. He wasn’t always an enraged killing machine. He used to be a nice guy with a cute girlfriend. He also trained under a Sifu who taught him the magic of internal kung fu. So after an undetermined amount of training and the death of his girlfriend thanks to a fat-ass drug dealer, Riki confronts him and, as you’ve come to expect by this point, completely fucking obliterates him where he stands. Off to the hoosegow with ya, Riki! The madness continues, growing with each second, and just when you think it can’t get any weirder, the Warden shows up and turns into a monster with bad-ass skills to match Riki’s.
I’ve had discussions about this movie with people in a public setting and the conversation always draws sideways glances at the least and a full on engagement in most cases. Talking about this movie openly makes you sound like you’re on acid. For instance:
“Yeah, so he punches a hole in one side of this fat guy and out the other and all his guts fall out. And then later on Riki gets cut and he ties his tendons back together like it’s nothing! Then this guy gets the top of his head punched off. Just the top!”
The hardest part of watching Riki-Oh is trying to figure out what kind of movie this is. In typical fashion, the mood is extremely intense. The violence is mean, the bad guys gleefuly stomp on the good guys. This is a very depressing setting, but then Riki leaps out and starts punching people in half. The only way to make it funnier would be to speed it up and set the fight scenes to Yakkety Sax. There’s tons of clenched fists and screaming and it’s drenched in this heavy handed anime atmosphere but at the same time, it’s relentlesly funny. It’s a parade of mutilation. People inflict traumatic wounds and the victims reel from them like nothing happened. During one fight scene, a heavily tattooed yakuza type takes on Riki in the prison yard and in a desperate attempt to gain the upper hand, he cuts himself open hara kiri style, yanks out his large intestine and wraps it around Riki’s throat in an attempt to choke him. Obviously, Riki is going to win this fight and it’s no surprise. The surprise comes in precisely how he wins. The same yakuza is launched into the air and on the way down, Riki punches him in the face. The film cuts to an x-ray of Riki’s fist caving in his skull. And it goes on and on like this.
Riki-Oh was one of the first movies out of Hong Kong to use the dreaded Category III rating system. Cat3 movies are supposed to be the Hong Kong equivalent to an NC-17 in the US, but I’ve seen their content range wildly. Other hyper-violent movies out of Hong Kong such as Daughter of Darkness and Untold Story received the same rating, yet their content as nasty as it is, fails to reach the heights of Riki-Oh. They’re extraordinarily fucked up, but no one gets a wood plane up the front side of the faces in those movies. They usually wind up in horrifying rape scenes instead. So I guess there’s a trade-off.
I’ve heard that there is a sequel, called Dint King, but I’ve never seen it and only recently heard about it so I can’t say if it’s good or not. My guess would be not.
Just recounting the content of this movie is making me feel like I’ve been drinking jolt all night. I’ve done my best to articulate this movie’s qualities but the only real way to understand is to take my word for it and check it out. From the opening gut-emptying punch to the last guy-in-a-meat-grinder scene, it never stops. When you think it can’t top the last scene of carnage, a guy gets an uppercut under the jaw and out of his mouth.