Story of Ricky is a rarely-screened Hong Kong kung fu movie, based on a super-violent comic series called Riki-Oh. The movie was first released in 1991 but I didn’t see it for the first time until 2008. After seeing it, I had four immediate thoughts:
1. Is…um… everybody okay over there?!?
2. It would be pretty damn interesting to see what Sam Raimi would do with a kung fu movie.
3. Isn’t it a little sad that my idea of expanding my cultural frame of reference tends more often towards midnight movies like Story of Ricky rather than acknowledged classics like Harakiri or Tokyo Story? (Seen ’em both; both of them have far fewer exploding heads for one thing.)
4. Seriously, back to Thought #1: Asian cinema is capable of so much more transcendent weirdness than any of its Western counterparts could ever hope to touch. (Except maybe those creepy Germans and some of the unholy stuff they’re into. No offense meant. Okay, a little offense meant.)
Story of Ricky is about a young hero who is thrown into a maximum-security prison for reasons to be uncovered throughout the film. Yes, it’s the Shawshank Redemption of Hong Kong gore comedies. The story is set in the far-future of 2001, but none of that is the point.
The point is that Ricky has super-human strength [never explained] as part of his kung fu repertoire, so when the corrupt warden and the assistant warden and their henchmen — the super-powered boss prisoners — mess with Ricky, he can punch their guts out.
I mean literally, punch their guts out.
Not for the squeamish, this one ain’t. It’s so over-the-top and unrealistically cartoony that in my opinion it’s hardly upsetting, but when violence happens in this movie, it’s more violent than the entire run of Scorsese gangster movies put together. I haven’t seen a movie this gleefully gory since maybe Evil Dead 2.
Also, I haven’t seen a protagonist this androgynous in a movie since Corey Feldman in Dream A Little Dream.
Remember that movie? It was a late-’80s body-switch comedy co-starring (somewhat inexplicably) the great Jason Robards. Right? Remember Corey Feldman’s slightly disturbing Michael Jackson phase? Remember how cute Meredith Salenger was in that movie?
I’m getting off-topic again.
The point I was making is, half the hilarity of Story of Ricky is the fact that the absurdly muscular Ricky who can punch people’s heads off also looks exactly like a pouty-lipped girl. That’s cool with me. It makes the movie either more progressive, or more inadvertently hysterical.
The movie follows absolutely none of the tenuously-established rules of screenwriting, but probably more than a few of the non-existent rules of video games. Character allegiances and audience sympathies come and go as if on iPod shuffle setting. There is absolutely no moral or meaning. In short, this can’t be argued as a traditionally “good” movie, but would I rather watch this than anything Meryl Streep’s ever done in her life (excluding only Adaptation)? Yeah man.
You watch this thing, which is hysterically funny, and you wonder, how much of that humor is intentional. It’s dubbed over in English, and the dialogue that’s said is at least as funny and insane as what’s happening on screen, so it’s possible that this was once a straight-faced effort since been given the Mystery Science Theater treatment. I haven’t done any research on the thing so I don’t know. But I kind of doubt it. I wondered over this question almost the entire running time, until the warden does what he does and turns into what he turns into, and then the answer became clear. But I won’t go into that, because I hold out hope that you all get the chance to see this if you haven’t already, hopefully fresh like I did.
But again, be forewarned, and it bears repeating: This movie is violent. I’m talking about such relatively tame examples as the scene where Ricky faces the mighty Oscar, and Oscar cuts open his own stomach and tries to choke Ricky with his intestines. Then he wounds Ricky in the arm, and Ricky has to make a tourniquet with his own vein. That kind of violence. If you don’t think you can handle that, stay far, far away. (I hear Meryl Streep has a movie coming out soon… You lily-livered flowerpot you.)
Story Of Riki is screening just in time for its twentieth anniversary, as part of this year’s wonderful New York Asian Film Festival. It’s playing at midnight the evening of Friday, July 8th, at the Walter Reade Theater. That’s right, Story Of Ricky is playing at Lincoln Center. If you’ve got a funnier match of movie to venue, I’d love to hear it.
Daily Show fans: This movie is apparently the source of that exploding head clip that appeared under the credits for years. You know, this one: