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It all comes down to the final fight. One bad guy stands between you and freedom. He’s the toughest out of all the others you’ve pummeled already. In one glorious climax, it’ll be the victor who gets to leave this place alive.
Such is the setup for our friend Ricky Ho. He’s our main character from Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991), a ballsy Hong Kong action thriller film based on a 1988 Japanese manga by Masahiko Takajo and Tetsuya Saruwatari. Ricky is played by actor Louis Fan (credited as Fan-Siu Wong), whom some may recognize from the Ip Man franchise. His character is a former music student turned cold-blooded fighter sent to prison for killing a crime lord responsible for his girlfriend’s death. Blessed with incredible strength, he fights to survive and liberate himself from a corrupt prison system guarded by an elite squad of henchmen and a tyrannical warden.
This underrated film, directed by Lam-Nai Choi, skirts the line between martial arts movie and downright gore porn. His directing style is marked by a fascination with bodily functions and grotesque deformations. There are many WTF Moments that demonstrate this, including the countless times Ricky disintegrates human flesh and punches out people's guts with his bare hands. Additionally, he was almost strangled to death by an enemy’s own exposed intestines. Even after witnessing all this madness, Ricky’s final clash with the head warden of the prison still takes the cake.
The warden’s a stereotypical villain on the surface — a feeble old man clad in a long black coat who relies on heart medicine and rocks dark shaded sunglasses like Kim Jong-il. He walks with a cane and has an unimpressive bald spot smack in the middle of his head. Although he seems harmless, he’s actually one of the main instigators for corruption in the prison, using a select group of people to funnel opium on the side. He gives no second thoughts to exerting his power and authority over prisoners like Ricky.
One of the charms of Riki-Oh isn't necessarily the fight scenes, but the practical effects used to imitate the very gory moments. At first glance, there’s an obvious cheap quality that dates them and makes them stand out a little too much. It's fairly easy to spot the transitions between an actor’s body and a fake model being used on set. Yet it’s this cheesy quality that makes them so memorable, and why I find myself entertained by the film’s bloodiest moments.
Much of this is demonstrated in the climax when Ricky faces off against the warden, a self-proclaimed master of kung fu. Take this guy’s word for it, because what happens next is pure spectacle. As he enters a spasm of evil villain laughter, his body begins to shake uncontrollably. His arms stretch out in length, parts of his clothes rip apart, and his face swells to the size of a balloon about to burst. He transforms himself into a giant, muscle-bound creature with long strings of snot dangling from his nose.
At first, Ricky is overwhelmed by the warden’s power. Having leveled up, he pushes Ricky back on several occasions and tries choking him into submission. Ricky gains the upper hand by using his fist to tear a hole through the warden’s stomach and flipping him overhead into a meat grinder. The warden’s transformation isn’t even the most insane thing to happen in this sequence of events.
If you’ve seen Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), you’ll probably remember it for the infamous pig’s blood scene where the unfortunate anti-heroine is doused in a bucket of the stuff by some vengeful teens, resulting in a massacre using her psychic powers. More recently, Uma Thurman’s character in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) tangoes with an army of Japanese killers and slices off body parts to the tune of streaming blood. Riki-Oh is a part of that bloody canon, with its final battle embodying both a cathartic satisfaction and an entertaining spectacle that you can’t turn away from — no matter how disturbing or gory it is.
With the warden’s body stuck in the meat grinder, Ricky holds down the struggling warden’s head in place and pushes him through the machine like he was a butcher making ground meat. Blood sprays profusely all over the place and stains Ricky’s entire body, but it doesn’t stop his resolve. After grinding the deceased warden down to nothing but a puddle of guts and blood, Ricky takes his severed head and glares at it as an alarm rings out. Having won the final battle, he presents it to everyone outside and breaks free by smashing the walls of the prison.
I’ll admit, I was unimpressed by Riki-Oh at times, but scenes like this always manage to convince me that B movies have their charms. While more gore doesn’t necessarily make a movie better, I couldn’t help but feel a hearty satisfaction after seeing Ricky, drenched in deep red blood, earn his freedom. Perhaps we crave violence every once in a while like a guilty pleasure we can’t ignore. Or maybe we just like seeing jerks meet their maker.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.