The Martial Arts genre has been the home of some of the most beautiful, lyrical and spiritual films ever made. This genre encompassing the works of several different countries from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and others has given the world gorgeous works of art from King Hu’s A Touch of Zen in 1969 to Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers in 2004. While these movies represent the best of what the genre has to offer, the reputations of Martial Arts films were not usually equated with Oscar Nominated fair such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero. The genre’s biggest fans are usually action junkies who look for brutality instead of grace. While film’s such as Fist of Legend and Drunken Master II (aka: Legend of the Drunken Master) feature a lot of action, many of the hardcore fans of the genre require much more. In Hong Kong, it’s called a Category III. These films are for adults only and feature NC-17 levels of violence, gore or sex. Internationally, these pictures join others from Japan, America and Europe in categorization known as exploitation or grindhouse films. These films traditionally were found in seedy theaters around the world that showed trash classics as diverse as The Streetfighter and They Call Her One Eye, as well as low budget Horror or even 70’s Porn.
The Story of Ricky Starring Siu-Wong Fan and Mui Sang Fan. Directed by Ngai Kai Lam
Normally, Category III’s are reserved for sex on screen. Films such as Hong Kong cult classics Sex and Zen, Naked Killer, and Erotic Ghost Story were all given this rating for racy images of nudity or eroticism. With the release of The Story of Ricky in 1991, the country had its first Category III to earn the rating based on violence.
In the future (or the year 2001 as it is in this film), prisons are privately run, therefore allowing owners to do what they want with prisoners. Siu-Wong Fan stars as Ricky, a man sent to prison for taking the life of a drug dealer responsible for his girlfriend’s death. Upon entering the prison, Ricky is assaulted by all levels of the prison hierarchy, both inmates and guards. For those thinking this film might be a heartwarming story of survival in a prison similar to The Shawshank Redemption
or Cool hand Luke
, get that thought out of your head right now.
When a gigantic assassin tries to take Ricky out while he’s in the shower, Ricky’s power comes to the forefront. The huge man lunges at Ricky, throwing him against the wall. Determined to murder the smaller man, the assassin goes in for the kill on Ricky (he was also promised he could eat Ricky). In a scene of appalling gore and ridiculously gratuitous violence, Ricky punches through (yes through) the would-be assassin. Our “hero” punches a hole that comes out the other side of the big man’s stomach, sending his guts to the floor. Ricky then finds the man responsible for instigating the hit and punches through him as well.
For those looking for a standard Martial Arts film, this is the first sign that things are not going to be normal. Story of Ricky
is based on a Japanese Manga called Rikki-Oh
. The comic is in the same vein as hyper-stylized fair like Fist of the North Star
. Until this film came out, no film had attempted to portray the over the top gore found in Mangas in a live action setting since the heyday of Lone Wolf and Cub
. Story of Ricky
is as violent as any film ever made, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. Lovers of gory Horror flicks such as Dead Alive
or Evil Dead 2
should get a real kick out of the movie. Blood and guts are spewed by the gallons here.
While the film is virtually absent of good performances, each actor does an adequate job with the material given to them. Siu-Wong Fan isn’t exactly a juggernaut of charisma as Ricky, but his screen presence is decent. The man was obviously chosen for his physical stature, for which he is quite impressive. Ricky is shirtless virtually the entire film and he flexes every muscle he has. Siu-Wong Fan looks as if he is made of granite as he runs through a gauntlet of inhumane tortures.
At various points throughout the film Ricky has to face the infamous Gang of Four, superhuman criminals that run each of the four wings of the prison. First there is Huang Chaun, a kung fu master with the ability of making a person’s heart explode (who is supposed to be a man, but is actually played by a woman). Next is Oscar, a tattooed muscleman and weapons master. He is followed by Shorty, the least impressive member of the Gang, who uses spikes attached to elastic bands. The most recognizable of the Four is Taizan, a huge man with the power of crushing a man’s skull. Remember Craig Kilbourne’s run on The Daily Show
? During his “5 Questions” segment every night, Kilbourne would run a graphic of a kung fu master making another man’s head explode. That clip was Taizan’s introduction in this film.
All four are lead by the prison’s Assistant Warden (Mui Sang Fan). Of all the villains, he may be the worst. He is definitely the vilest of the group. The man has a hook for a hand and a glass eye that he keeps mints in for snacking in between his gluttonous meals. His physical deformities are matched only by his insatiable love of torturing and killing his prisoners.
Director Ngai Kai Lam stages ridiculous and horrifying deaths for each of the villains. The first to go is Oscar. After openly defying Oscar’s authority, Ricky is challenged to a fight in the prison’s courtyard. The scene is notable for two reasons. First off, few times has violence been this ridiculously overboard. The scene begins with Oscar cutting the tendons in Ricky’s arm and then throwing glass in his eyes to blind him. Ricky counters by busting open a water main, which apparently instantly washes out the glass shards from his bleeding eyes. Ricky then uses his teeth to tie his tendons together (I’m sure this was completely accurate in its portrayal of battlefield medicine). Oscar is so shocked by Ricky’s comeback that he decides to end it himself by slicing out his own abdomen. But wait! It was only a ruse as Oscar uses his intestines to try and choke Ricky out.
The second reason the scene is notable is for the finale between the two combatants. Ricky finally escapes the death-grip of Oscar’s innards and knocks his opponent into the air. As Oscar flails to the ground, Ricky ends the fight with a blow to the head. As Ricky’s hand makes contact with Oscar’s head, the shot changes to an X-ray of Oscar’s skull being crushed. This technique has been used in several Hollywood productions since then, most notably the Jet Li vehicle Romeo Must Die
None of the villains fair much better against Ricky. Remember that scene in X-Men
where Wolverine punches that guy’s hand? It looked cool there, but Story
does it one better as Ricky make Taizan’s hand explode when he punches it. He then punches Taizan through the jaw. Huang Chaun gets off light by comparison as a missed kick causes “his” leg to go through a vat of liquid nitrogen. Ricky then shatters the leg of the “Death Touch” master.
Before Ricky is victorious over his foes he must go through a labyrinth of tortures and battles. He takes on the Gang of Four, survives constant beatings, has his mouth filled with razor blades as he’s punched in the face, nearly has his head and then his body crushed, is buried alive, and overcomes Huang Chaun’s “Death Touch”. After all this Ricky meets his biggest challenge with the Prison’s warden.
The Warden (Ka-Kui Ho) is as sadistic as any other villain in the film. Time after time, the Warden sacrifices his own men in pursuit of Ricky. In comic book fashion, the Warden is equipped with a special gun that seems to pump air into his victims until they explode. After failure to dispatch Ricky, this is the fate the Assistant Warden and Shorty meet. The Warden ends up posing the only real threat to Ricky as his special power allows him to “Hulk Up”. I’m not sure what kind of Martial Art this is, but I don’t believe they teach it at the local Y.M.C.A.
The Story of Ricky is not a good movie by any means, but it does have its merits. The film is like a rollercoaster. You know what’s coming, but sitting there is so much fun it doesn’t matter. If you’re a fan of gore-fests, or grindhouse Martial Arts films like The Streetfighter or Duel to the Death, Ricky’s fights provide have some very base pleasures. For those looking for great drama and inspirational storytelling, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for over the top violence and a comic book style storyline, The Story of Ricky is for you.
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