‘Riki-Oh: The Story of Riki’ – the most absurdly violent prison film ever made on Criterion Channel

One of the most absurdly violent films ever made, Riki-Oh: The Story of Riki (Hong Kong, 1991) is an outrageous comic book of a movie that is short on style but makes up for in sheer audacity and excess.

Brooding street kid Ricky Ho (Fan Siu Wang, playing the part of avenging angel with self-righteous earnestness) walks into the corrupt corporate prison system with super-powered martial arts skills and proceeds to punch his way through every bullying thug and sadistic guard who comes his way. Literally. His fist puts a gaping hole through the stomach of a giant Sumo-sized thug and the jaw of a pompadoured bully, and turns the skull of a pathetic guard into a bloody stump. As Ricky becomes a hero to the downtrodden prisoners, the assistant warden (Ho Kah-hui), who keeps breath mints in his removable glass eye, organizes the dreaded “gang of four,” the cell block gang leaders, to take Ricky down. Fat chance!

There’s nothing realistic about the bone shattering, blood splattering spectacle of heads crushed like ripe cantaloupes and limbs snapped with X-ray replays just to prove it, but the unrestrained display becomes so preposterously grotesque it hardly matters. You’ll be convinced that the “Oh” in Riki-Oh stands for “Oh my God, did I really see that?”

Yes, Ricky really does tie a sliced tendon with his teeth. A thug cuts open his gut and uses his own intestines to strangle Ricky. The warden (for no apparent reason) puffs himself up into a giant rubber ogre. And if the warden’s top thug Rogan looks a little more curvy and cute than your average prison thug, it’s because he’s played by actress Yukari Oshima, the butt kicking star of Angel and its many sequels.

Lam Nai-choi directs, lurches his way through the most audacious, excessive gore you’ve ever seen. This cult film may be bluntly directed and archly performed, with a sober seriousness only periodically leavened by humor, but the non-stop display of mortal destruction tops itself by the minute with jaw dropping outrageousness. It’s a cult film that fully well deserves its reputation.

Rated R, in Cantonese with English subtitles

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky [Blu-ray]
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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