Story of Ricky (1992)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-02-12
“Story of Ricky O” is one of the grandest of Grand Guignol spectacles, a completely over the top extravaganza of limb-ripping, eye gouging, bloodletting and intestine spilling. It has a pumped up and ripped hero, a villain could have stolen the show and Oshima Yukari in black leather male drag. It even has Lam Suet for a couple of scenes.

We know this will not be a typical prison movie when the bus full of new convicts pulls up in front of the barred gate and parks on tarmac that is obviously stained with blood—a lot of blood. A penal institution that doesn’t bother to have the blood scrubbed off its driveway is a pretty tough place. Most the prisoners don’t have things too rough, though. They spend most of their time hanging around in wide, well lit hallways wondering whose disembowelment will be the entertainment for tonight—and perhaps the next day’s sausage. The guards are pretty ineffectual which is telegraphed by their uniforms which are powder blue knock-offs of Nazi SS gear. They have little interest in administering discipline or enforcing regulations and live in fear of the inmate cell block bosses. The bosses are the real rulers of the prison—the assistant warden uses them to keep the prisoners in line which is only important because convicts are a cheap source of labor that the prison owners exploit for their profit.

The assistant warden, currently in charge while the warden vacations in Hawaii, is insanely gruesome. He obviously has been injured in the past since he has a set of double hooks that replace one of his hands and a glass eye that he pops in when expecting guests—and uses as a place to store mints he offers his visitors. The first time we see this double hook it is holding a piece of meat while the AW cuts it. When next deployed it is also to control what has become meat but in a disgusting and shocking way. Like everyone else in authority here the he wants to know what Ricky was doing during two years of his record that are blank. These two years are the MacGuffin of “Story of Ricky”—the bad guys want to find out what happened then, which they (and the audience) never do. It serves to simply push the plot along and give the prison managers a reason to torture Ricky which they do with gleeful abandon. We don’t care what Ricky was doing, of course, since we are mainly interested in how the ceiling gets sprayed with blood in the next scene.

There are four cell blocks, North, South, East and West. Each is controlled by a boss. Yukarki is the toughest of the lot, or at least the one who inflicts and suffers the most damage. She looks great in a short, angular wig and a black leather jumpsuit and practices a type of kung fu that includes a blow to the fatal muscle of the heart. Hai, the boss of the block to which Ricky is assigned, is a caricature of a triad or yakuza leader, enforcing family discipline. Blondie is a little guy who can throw spikes attached to wires right through a person with the flick of a wrist and Tarzan is huge and strong enough to bend cell bars. Each of them is willing to die in the service of whatever they believe in—an example is the justly celebrated scene in which Hai, having had his stomach punched open by Ricky (by no means Ricky’s most lethal move) grabs his own intestines and tries to strangle his opponent. Obviously it couldn’t work—intestines seem much too slippery and stretchy to serve as a garrote—but it is the thought that counts.

Ricky himself isn’t an interesting character. He can’t be killed—we find out that bullets can’t harm him in a throw away line from the warden and he can’t even be injured badly or at least permanently. The escalating violence directed at him is what drives the movie. It begins almost benignly with a couple of huge tough guys trying to beat him up and ratchets upward regularly almost with each scene. He is buried alive (doesn’t kill him) has his mouth stuffed with double edged razor blades and taped shut (also a failure) , is encased in cement (ditto) and hit with the shovel of a large backhoe (of course it doesn’t work). The only area of torture that was ignored was use of animals—there were no poisonous snakes, hungry lions or toothy alligators to be found. The producers probably spent the animal wrangler budget on all the papier-mâché bricks for the prison walls.

There is a structure to “Story of Ricky”—something evil is going on in the prison—something besides mangling inmates and overacting, that is. Ricky is out to destroy this evil and he does so and the various obstacles he has to overcome—mainly by killing them in increasingly outlandish ways keeps the story moving forward. What is missing is a plot—there isn’t any reason for anyone to do anything in the first half of the movie and by the time we discover what might be Ricky’s reason for being in this particular prison we are so sated by the mangled limbs, crushed heads and exploding bodies that we don’t really care.

One linguistic side note: the four cell block bosses are referred to a few times as “The Gang of Four”. I don’t know if that term in either Cantonese or Mandarin is the same or close to the same as the “Gang of Four” used pejoratively to describe those blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution by the generation of PRC leaders immediately after the death of Mao Zedong but it was striking to see it in a Chinese (albeit Hong Kong pre-1997) movie.
Reviewer Score: 6