From Riches to Rags (1980)
Reviewed by: kachun on 1999-12-09
Certainly one of the most weird and surreal John Woo films around. The movie appears to be another film in the silly comedy genre, which has been a staple of the Hong Kong film industry especially in the early 80s. The silliness is probably never better than when John Woo does a _Drunken Master_ parody, complete with music, when Ricky and Fatso go to train at the local kung fu school! However Woo, who also scripted the film, gave the picture a decidedly strange tone by having the last third of it take place inside an insane asylum, with inmates and our main characters running amok. The viewer is then treated to a spectacle that is up near the stratosphere in the weird quotient, when a crew of mental patients (as unusual as you'll ever see on film) do their thing. _From Riches to Rags_ ends up being rather uneven. By the end of the movie it is obvious that Woo's message was that money was the root of the main characters' troubles. However the plot meanders around and it seems like his main theme was thrown in as an afterthought. The direction is rather pedestrian, with little of the dramatic camerawork that would be associated with later Woo films. Parts of the soundtrack was also lifted wholesale from Jerry Goldsmith's music from _Star Trek: The Motion Picture_; this may be the only John Woo film where the viewer gets to hear the familiar opening theme that's also used in the TV series _Star Trek: The Next Generation_! I would normally recommend that you stay away from this somewhat mediocre offering. But for someone studying Woo though, this film does offer an interesting bridge between his acknowledged influences and his later films. Many have noted the influence of Michael Cimino's _The Deer Hunter_ on Woo's epic _Bullet in the Head_. However what many do not know is that in some ways, _From Riches to Rags_ is almost a precursor to _Bullet in the Head_! The hellish trip through the insane asylum that Ricky and Fatso go through is parallelled by what Ben, Frank, and Paul suffer in Vietnam in _Bullet in the Head_. A Russian roulette scene from _The Deer Hunter_ is actually reproduced in _From Riches to Rags_, with similar dialogue between the characters (all of which would later evolve into the harrowing Viet Cong camp sequence in _Bullet in the Head_). Watching this movie is a surreal experience for the experienced Woo-viewer not only because of what's being shown on screen, but also because of the feeling of deja vu, as you see Woo test themes and ideas that he would re-use with great effect later in his career.
Reviewer Score: 8