Thursday, September 22, 2011

Story of Ricky (1991)

Bullies beware!

This was a Hong Kong made martial arts film that was based on a Japanese manga. The result was a mash of cultural ideas that came with relating points for either society--unlike the usual competitiveness and animosity towards each other--and then who could forget plenty of violence that came out of the collaboration. If someone in passing just says "Story of Ricky" was gory it would be doing it a disservice, because this is quite possibly THE goriest martial arts film at that point, that's even over "The Street Fighter," "Lone Wolf and Cub" and others in the '70s when rabid audiences wanted to see copious amounts of blood shed when fists and blades connected with soft human flesh. This is more in line to the '80s ultra violent Japanese animes that took the fascination of carnage further such as "Fist of the North Star" that weren't as limited by what movements and characteristics they displayed. As a live action feature, the budget is going to be less grand in scope, though this still manages to capture some of the over-the-top and colorful scenarios that are usually only done in inked pen. Essentially you can transparently see its limitations at times but it still doesn't stop it from being effective and intensely entertaining partly because of those setbacks.

In 2001, all forms of government have become privatized and turned into franchises, including prison systems. It's the future mainly in mindset as it hardly looks like it apart from a few different aspects switched around. The prison is headed by a rich warden, his power hungry assistant, nameless guards and then four gang leaders in charge of their own cell block to keep fearful inmates in line. A bus full of new prisoners show up and regulars attempt to treat them as fresh meat. One of them stands out, Ricky, a complete mystery with superhuman strength and a strong conviction to the point of feeling no pain except when it comes to reference of his girlfriend, not to mention he's an expert flute player to the point of playing in perfect key and harmony with nothing but a leaf! He doesn't need an entourage to back him up, as each one of his limbs counts as a mini army anyway. You could probably substitute his name with any one of the current Chuck Norris jokes. The movie is ridiculously cruel and violent by making some of the worst prisons in the world look like a daycare center. The weakest literally get beaten into the ground until they're nothing more than helpless shells of themselves. Ricky shows up as a modern superhero with a strong distaste for bullies, which is how he got there in the first place, with bullets in his chest as a souvenir to show for it. There are some flashbacks that show Ricky was once in an overly happy, positive state. He's more an antihero than the usual Marvel or DC superhero fare that US readers are used to, though he still comes with the bulging muscles and rules to govern his conscience despite not being afraid to get his hands dirty from time to time.

This is kept fairly simple in that it's more a series of events than a typical layered storyline. Essentially Ricky has to single handedly dismantle the corrupt prison system by acting as a self-sacrificing martyr for a widespread epidemic that's gotten out of hand against other human beings. Part of that doesn't always work towards justice or righteousness as they're all criminals first and foremost, though the film does emphasize a few that were wrongfully locked up. Ricky doesn't always just jump right into the carnage as even taking the life of an enemy is still a life taken. He's more a televangilist's best friend with a tendency to cripple and humble his opponents, since he realizes in order to make a form of peace blood must be taken. There are more veins exposed and guts spilled than your everyday janitor would care to clean up. Punches don't just bruise, but decapitate and rip through mid sections. Makeshift weapons are plunged into people in the most cringe worthy and tortuous fashions. If there is a message to it, they nailed it home and then some. The special effects are all over the place with quality. Some of the simple wounds get the job done of looking nasty, though others, such as model faces and bodies, you can blatantly see its limitations. Especially when someone grows Hulk-like strength, it's hard to tell if it was on purpose or they just ran out of money and didn't want to cut it out of the script. Then again, this style of movie isn't going to be appeasing to a large share of audiences and that usually means less backing for all that snazzy stuff.

For what the story lacks, the over-the-top characters carry their own. There's the assistant warden who is so fat and greedy that you can't help but not like him. There are the gang leaders who have flamboyant dress and unusual abilities up their sleeves to keep things amusing, either by accident or on purpose--probably both. The synthesizer music ranges from fumbling around with filler to actually producing a harmony on occasion. The opening piece reminds me of some of the horror scores by Goblin from the '70s/'80s--maybe it is, you never know with Chinese films. "Story of Ricky" often falls short, but tries so hard while at it that it's easier to overlook its many faults and setbacks. The performances and English dubbing are going to catch more laughs than some comedies due to being the epitome of boisterous and exaggerated to make a point--the film doesn't know what the word reserved or subtle means, but who says it needs to? On the other hand, this has an enormous amount of random surprises in the form of contraptions and scenarios, inventiveness, style and enough eccentric characters to get by. This is an off-kilter film that invents its own rules and does things that are downright impossible and unimaginable outside of itself, but it does them well enough towards suspending your disbelief that it often thumps logic where other films would fall flat from some of the same shortcomings.

Rating: 7.5/10

Director: Ngai Kai Lam
Stars: Siu-Wong Fan
Link: IMDB

No comments:

Post a Comment