There are some movies with reputations so outsized, so outrageous, that it hardly seems possible that the actual film could live up to the hype. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is positively infamous for its bizarrity, with tales abounding of blood-soaked fights, have-to-be-seen-to-be-believed special effects and positively insane plotting. I’m here to tell you that pretty much everything you may have heard about Riki-Oh is totally true. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more whacked-out film than this one, and I’ve seen some weird stuff in my time.
Released in 1991, Riki-Oh was the first Hong Kong-produced film to receive a “Category III” rating. Category III films would likely be NC-17 in the United States, leading to obscurity. Can you even name the last three NC-17 movies that saw theatrical release in this country? I didn’t think so.
I have no idea if Riki-Oh did blockbuster business in Hong Kong or not, but I do know that its notoriety has kept it in the hearts and minds of schlock-film enthusiasts for over 20 years. And now I’ve seen it for myself, something I thought I’d never be able to do, given its most cultish of cult statuses here in the US.
What is Riki-Oh? It’s a prison story, and it has elements in common with pretty much every prison story you’ve ever seen or heard of. I feel safe saying, however, that you have seen nothing like Riki-Oh, and are unlikely to see anything like it again.
Admitting to being a fan of director Zack Snyder is kind of like admitting that you’re a fan of Michael Bay. In the case of both directors, they have a distinct style that people seem to enjoy enough to shower millions upon their movies, but everyone professes to despise. Pick any Michael Bay movie and you’ll get a hundred pieces of criticism leveled at it. The same goes with Snyder, particularly when 300 comes up.
Anyway, because I’m a fan of Zack Snyder and have been since Dawn of the Dead, when nobody knew who he was, I checked out Sucker Punch this weekend. I emerged from the film deeply conflicted about what I’d just seen. In fact, I was of two distinct minds while I was watching it. On the one hand, Sucker Punch represents the apotheosis of Zack Snyder’s moviemaking style, while on the other hand the movie is a piece of grimy, near-exploitative trash. That said, there’s a place for grimy, near-exploitative trash, and in the case of Sucker Punch I’m conflicted about that, too.
I hesitate to tell you too much about film because it’s best allowed to give you the story on its own terms, but this much I can share because the trailers have already given it away: a young girl is sent to an insane asylum though it’s the last place she belongs, and she uses the power of her imagination to escape. Or attempt to escape. I’m not going to tell you what happens one way or the other. These imaginative dreamscapes involve her and various friends from the asylum doing battle against clockwork zombie Germans in WWI, dragons, orcs and killer robots. There’s also some skeevy stuff about a brothel where girls are forced to dance and service customers.