by Jim Ridley
That's right. Until A Serbian Film turns up on The Nashville Network, you'll just have to settle for this bizarre juxtaposition of beyond-disgusting cult movie and respectable TV network. Let David Kalat explain the significance of this momentous occasion in his write-up on the TCM website:
It is difficult to overstate just how incongruous it is to find Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) appearing on American television. This is an over-the-top work of notorious violence and excess that lived for most of its life as an underground cult movie, and was never intended to enter the viewer's home uninvited. As it happens, these very attributes—the ridiculous gore and the cult movie status—are two sides of the same coin, and understanding that is key to understanding why this movie is what it is.
So what is it? In terms of form, it is a 1991 Hong Kong-Japanese co-production by director Lam Ngai-Choi adapting a Japanese manga. As far as content goes, Riki-Oh is a prison movie. The genre conventions of prison movies are simple but versatile: a dangerous loner is brought into a claustrophobic setting where he (or she) squares off against institutionalized sadism and the cruelty of his (or her) fellow inmates. That modest formula has been used, depending on the inflection given it by various filmmakers, to advance just about any Man vs. Man/Man vs. Society/Man vs. Himself theme you could hope to mention. In the case of Riki-Oh, the inflection given is just pure, limitless grue. There is no deep social critique here, no message to be learned—this is just Man vs. Injury, Man vs. Internal Organs, Man vs. Audience Fortitude. ...
Recounting the plot is largely beside the point, however. The film has little regard for logic, but places a high premium on absurd set-pieces: Riki sets off the metal detector upon his arrival at the prison because he still has five bullets in him from a previous battle; the Assistant Warden uses his mechanical claw of a prosthetic hand to extract his glass eye so he can enjoy one of the breath mints he keeps stored inside it; the head Warden eventually metamorphoses into a nine-foot-tall demonic Hulk for no other explanation beyond "as warden, I naturally must have the most powerful kung fu."
Set your DVR for 1 a.m. tonight, and make sure you get TCM Underground's amazing second feature, Kihachi Okamoto's The Sword of Doom, which some folks may remember from The Belcourt's samurai film festival several years ago. And watch TCM Underground for (finally!) other new additions in coming weeks, including William Girdler's insane The Manitou (Nov. 16), a Derek Jarman double bill including The Tempest (Nov. 23), and the Arch Oboler oddity The Twonky (Nov. 30). Let's hope a strong response to these encourages TCM to beef up one of the best movie blocks on TV.