From Riches to Rags | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

From Riches to Rags 

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For more than a decade before he struck box-office gold and garnered critical hosannas with A Better Tomorrow in 1986, John Woo dabbled in a number of genres--martial arts, Cantonese opera, melodrama, comedy. But he showed a striking visual flair and a fondness for hyperkinetic editing early on. The slapstick comedy From Riches to Rags, made in 1980 and showcasing the sullen-faced Ricky Hui (Hong Kong's Buster Keaton), had never been released outside Southeast Asia before this touring retrospective of 80s Hong Kong cinema curated by the Film Center's Barbara Scharres. The sweet but goofy Ricky, a lower-class everyman dreaming of instant wealth and upward mobility, hits the lottery jackpot; newly wealthy and convinced he's dying of cancer, he hires assassins to kill him and then changes his mind. The final chase, into an insane asylum full of rich patients, is marked by the exaggerated hilarious obsessiveness that's become a Woo hallmark. Other Woo prototypes abound, from the oversized gun to slow-motion revelries, and his fascination with Hollywood is apparent in inventive allusions to 2001, Saturday Night Fever, and other 70s classics. In 'Scope. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, October 1, 4:00, 443-3737.

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