PLOT: Ride On tells the story of washed-up stuntman Luo (Jackie Chan). When Luo’s trusty horse Red Hare becomes the focus of a debt dispute, Luo repairs his relationship with his estranged daughter Bao (Liu Haocun). Moreover, with the help of Bao’s boyfriend, Mickey (Kevin Guo), the team of “three people and one horse” set out to protect their family and loved ones. The action choreography in the film is a homage to Jackie Chan’s classic stunts from his previous movies.
REVIEW: It’s hard to watch your heroes get old. However, that also happens to be a plot point and one of the themes in the new Jackie Chan action dramedy Ride On. Chan’s recent string of films has been somewhat hit or miss. He proclaimed that his last all-out action film that recaptures the spirit of his heyday was going to be the third and last entry in the Armor of God franchise, 2012’s Chinese Zodiac. Much like other actors or athletes who would initially plan to hang up their shoes on their former glory days, Chan would not truly follow through as he continued to do the action comedy he’s known so well for. It’s just who he is, and he knows it. There is a line in Ride On that perfectly captures this sentiment as Chan’s character would remark, “It’s easier jumping down than stepping down.”
When you get a glimpse of this movie from its trailer, it would seem like you’re in for more of a goofy family film as it emphasizes Chan’s relationship with a horse. And while the movie is definitely a goofy family film, Ride On surprisingly becomes a tribute and a celebration of Chan’s actual career in movies and his legacy in stunts. Jackie would play an aged stuntman named Luo, who still has some gas in the tank, but he’s turned his attention to an adopted horse named Red Hare, whom he’s trained to be a movie stunt animal. Unfortunately, gigs are few and far between, and he makes his money by parading the horse in town as an attraction along with other cosplayers.
While Luo struggles to make ends meet, he’s pursued by an aggressive debt collector, played by Andy On from New Police Story. What’s even worse is a company that had recently acquired the ownership of Red Hare is seeking to take him from Luo’s custody. This leads Luo to find legal representation to settle the complicated matters. Fortunately for him, his daughter Bao is studying to become a lawyer. Unfortunately, this daughter is also estranged and wants nothing to do with him. Luo attempts to repair his relationship with his daughter, and as she starts to feel sorry for him, she begrudgingly decides to give him a chance and help him with his situation while trying to get to know him.
Ride On is a mixed bag. The first act is heavy on drama. It almost feels like the film is determined to make you cry throughout. Jackie has wanted to be a more serious actor for the past decade or so, and while he’s taken chances on against-type of films like Shinjuku Incident and The Foreigner, on some of his attempts, he has a tendency to overdo it. The backstory of Luo’s broken marriage and his eventual abandonment of his daughter is played incredibly melodramatically. The music swells, and the emotion flows. But instead of being effective with subtlety, it bludgeons you over the head with it until you’re almost drowning in sap.
As Jackie gets older, it’s great to see him play roles that show him in a different light. Luo is very flawed and hindered by his attachment to his stunt career. It brought to mind the dynamic between Randy The Ram and his daughter in The Wrestler. The problem here is it’s presented like a soap opera. As tortured as these characters are, they seem to be affected by everything and break into tears at the drop of a hat (which literally happens at one point). Still, there are many moments that give us Chan’s signature humor. He finds out his daughter is engaged, and when her fiancé agrees to be involved, there is a classic overprotective father/nervous boyfriend dynamic that Chan slips into quite comfortably.
Where the movie really starts to get interesting is when it becomes introspective on Luo’s career, which then becomes a very meta look at Jackie’s own career. There are so many interesting aspects that could’ve been fleshed out in favor of cutting the fat of the melodrama that would have resulted in an amazing look at a past era defined by the fearless and foolish stuntmen and women who put their bodies on the line for the sake of entertainment. It’s no coincidence that Luo’s career is centered around an old horse on the verge of physically breaking down. Luo reflects on all the injuries he’s had, and while you bask in his glory days, you can also sympathize from his daughter’s point-of-view as she would wince at all the close calls he’s had in his past.
There is a particularly moving scene where the fourth wall gets annihilated, and Luo is watching a compilation of his past movies’ daredevil stunts, which are actually clips from Jackie’s classic films. Ride On quite often gets cute with self-referential easter eggs peppered all over the film, and as a Jackie Chan fan, it was fun to pick out all the references. There’s even a point where Luo gets a makeover to dress as Jackie does in real life.
The concept of this movie had incredible potential to explore and reflect on the life of a unique talent like Jackie Chan. And while it does go there, it makes it all the more frustrating that the drama was as heavy-handed as it was, as it felt cheap at times. With a refined vision and reining in the performances so the scenes don’t feel so over the top, this would have been a great commentary on the action films and action stars that they just don’t make like they used to. If you’re a sucker for films that pull at your heartstrings, this one may get you. Jackie is great at playing Luo’s sincerity, even when the character is misguided, and I couldn’t help but choke back a couple of tears myself.