Jackie Chan returns to our screens with Ride On, something of a change of pace for the legendary action star. Released stateside by Well Go USA to coincide with Chan’s 69th birthday, Ride On is an semi-autobiographical film for Chan, with him starring as an ageing stunt man who has given most of his life to the movies and the impact this has had on his family.
Chan stars as veteran stunt man Lao Luo, who along with his horse Red Hare struggle to make ends meet. With stunt work drying up, Luo tries to turn a coin by allowing people to take rides and photographs with Red Hare, but even this doesn’t bring him much of an income.
Luo’s fame starts to rise when video footage of him taking care of a group of money lenders ends up online. With this, Luo finds himself back in demand, with both he and Red Hare being offered stunt work. However, this brings about other issues, with a couple of lawyers showing up to reclaim Red Hare with the notification that it is actually the property of someone else.
With little knowledge of the law, Luo seeks out his estranged daughter Xiao Bao (Liu Haocun) who along with her lawyer boyfriend Naihua (Guo Qilin) work together so her father can keep Red Hare. At the same time Luo works to repair his broken relationship with his daughter, although his own stubbornness may get in the way.
I have noticed that Ride On is being sold as an action comedy which I would argue is incorrect. Sure there is action and comedy during the films 2 hour run time, but the film is much more a drama with some action and comedy peppered throughout. Those only watching to see Chan in action would probably be better suited looking out their copy of Police Story (1985).
Even so, more patient viewers will still get tastes of that old Chan magic, with him still cutting loose in several imaginative fight scenes. The majority of the fights have him going up against Andy On and his gang of debt collectors. For the most part these fights are more fun than deadly, with Chan trying to protect himself rather than inflict any type of damage.
The fights aren’t game changers, but feature what we have come to expect from Chan, with him using a variety of props against his opponents. They are all well choreographed, and even if there is the odd use of stunt doubles and are edited more than when Chan was in his prime, he still shows awesome agility for a man nearing 70.
The main standout in terms of action is when Luo and Red Hare battle against a gang of axe wielding villains for a major movie stunt sequence. Unlike the other fight scenes which are grounded in reality, this scene is able to go more over the top due to how it fits in the context of the film.
The action was handled by fight choreographer Guanhua Han, with Jun He working as stunt coordinator. Both are Chan regulars having worked on such films as Chinese Zodiac (2012), Police Story 2013 and Railroad Tigers (2016) amongst them.
As impressive as he is at the action, clearly the interest for Chan here was to take on a more dramatic role. In the latter part of his career Chan has shown a clear desire to feature in more dramatic fare, in some cases like Shinjuku Incident (2009) featuring very little in the way of action. Even action films like Police Story 2013 (2013) or The Foreigner (2017) feature a much more serious Chan than what he portrayed in his most popular action comedies of the 80’s and 90’s.
Chan can sometimes be guilty of going a bit over the top in terms of showing his emotions, but he has clearly improved as an actor throughout his many years in front of the camera. He gives a fine dramatic performance here, getting to show his emotional side, although I did appreciate that Luo’s more stubborn and selfish side wasn’t forgotten about. This was a more three dimensional character than I was expecting.
The main crux of the plot is focused on two relationships. One between Luo and his daughter and the other between Luo and Red Hare. In regards to Red Hare, he is certainly one talented horse and even the most stone hearted will struggle to hold back the tears when it looks like he is going to be taken from Luo.
Relative newcomer Liu Haocun works well alongside Chan, even if she does have a tendency to go into histrionics on occasion. Saying this, this could be the fault of the director. Even so, anyone who has watched the great HK films of the 80’s and 90’s won’t be surprised by this display of emotion, which was usually the norm back then.
Guo Qilin manages to get some laughs from his boyfriend character, with his initial scenes with Chan being more comedic in nature. He doesn’t get as much screen time as either Chan or Haocun but does what he can with what he is given and comes across as a likeable performer.
In addition to the main cast, there’s several Hong Kong movie legends making an appearance which just adds to the nostalgia the film generates. The likes of Yu Rongguang, Ray Lui, Xing Yu and Wu Jing all feature in small but important roles. I know action fans will probably be disappointed by the fact that Jing and Chan don’t have a fight scene, but this really isn’t the film for it.
Even if Chan doesn’t get to square off against Jing, he does at least face off against his old New Police Story (2014) opponent Andy On. Featuring in an extended cameo, On has fun as a useless debt collector who isn’t exactly an out and out villain, with him doing what he does more out of necessity.
Having directed the likes of Sorry I Love You (2013) and Mountain Cry (2015), Ride On is a more mainstream venture for director Larry Yang. It still has the drama that his other films have but it’s through more of a commercial filter.
Yang apparently wrote the film with Chan in mind. This isn’t surprising as there are countless nods to Chan’s back catalogue, with him at one point wearing his Asian Hawk outfit then later having a training sequence taken straight out of Drunken Master (1978). Later on in the film Yang even includes a montage of Luo’s most famous stunt sequences which turn out to be scenes from Chan’s most famous features.
Ride On is guilty of becoming almost soap opera-like on occasion, with Yang really doing his damnedest to tug on the heart strings. The film can become overly sentimental, with the syrupy music being laid on thick, telling the audience exactly how to feel.
Even so, Yang still manages to include a number of relevant and poignant points during the film. The majority of the film works as a tribute to the brave stuntmen who work behind the scenes and don’t always get the respect they deserve. Surprisingly Yang doesn’t shy away from judging how the film industry treats these heroes, with many of the higher ups looking down on them without realizing their films would be nothing without them.
Yang also shows the loyalty and comradery amongst the stunt performers, with all of them looking out for each other. This is especially evident with the inclusion of both Xing Yu and Wu Jing’s characters who have made it big in the industry but don’t forget how they got there. Both of them are willing to go out on a limb for Luo by offering him work.
While it isn’t a warts and all telling about the film industry, these points make it more interesting than just showing how great it is without showing the downside. Some sections actually had me reminiscing about Chow Sing-chi’s King of Comedy (1999), another film that shows the struggles in the film industry, albeit focusing on someone at the start of their career. Co-incidentally, King of Comedy also features Jackie Chan in a small but hilarious cameo.
Ride On isn’t a game changer, but any fan of Jackie Chan or even Chinese action movies will find a lot to enjoy, with it being a love letter to both. As well as marveling at Chan still being able to bust a move, you will also get a kick out of spotting the many homages to his back catalogue.
It is certainly a more rewarding feature than Vanguard (2020), his last full on actioner. Although he was meant to be the lead in that film, for the most part he seemed to play second fiddle to his co-stars, even if occasionally he would get to show off some moves. Here he is once again front and center.
His competency during the fight scenes also makes me hopeful for the recently announced New Police Story 2, where he will once again be co-starring with Nicholas Tse. I suspect that this entry in the series will have Chan in more of a supporting role, with Tse being the lead. Even so, as long as he is used properly I will be happy, especially if he still gets a chance to show off the old Chan magic.
Plot: 3.5/5 Acting: 4/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.6/5