Ride On (2023) Review

Ride On (2023) Review

“Ride On” Theatrical Poster

Director: Larry Yang
Cast: Jackie Chan, Xing Yu, Andy On, Yu Rongguang, Wu Jing, Stanley Tong, Aarif Rahman, Liu Haocun
Running Time: 126 min.

By Paul Bramhall

For fans of Jackie Chan, on paper Ride On is the movie we’ve (yes, I count myself amongst them!) been waiting for him to make for at least the last 10 years. Since Mainland China became a box office juggernaut in the 2010’s Chan has spent much of his time either cast in roles that he was already too old for in the late 90’s, or looking miserable in dour nationalistic epics. Understandably, for fans who either grew up (or became familiar with) him through his Hong Kong classics, the desire to see him play a more age-appropriate character that doesn’t rely on recycling his old action style is one that’s been voiced frequently. Ride On grants that wish, taking a decidedly meta-approach by casting Chan as an aging stuntman who spent his heyday as a star in Hong Kong, but now spends his days largely forgotten about in China where he lives with his best friend, a horse.

Making ends meet by hanging around the local movie set and allowing passers-by to have their photo taken with his 4-legged friend, Chan frequently finds himself hassled by a debt collector to whom he owes money, but his real problems start when he receives news his late friends company has gone bankrupt. Paid a visit by a pair of legal representatives, they break the news that the horse was apparently bought using company funds, which as a result means it can be ceased as collateral, leaving Chan to face the reality that he could lose his nearest and dearest to corporate bigwigs. With little money to his name, he resorts to making contact with his long-estranged daughter who he’s had little to do with since she was born, however since it turns out she’s a law student, it seems like it’s the only option he has if he’s to have a fighting chance of keeping his equine friend by his side.

Helmed by director and writer Larry Yang, since making his debut in 2014 with Sorry, I Love You Yang has become somewhat of a specialist in helming sappy and/or sentimental dramas, following it up with Mountain Cry in 2016 and Adoring in 2019. To see him directing a Jackie Chan vehicle for his 4th feature feels like an intentional decision, pairing the ageing star with a director who’s probably the least associated with the action genre out of any other filmmaker Chan’s worked with in his 60-year career. While it may seem like a fitting match-up for what feels like a swansong of a star finally ready to look back on his career and take a (much deserved) rest, onscreen it feels like a more muddled affair as various themes grate against each other to be at the fore.

Within the first 10 minutes we’ve already had a joke involving Chan getting farted in the face by his hoofed chum, which is followed by the now distinctive Chan-lite style of action that can be found in most of his recent outings, fighting off debt collector Andy On (New Police Story, Special ID) and his lackeys. Both the comedy and the fight feel somewhat forced, however the latter acts as a catalyst for Chan’s character to get back into the movies when it turns out the tussle was posted online, bringing attention both to Chan and his kung-fu horse. Approached to be part of the stunt team for a new movie, the opportunity leads to Chan and his steed finding themselves increasingly in demand as stuntman and stunthorse respectively. However ultimately his return to stunts causes friction in the relationship with his daughter, and it becomes clear he’ll need to make a choice – what does he care for the most? His daughter, a horse, or stunts!?

Undeniably one of the highlights of Ride On is how the film industry setting allows for plenty of welcome cameos to grace the screen. Xing Yu (Shaolin, Special ID) plays the film crew member who initially invites Chan and his horse back into the fold, and Yu Rongguang (The Myth, Police Story 2013) plays the horse loving CEO looking to claim the love of Chan’s life as his own. Elsewhere we get Wu Jing as a Mainland superstar (so basically playing himself), who wants to return the favour for his breakout role being one originally intended for Chan’s character by giving him screen time in his latest production, being directed by frequent Chan collaborator Stanley Tong (check out our feature on the movies they made together here). Even Ray Lui (Project A Part II, Miracles) and Aarif Rahman (Kung Fu Yoga, Wolf Pack) clock in brief appearances, making it feel like a true reunion of the many talents who’ve worked with Chan previously.

Complimenting the familiar faces is a steady stream of nostalgic references to his past outings, which range from the subtle (Project A) to the not so subtle (Armour of God 2: Operation Condor). While the references are clearly there as fan service, they still effectively serve their purpose of reminding the audience why Chan is such a legend in action cinema. Where Ride On stumbles is the way it’s meta leanings are used, with the lines significantly blurred between Chan’s real-life persona and that of the character he plays onscreen. While the sight of watching Chan and his onscreen daughter (played by Zhang Yimou regular Liu Haocun – Cliff Walkers, One Second) tearing up together while they watch clips from his old movies feels more than a little cringe worthy, the usage of the clips in and of itself isn’t an issue (even if one of them is actually Stanley Tong making the Rumble in the Bronx balcony jump!).

The main problem is that with Ride On so enthusiastically integrating Chan’s own life experience into its narrative, the fact it’s so well known that Chan actually does have an estranged daughter in real life who he has no contact with inevitably feels a little off. While for an audience unfamiliar with Chan it’s probably a negligible detail, with so many call-backs and homages it’s easy to feel that Ride On has been primarily created for his existing fanbase, and to that end many of the scenes he shares with Haocun feel like blatant damage control to maintain his image. It can’t help but leave a bad taste. When you throw in additional details like his ex-wife developing a terminal disease he never knew about, and the (rather creepy) revelation that he collected CCTV footage of any time spent with his daughter, their whole relationship becomes a syrupy mess of overly manufactured heart sting pulling.

The central themes of Chan’s burgeoning relationship with his daughter and paying tribute to the lives of stuntmen never interact with each other in a way that feels organic, with the horse in the room increasingly feeling like a plot device as opposed to a meaningful presence. In particular Chan’s musings on what it means to be a stuntman come across more like he’s making up for his no-show in the 2020 documentary Kung Fu Stuntmen: Never Say No! than a genuine character moment (to the point he even says the line “stuntmen never say no!”). The irony is that in one of the movie within a movie scenes, Chan decides to go through with a stunt considered too risky to do for real, and then the stunt itself is clearly partly done with CGI, which we’re supposed to believe has been done for real. If there was a prize for the most Inception style example of the meta filmmaking approach imploding on itself, this scene would take it.  

Ride On ultimately derails itself when it comes to its happy conclusion at the 105-minute mark, and you realize there’s still 20 minutes to go, having remembered there’s another plot point to be wrapped up concerning Chan’s faithful foal being repossessed. The remaining runtime becomes a histrionic filled mess as Chan attempts to break the record for how many consecutive scenes an actor can appear in while bawling their eyes out. Even the horse gets to indulge in its own histrionics filled scene, chasing after Chan in slow motion and repeatedly falling over in the mud as it attempts to catch up with him. To say Yang overdoes it would probably be the understatement of the year, essentially adding a needlessly protracted epilogue that shifts the focus both from both Chan’s relationship with his daughter and the stuntman musings, as if to say that actually all of this was really about a horse after all.

While Ride On at least avoids the likes of CGI lions, Captain China toys, and casting yoga coaches as co-stars, calling it a good movie by comparing it to such a low baseline would be a disservice. For many Jackie Chan fans, including myself, what can’t be denied is that we do at last get Chan in the type of role we’ve been hoping to see him in for a long time. Was it worth the wait? As the end credits for Ride On rolled and I watched the outtakes of Chan stuffing up his lines and slowly falling over, I realised the answer was no.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5/10