Ride On

It’s always a kick when a veteran filmmaker looks back at their own career through fiction. Steven Spielberg mined his cinema-obsessed adolescence with The Fabelmans, Clint Eastwood used Unforgiven to deconstruct the violence that defined his work for years, and now Jackie Chan reflects on a lifetime of outrageous stunts in Ride On. This movie isn’t in the same league as the other two, although it does offer the actor in what is perhaps his most poignant, emotional performance. For this entertaining tribute to doing stunts, he has a most unlikely co-star – a horse.

Chan plays Lao Luo, a washed-up stuntman who was once the top guy in the business. His days are spent with Red Hare, the horse who was by his side for many big screen adventures. Deep in debt, he’s visited by debt collectors intent on taking Red Hare from him. Luo turns in desperation to his estranged college student daughter Bao (Haocun Liu). Her boyfriend Mickey (Kevin Guo) has just graduated from law school and is therefore affordable. Together, they try to determine whether the collectors even have the right to take the horse.

Meanwhile, Luo and Red Hare go viral for beating up a group of thugs looking to strong-arm him into payment. (Yes, the horse does some equine martial arts moves.) This leads to offers to get back into the stunt game. Much to Bao’s chagrin, Luo is intent on reestablishing himself, to the point where he agrees to perform acts that are dangerous to both him and the animal.

Ride On is a jumble of genres. At times, it’s an action picture where Jackie Chan gets to engage in his signature “anything can be a weapon” fighting style. Other times, it’s a backstage show-biz tale in which a legend attempts to prove he’s still got the right stuff. Still other sections are a domestic drama, with Bao trying to decide if she can ever forgive her father for what she perceives as having been abandoned by him. Then you have comedy scenes between man and horse, along with the requisite heart-tugging moments when it appears they’ll be separated.

That’s a lot to pack into a single film – and this particular film would have benefitted from a little tightening in the editing room – but it succeeds because all of those individual elements are handled well. The comedy scenes are funny, the action sequences are inventive, the guy-and-his-horse material is touching, etc.

Everything fully solidifies in the third act, with the disparate plot strands coming together meaningfully. The key scene finds Bao and Luo watching a compilation of his movies, one that mixes dazzling stunts with footage of him being injured doing them. She’s clearly worried about the father she’s just now getting to know hurting himself irreparably; he’s reminiscing about a lifetime of work that entertained millions, yet left his body damaged. Director Larry Yang uses the famous “injury montages” from Jackie Chan’s own movies here, and seeing the revered action star tear up as he witnesses his own triumphs and pains is poignant. He’s acting, but also not acting, if you get the drift.

Ride On is such a relentlessly cheery movie that it’s almost impossible to dislike. We know Chan can no longer do the insane stunts he did in Police Story and Project A. In this film, he seems to acknowledge it, too. What he can still do is deliver creative fights, make us laugh with his comedy skills, and convince us that a character loves his daughter and his horse more than life itself. That’s the feel-good Ride On in a nutshell. And as a bonus, you get Red Hare lending a hoof in the kung fu fights. How can anyone resist that?

out of four

Ride On is unrated, but contains martial arts action. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.