“Jumping down is easy. Stepping down is hard.”
The stuntperson mantra, Ride On.
In the featurette “Behind the Scenes,” writer/director Larry Yang (Adoring) discusses how his first thought went to Jackie Chan when the concept for Ride On arose. The idea of exploring a stuntman with a storied career who may be past his prime being given a second chance may seem strange to attach to Chan, an actor who is by no means slowing down, but placing Chan in the central role enables the film to tap into Chan’s extensive filmography in order to make the character more real and grounded. The end result is an action dramedy that is as much an original story as a potential swan song for the prolific martial artist. At times saccharine and others shallow, there’s no denying Ride On possesses enough charm and style to entertain and delight. Now, thanks to Well Go USA, fans of Chan or completionists, can enjoy Ride On as they like.
It’s been some time since aged stuntman Luo Zhilong (Jackie Chan) has worked in pictures; instead, he spends his days as an attraction at local shops with his horse Red Hare. However, when two lawyers arrive on his doorstep claiming Zhilong’s ownership of Red Hare is invalid and that he needs to turn over Red Hare to them, Zhilong seeks out his estranged daughter Xiaobao (Liu Haocun) and her lawyer boyfriend Lu Nalhua (Kevin Guo) for help. At first, through working together, the distance between father and daughter begins to be repaired, but with so much to make up for, is saving Red Hare enough to heal that much pain?
For context, Ride On shares more in common with films from the Chan collection like Gorgeous (1999) than Police Story 3 (1992). This means that while there are a few stunt sequences (this is a Chan film *and* one where he plays a stuntman), the emphasis is on interpersonal relationships with two and four-legged mammals. There’s one excellently executed sequence between Zhilong and the debt collectors led by New Police Story’s Andy On who keep coming after him and Red Hare. This and one other fight sequence between them utilize that classic blocking that makes the fisticuffs feel entirely improvised and fluid. However, the bulk of the stunts utilize editing techniques that cut around some of Chan’s movements rather than characteristically holding on him, thereby suggesting that Chan may not be completing *as much* of the stunts as normal. Based on both the included “Behind the Scenes” featurette and the usual end credit bloopers, Chan is very much engaged in the stunt work, but it’s hard to tell if he’s as involved as normal based on the editing choices in the stunts.
Even with this awareness, as the focus is really on the interpersonal, the real question is whether the audience cares about the dilemma going on to get invested. Thankfully, the chemistry between Chan and Liu (Cliff Walkers) is strong, the actors able to convey years of distance yet a yearning to repair the damage fairly easily. The script does jump around a bit, creating questions that don’t necessarily line up with the answers under a certain scrutiny (both the father-daughter struggle and Zhilong’s financial troubles), yet, despite this, the audience does find themselves rooting for these two characters to reconnect. There’s some expected schmaltz, as one gets from a father-daughter story, but where the real surprises come in relate to Zhilong’s relationship to the horse; specifically the subtext of Red Hare as another child of Zhilong’s. We’ve seen stories like this before with animals treated as a member of the family, so this aspect is not entirely a surprise; however, the way that Yang weaves in little pieces of dialogue, choices for interactions between the horse and Zhilong, as well as the mirroring between Zhilong and Xiaobao, one not only finds themselves believing the relationship cognitively, but emotionally as well.
What’s less expected and adds a little metatextual layer to Ride On is the use of Chan’s real filmography for Zhilong, in combination with a series of familiar faces related to Chan’s work. For instance, in one sequence, Zhilong and Red Hare are preparing for a stunt involving several cast members wearing all-black and handling axes, while Zhilong dons a black suit, hat, and eye-mask which could very well be a reference to Bruce Lee’s famous Kato from the tv series The Green Hornet (Chan had worked as his stunt double previously). In another, while attempting to teach Nalhua martial arts, he wears an outfit recognizable from his Drunken Master II (1994). In a montage of new gigs, Chan jumps from one outfit reference to another, and this is before several clipshows of Zhilong’s past work that are just best of sequences that various characters watch to get a sense of who Zhilong was in cinema prior to his work stoppage. These things alone are nifty, making the film as a whole feel like a tribute to the working actor, but then one starts to realize that there are several faces in the film, like On, Yu Ronngguang (Shanghai Noon; The Karate Kid; New Police Story), Ray Lui (Project A: Part II), and Stanley Tong (Rumble in the Bronx; Police Story 3; Vanguard) and that presumption grows even stronger as so many have worked with Chan in the past. Of course, it’s no strange thing for the same actors to appear in Hong Kong cinema (as it existed in its heyday and now), so for a film to be anchored in what it means to be a stuntperson, to use an actor like Chan to be the face of that character using that theme, the whole of Ride On takes on a totally different dimension.
The bonus features are simple and brief, but still fun and interesting. In the first, “Behind the Scenes,” we learn from Ying, Chan, and others about the making of the film (including on-set sequences) from the birth of it, to the on-set action, to the emotional core of it. If you stick around for the end credit bloopers after the film, there are a few of those moments discussed more in-depth during this featurette. There is a bit of repetition between “Behind the Scenes” and “Oh My Horse,” the second featurette, as it’s just a comical featurette to demonstrate what it was like for Chan and the cast to work with Red Hare. It’s actually rather touching to see how Chan worked with the horse and, eventually, bonded with it. Makes some of the scenes in the film between the two all the more interesting to consider.
There’s not a whole lot of surprises in this heartwarming story, but it’s got enough going on that longtime Chan fans won’t feel let down or bait-switched. That, plus enough easter eggs that’ll have you giggling to yourself, should you be able to catch them. Yang, though, is smart enough to know that a film like this doesn’t run on references alone, and the script demonstrates this by providing an emotional journey that doesn’t follow every expected trope or beat, thereby creating a few surprises to keep the audience engaged.
Ride On Special Features:
- Behind the Scenes (8:48)
- Oh My Horse (2:55)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Well Go USA Previews
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital October 24th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Well Go USA Ride On webpage.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.
This piece was written during the SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.