As of April 7th, the legendary Jackie Chan is now 69-years old. As such, it comes as no surprise that in recent years the man who built a career on putting his body on the line and breaking every body therein (some more than once) has moved away from strict martial arts action in favor of more dramatic roles.
Such roles have included Nick in 2009’s Shinjuku Incident, the historical Chinese revolutionary Huang Xing in 2011’s 1911, and now, Luo Zhilong in Ride On.
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Labeled as a Chinese action drama, Ride On presents a lighthearted family film which attempts to capitalize on the more comedic aspects of Chan’s physicality, all the while prominently showcasing its sentimental side without shoving it down our throats.
In the film, Chan plays the aforementioned Luo Zhilong, better known as Master Luo. A retired stuntman who scrapes by making a living as a street performer, Luo closest companion is his horse, Red Hare, whom he treats like a son.
Born with a defect that saw him planned for euthanasia, Red Hare was saved by Luo, who proceeded to take him in and raise him. From then on, the two became inseparable, with Red Hare even training to fight and perform stunts right alongside his master.
While the biggest complication in his life is usually the loan shark he has to dodge only a daily basis, Luo’s life is turned upside down when the company who originally owned Red Hare, believing that the horse is still their property, comes to retrieve him.
Faced with a lawsuit that could result in him losing Red Hare forever, Luo turns to his estranged daughter Bao (Liu Haocun), a college law student, and her boyfriend Mickey (Guo Qilin), a recently licensed attorney who just got hired at a law firm, for help.
It’s been almost 30 years since Rumble in the Bronx and even though Chan is pushing 70, it’s still surprising to see him using stunt doubles and CGI for his action sequences.
Ride On uses a decent mix of practical and digital effects, with a good portion of the resulting action involving extremely subtle wire work (which gets totally bonkers around the time Chan don’s an outfit reminiscent of Kato’s from The Green Hornet) and close-up shots of his punches and improvisation that emphasize how quick Chan still is.
But on the other hand, as the film goes on, you start to notice Chan’s stunt double more and more. Plus, the CGI gets really bad a times, most specifically during Red Hare’s big jump sequence on the movie set.
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The crux of Ride On’s emotional bent focuses on Luo’s attempt to balance his desire to keep Red Hare while also keeping his daughter in his life, even though he believes she hates him.
Further complicating matters is Luo’s devotion to his craft as a stuntman. Refusing to let go of his stubborn desire to always execute a stunt whenever a camera is rolling, Luo’s showmanship only contributes to his downfall, as it pushes away his family and ultimately ends up harming both his and Red Hare’s health.
Speaking of Red Hare, Ride On is not unlike other films where an animal is one of the main actors. And while you can pretty much guess where the film is going to go and how it’s going to end, the events leading up to the story’s conclusion allow Chan to show shades of his former self, albeit briefly, and remind us of how much of an emotional actor he really is.
His interactions with Haocun always felt real rather than just witnessed, with their performances truly communicating just how much they want to be a part of each other’s lives and how damaging their inability to accept change or let go of a grudge is to that goal.
It’s heart-wrenching to see the two come to terms with the fact that sometimes in a disagreement that lasts this long, neither side is completely right and both sides can be as equally as wrong, with all anyone has to show for their refusal to bridge the gap is pain and wasted time.
Red Hare is also the most expressive horse you’ve seen in a modern day film. His facial expressions, body language, and simple appendage movement speak volumes.
You can try to write off Ride On as Jackie Chan diving into Free Willy or Mister Ed territory, but the film is so much more than that. It’s about a father who, originally was thought to be a deadbeat by his daughter, is always trying to make it work with her even when she didn’t know it.
At it’s core, Ride On feels not only like a celebration of movie stuntmen as a whole, but also both a love letter and a farewell to Chan’s time as the world’s preeminent stunt actor.
In fact, a highlight reel of some of Chan’s biggest stunts and injuries from across his filmography plays during the film, and while it’s played as part of Luo’s storyline, it also gives way to real footage of the actor tearfully reacting to its contents.
Of course, Chan still has a full plate of films on the horizon, so it’s clear he’s not retiring anytime soon.
But with Ride On, he’s made a statement that he isn’t the same guy who willingly crawled across burning coals twice at the end of The Legend of Drunken Master. Now, he’s old, he’s tired, and he has to sit down a hell of a lot more.
Ultimately, Ride On was the first film of 2023 to make me cry and the first one in a long while – possibly ever! – to make me ugly cry.
If you’re a pet owner or animal lover, Ride On just mercilessly punches your gut and plays a sorrowful symphony on your heartstrings.
This is the best Jackie Chan film to come along in at least six years and easily the most emotional film of his career.
Genuinely touching with a heart wrenching story that’s as gripping as it is moving, Ride On delivers fast paced action with a side of uncontrollable crying and poignant satisfaction.
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- An engrossing story.
- Emotional conflict in every direction.
- Red Hare has crazy charisma for a horse.
- Wonky CGI.
- Excessive wire work.
- It's noticeable when Jackie Chan is swapped out for one of his stunt doubles.