Directed by: Larry Yang
Distributed by: Well Go USA Entertainment
Written by Christopher Cross
There is something inherently fascinating about the lines blurred between reality and fiction in Larry Yang’s “Ride On” – a film that uses the legacy of its star, Jackie Chan, to launch a conversation on the toll – emotionally and physically – that stuntwork can take in the name of entertainment. While the characters are fictitious, the cast of Yang’s latest film invokes an interrogation of how action filmmaking has changed. Unfortunately, “Ride On” is more prominently embroiled in many other less exciting threads, resulting in an unengaging journey alongside one of the most charismatic action stars.
There’s a point in “Ride On” where Lao Luo’s (Chan) estranged daughter, Xiao Bao (Liu Haocun), comes across a collection of stunts her father has kept tucked away in a private stash of memories. Now he looks back at the glory days while his daughter finally gets an eye into her father’s obsession. Eagle-eyed viewers will immediately recognize moments like the iconic mall sequence in “Police Story” and piece together that the clips being shown are from previous films starring Jackie Chan. It creates a somewhat touching homage to the incredible stuntwork that the actor portraying Luo has strived for in all his films while also giving audiences the same perspective Bao has for her father: dedicated to his craft at the risk of losing his life and family.
Is it autobiographical? That’s up for debate, but the overly sentimental way in which Yang’s screenplay integrates a past of stuntwork into its melodramatic story of someone putting their blood, sweat, and tears on the screen as opposed to at home, is easy to imagine as a reality for many stunt performers and others working in show business. The sacrifice to the body is the noticeable impact of such high-risk acts, but the gradual deterioration of the family can be even more taxing on an individual trying to juggle both worlds.
“Ride On” doesn’t engage with the stuntman material in as incisive of a way as its integration of Chan’s filmography and stuntman protagonist would suggest. While age has caught up to Luo, most of his headaches now stem from Red Hare, his stunt horse, that the courts are threatening to take away. Nowadays, Red Hare takes on the brunt of the pain from each stunt, leaving Luo with a dependency on others in order to make ends meet.
Luo still has to perform some stunts, but aside from a few fisticuffs with debt collectors (one of which is a fan of Luo’s work) that allow Chan to flex his physical comedy prowess one more time, “Ride On” has a very inconsistent pacing to it. Usually it’s exacerbated by the father-daughter relationship injected throughout that is predictable and steps in front of Luo’s passion for stuntwork.
The star of “Ride On” ultimately ends up being Red Hare, who is not only an endearing animal to watch Chan interact with but represents the relationship Bao never had with her father and Luo’s blind dedication to bigger and bolder stunts at the risk of physical harm to himself and pushing away those around him. If there’s an animal that can shoulder that kind of dramatic weight, it’s the emotive and agile horse who has had Luo’s dreams pinned on him from the moment he was born. The attention given to the horse’s relationship with Luo diminishes the cookie-cutter approach to Luo and Bao’s relationship simply due to how much more palpable Chan’s chemistry is with Red Hare and how bland every other performance feels.
“Ride On” is the kind of project that makes sense for an actor like Chan to take on, and even its family-friendly approach mirrors the type of films the actor is primarily known for outside of Hong Kong. That his character stares down the barrel of CGI, and the extinction of stunt performers at a certain point in the film (where Wu Jing makes an appearance, whose recent blockbuster roles revel in the use of digital effects), only highlights the fact that there are few actors as prominent as Jackie Chan to dedicate themselves to entertaining audiences through physical performance.
It’s the screenplay’s unfortunate desire to try and tug at an audience’s heartstrings that mires the moments that seem to have something far more interesting to say. Bao’s relationship with her father is handled with lightness to avoid sacrificing the film’s levity, and played-out storylines like Bao’s boyfriend seeking the approval of her father accentuate an already trope-heavy script. The disappointment is that “Ride On” approaches stuntwork with a love and appreciation that it also seems to be slightly interested in wrestling with through a character study, but every time it inches closer to a meaningful conversation, it quickly pushes forward to maintain an upbeat nature.
For Jackie Chan fans, “Ride On” at least hits a few beats that recall fond memories of his previous films. Chan’s still got it, and even the film’s shortcomings can’t hide the passion for stuntwork that clearly inspired the film’s inception. For how frequently it misses the mark, Yang still occasionally reminds audiences why Chan’s blend of action and comedy is still entertaining. Unfortunately, everything surrounding that legacy is sterile, safe, and uninspired.
“Ride On” Trailer
Christopher Cross is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Simon Fraser University. You can find more of his writing on his website and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Substack, or Letterboxd for more of his thoughts.