Long time fans of Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan know that there are two sides to his career and his life. In films, there are his earlier movies that defined his career as the action master, and his later movies that, through no fault of his, show his age. It’s the same with his life where he shows loyalty and friendship with his crew and friends, but not so much towards his partners and children.
So it’s a bit jarring to watch his latest film Ride On, which is dedicated to “all kung-fu stuntmen who contributed to 100 years of Chinese film history”, which also happens to be released in conjunction with Chan’s 69th birthday this year.
One thing few would expect is to see a Jackie Chan movie packed with so much sentimentality. His days of performing death-defying stunts are over due to age catching up, so to impress audiences, Ride On comes across as semi-autobiographical, but in a rather superficial way. The multi-award-winning actor plays Luo, an aging stuntman who has been forgotten and abandoned by the cruel showbiz industry. He also owes people money and is constantly bugged by debt collectors led by an unruly Dami (Andy On). Life would really be in the pits for Luo if he didn’t have the company of Red Hare, a horse he has been taking care of since it was a sick foal.
It’s rather depressing seeing Luo dress himself and Red Hare up in silly costumes, trying to attract people at tourist spots to take photos. The out-of-luck guy also tries to make a comeback by training the horse to be a stunt beast. The problem is there is a corporate dispute brewing and Red Hare may be taken away, which would be emotionally devastating for the poor man if he loses his only companion. You have to see it to believe how dependent he is on the animal, as audiences keep watching him talk to the horse and treating the stallion like his own son.
To handle the dispute, Luo approaches his estranged daughter Bao (Liu Haocun) and her boyfriend Mickey (Kevin Guo) for legal assistance to keep Red Hare. As with most melodramas, the tension between father and daughter is resolved, they get to know each other better, and things eventually work out by the end of the 126-minute movie. It’s been quite widely reported that Chan has troubled relationships with his own kids, so it may be possible that this happy ending is what Chan yearns for in real life.
The movie seems to want to say many things, but the awkward structure results in a project that feels unfocused in storytelling. But hey, let’s not forget this is a Jackie Chan movie and we are here to see people get punched and kicked. It’ll be a bonus if we can see the actor hang for his dear life at the edge of a skyscraper. To manage expectations, this movie written and directed by Larry Yang isn’t like any of the John Wick films where the action literally goes on non-stop. Sure, there are some sequences of Chan facing off multiple antagonists with his aerobic kung fu skills, but fans would know these aren’t his most awesome moves.
And that’s why the best part of the movie is seeing Luo getting teary-eyed while watching footage of his past stunt hits. Yup, what we’re actually shown are clips of Chan in his heyday as he boldly swung from pillar to pillar in blockbuster franchises like Police Story and Armour of God. Action movies were really different back in the 1980s and 1990s, when CGI had not permeated the business. Plus, a Jackie Chan movie wouldn’t be complete without the end-credits outtakes where you wince in pain seeing stunts gone wrong. You’d get these nostalgic elements in this otherwise tame action flick.
What you’d also get are cameo appearances by other well-known figures like actress-singer Joey Yung, actors Yu Rongguang and Ray Lui, as well as director Stanley Tong, who has helmed several of Chan’s movies. Wu Jing also shows up towards the end of the movie, but don’t expect him to exchange punches with Chan. Sadly, this tribute to stuntmen does not involve the dozens of stunt brothers that Chan has worked with in his almost 50 year career, which is glaring since this movie is supposed to be a tribute.
With nearly 150 titles under Chan’s filmography, this isn’t his best work, but it is definitely more sincere than some of his past movies like Kung Fu Yoga (2017) and CZ12 (2012). Furthermore, for a movie that is meant to deliver some family-friendly action and comedy, while serving as a personal project for the hardworking but aging action star, it does just fine. At least he’s acting opposite a real horse, unlike the CGI lion in Vanguard (2020).
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Let’s face it – age has caught up with Jackie Chan. But the action star continues to be a hardworking actor, as shown in this sentimental dedication to his profession.
Story - 6/10
Direction - 7/10
Characterisation - 6/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7/10