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  • Benjamin May

Ride On (2023) Review

Lao Luo is an aging stuntman whose best years are behind him. Estranged from his daughter, in debt and out of work, he and his horse Red Hare are desperate for money. After escaping a street fight, Lao and Red Hare become an internet sensation, and offers for stunt work start pouring in. However, a businessman named Xin has his eyes on the horse, and will do anything to get him. Lao reaches out to his daughter Bao- whose boyfriend is a young law student- for legal help, and the two begin rekindling their relationship. Whether Lao and Red Hare are capable of performing the stunts now asked of them- and if Xin’s plot comes to fruition- remains to be seen in Larry Yang’s ‘Ride On’.

An uneven comic-drama, ‘Ride On’ is a strange concoction striving to combine slapstick comedy with drama- alongside elements of legal procedural and martial arts films- while also trying to come as a homage to Hong Kong cinema and a salute to stunt performers in general. It is a film trying to be a jack of all trades, but is more of a master of none. This is not to say that ‘Ride On’ is unengaging, as it is entertaining and fun; though it is evident that Yang wants the film to work on multiple levels when he hasn’t yet perfected the base one.

Yang’s characters are all cliches, his dialogue is corny at best and the narrative is predictable to a fault. The film tries too hard to be heartwarming, coming across as a little mawkish instead. Yang delivers a cursory exploration of the themes of aging, family and loyalty, not having anything new or insightful to say about any of them. While there are some compelling moments involving Lao and Bao getting to know one another, references throughout to previous cinematic escapades of Jackie Chan are enjoyable and the action scenes are generally well realized, the rote storytelling on display is formulaic and underwhelming. It’s disappointing that the story and the manner in which it is told is so familiar and uninspired, as there is a lot to be praised in ‘Ride On’.

Sun Li’s production design is impressive, for one, and the set decoration is rich. Lao’s stable-cum-apartment, for example, is a visual delight, overflowing with props and details that bolster the character’s backstory. Moreover, Ming Sun’s cinematography is stylish, though more realistic and grounded than in recent Chan-led efforts like ‘Vanguard’ or ‘Bleeding Steel.’ His use of naturalistic lighting is most effective, while the utilisation of handheld cameras at moments of action- such as when Lao and Red Hare escape the street fight- creates urgency and tension (which is, one might add, missing from Yang’s screenplay).

Furthermore, Jackie Chan delivers a restrained, nuanced performance as Lao Luo, handling the comic and dramatic with equal aplomb. As was the case with ‘The Foreigner,’ Chan’s efforts to create a believable, downbeat character surpasses the film around him, and his performance is considerably more memorable than Yang’s narrative or characterisation. He proves to be in better shape physically at 69 than most people half his age, and has great chemistry with the horse playing Red Hare- who, one might add, is as brilliant and charismatic a performer on four legs as many others aren’t on two.

Additionally, Liu Haocun gives a strong performance as Bao, even if her character is a bit one-note. She works well with Chan (and the horse) to create a realistic, strained family dynamic, and she never overdoes it. Kevin Guo Qilin is similarly good as her boyfriend, an insecure, unfit law student who is something of the comic foil. Yu Rongguang also does strong work as Xin, the villain of the piece, bringing a charm and elegance to the role that is most appreciated.

At the end of the day, Larry Yang’s ‘Ride On’ is a flawed film trying to balance comedy and drama, and occasionally succeeding, but more often than not coming across as a little cloying. While Jackie Chan delivers a measured, thoughtful performance and works well with his co-stars, Yang’s narrative is too familiar and reliant on tropes and cliches to make much impact. Though Chan and his horse are great and the film has some fun moments, Larry Yang’s ‘Ride On’ is a bit of a bumpy ride.


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