“Jumping off is easy, Stepping off is hard”. A line uttered by Jackie Chan in his latest feature, a tribute to the role of the stuntman. In many ways a line that echoes the career of the great performer. Over the past decade, we have gone from the expectation of a Jackie Chan release, to hope after recent disappointments such as “Kung Fu Yoga” and “The Vanguard”. Whilst those made references to his advancing years, they still felt like imitations of what we had seen and become accustomed to before. With “Ride On”, we get a glimpse of a man finally coming to terms with his own mortality. Consequently, we got one of his most interesting works in quite some time.
Trinity CineAsia proudly presents heart-warming action comedy Ride On, starring international superstar Jackie Chan, in selected UK cinemas from 7th Apri
Luo (Jackie Chan) is a washed up stuntman reduced to performing on the streets with his horse Red Hare. Estranged from his daughter Bao (Liu Haocun) and in debt to gangsters, he lives a grim existence. When lawyers try to take Red Hare away from him, he is forced to reconnect with his daughter and gain the help of her newly graduated lawyer boyfriend Mickie (Guo Gilan). When a video of Luo and Red Hare battling the gangsters goes viral, it leads then to a reinvigorated career in the stunt industry. With neither as young as they once were the danger is high and threatens to ruin Luo's slowly developing relationship with his daughter.
There is a perfectly nostalgic moment when Luo's daughter plays for him a montage of his “greatest hits”. It's a collection of all the famous stunts that Chan has performed over the years as well as the injuries that we would get in the outtakes. It's like an action movie equivalent to the scene in “Cinema Paradiso” where the boy, now grown up, gets to watch all the clips that his projector friend had saved. It's an affectionate tribute to both the world of the stuntman and of the memories the real-life Jackie Chan has created.
It's in this that “Ride On” finds its gravitas. Make no mistake, it is a sentimental film, but it doesn't become cloying since this is essentially Jackie Chan playing himself and almost saying goodbye to his life as an action star. In his biography he openly admits he wasn't the best husband and there is a lot of regret in that. This reflects here in the central human relationship with his estranged daughter. There are some awkward moments as they head towards rapprochement, including a particularly difficult meeting with Mickie's parents. His life has been in movies and the idea that he expresses his love through his work can easily be a reflection on the performer himself. There is a certain irony where someone famous for doing their own stunts is clearly using modern technology when on screen and showing their disdain for the newer way. This is no criticism as no-one of Jackie Chan's age should be performing such feats.
Chan was always influenced by the great silent comedians and whilst his stunt work was more Buster Keaton by way of Harold Lloyd, here it is more Charlie Chaplin with the emotional sentiment. The film, whilst celebrating the world of the stuntman is aware that it is an era that is now gone. When Wu Jing enters in a cameo as a film star disciple of Luo's we get a view of the modern blockbuster with all the CGI trimmings. It leads to the ultimate recognition from Luo on his mortality.
Where the sentiment really comes in is with the relationship between Lou and Red Hare. They say you should never work with children and animals, but this is actually one of the sincerest relationships that Jackie Chan has had on screen. There is more emotional depth and chemistry here than he has had with most of his female co-stars over the years. It's where we get a lot of the comedy (especially when he is being trained in the world of stunts), but also in pathos. Flashbacks show how they came together but also in the scenes where they may be parted. You genuinely feel Luo's heartbreak, which demonstrates that Chan could be a very good actor when called upon.
The action is sporadic with a few signature moments of agility from a master at work. These are shorter sequences that don't outlast their welcome. The editing is carefully done to mask his limitations. There are throwbacks to “Drunken Master” and Shaw Brothers studio sets as the love of action cinema shines through. This is though a comedy\drama with some action sequences as opposed to a full-on action film so don't go in expecting a traditional Jackie Chan feature as you will be disappointed. Take an open mind and it's a lot more involving.
This is Jackie Chan's show as far as the human performers go. He acts his age and looks it too. It's refreshing to see almost the “real” person rather than the persona. He is well supported by Liu Haocun playing his daughter Bai. Their rapprochement is well handled and never too cloying; there is always a little bit of edge there. Guo Qilan as Mickey gets a couple of sweet moments as he battles with his own conscience as he realizes the consequences his legal work has. It's always good to see Yu Rong Quang on screen. Like most of the apparent villains on display, ultimately, he is not a bad person an just has a different world view to Luo.
Larry Yang does well as the director. With a star such as Jackie Chan, it's always difficult as a director due to the usual style of film that is expected. He slows the pace down and allows the plot to breathe. He captures the nostalgic feel well and allows a bit of reality to kick in about the impact on the performer's lives. He draws an excellent performance from Chan and solid supporting acts from the rest of the cast.
Anyone else in the lead role and “Ride On” would potentially drown in sentiment. Having Jackie Chan in the lead alters the dynamic completely as you couldn't imagine anyone else in the part. He is taking a mirror to his own career and by doing so creates more pathos as he comes to terms (and the audience too) with his “stepping down” and leaving that life behind and facing a new future. That's not to say it's the end of his action career but if it was to be then it's a perfect way to go out.