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‘Ride On’ (review)

Produced by Jie Li, Belle Lau,
Yanming Liu, Yuan Nong, Tianfu Xu

Written and Directed by Larry Yang
Starring Jackie Chan, Liu Haocun,
Guo Qilin, Wu Jing, Joey Yung

Ride On is a 2023 Chinese action-comedy directed by Larry Yang (known for romantic dramas like Adoring) and starring Jackie Chan, in what is purported to be his final film.

Released on the star’s 69th birthday, the film has opened to strong praise for its action and comedy scenes and has been picked up by our old friends at Well Go USA for North American distribution.

The last ten years have not been kind to Jackie Chan in terms of film quality. Lured back into the limelight by Mainland studios that wanted to capitalize on demand for the star from their theaters, Jackie has starred in a number of films that have (along with his increasingly conservative political views) alienated much of the Western audience that championed him into the late 2000’s.

That’s why reviewing Ride On is such a joy– because for the first time since Little Big Soldier I feel like I’m watching a Jackie Chan film made by people who understand why we all fell in love with Jackie Chan in the first place.

To be sure, the action scenes will not live up to your memories of Chan in his prime. He’s almost seventy now and he’s lost more than a step on the physical dynamo that he used to be, but this film wisely casts him once more as a lovable underdog in an encapsulation of everything that makes him great as a star. This is Jackie’s Rocky Balboa.

Jackie plays an aging stuntman whose life revolves around a stunt horse he’s been training since birth. As his debtors close in on him he enlists the help of his estranged daughter, and her delightfully out of place boyfriend in order to re-enter a cinematic world that sees him as an anachronism.

There’s all sorts of metatextual nods to both the real life Jackie (his very high profile problems with his children, and his difficulty in stepping down gracefully) and the cinematic Jackie (there’s wonderful tributes here to everything from Drunken Master to First Strike and they mostly land perfectly) and this feels very much like a personal passion project from Jackie and an appeal to the audience to consider his whole career.

Larry Yang, as I indicated in the intro, feels like an odd choice for a Chan send off picture but he’s absolutely perfect.

This film has construction and editing problems but Yang ‘s real strength is family drama and this film is one that goes after your heartstrings pretty effectively. Chan’s love for his horse represents his emotional center, and when his child and her soon-to-be spouse can partake of that love they can finally see him for the father he was trying to be for all those years and appreciate him.

Somehow, in 2023, Jackie Chan made his own Field of Dreams but with equestrian replacing baseball and it completely works.

If this is truly the final Jackie film, I’m so gratified as a fan of his to see him go out on his own terms and with a film that builds around the emotions he’s engendered in the audience for half a century while not ignoring that he may have lost some of us in the last couple years. This is as honest as a star of his level can be with themselves and I was won over by both the emotional power of the story and with his own truthfulness.

I came into an appreciation of world cinema as a whole looking for Jackie Chan movies at the local Blockbuster– there’s no movie star who means more to me and as a lifelong fan of the master I’m glad that he got one last sweet ride into the sunset.

3½ out of 5

 

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