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Jackie Chan's RIDE ON is Right On

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

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RIDE ON; it rumbles, it crackles and revels in the rich possibility of what lies ahead. There is a purpose, there is an ambition and what remains in Jackie Chan’s life as a stuntman, in the rain of this film’s puzzle and puddle, hope springs more than eternal as this cinematic journey has twists that many won’t see. However, it might not be for us, because for those that know Chan, this movie is about him stepping up, perhaps stepping out and maybe acknowledging written wrongs.

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Directed byLarry Yang, on the surface, Luo (Chan), once considered to be the best stuntman in the film biz, has become a down on his luck, washed-out shell of a man. His most trusted friend? Red Hare, a sickly foal born with weak legs and lungs, and when scheduled to be put down, Luo rescues and trains the wee one to be an assured, brave and a capable fighting stunt horse.

Owing money to criminals and being forced to hand over Red Hare to snobby, lawyers to auction off Red Hare to pay Luo’s other mounting debts, such as the upkeep of his stuntman training facility, Luo must yet face another difficult life challenge, begging for help from his estranged daughter Bao, who he abandoned as a child because being a stuntman was more important.

Bao’s boyfriend, Mickey (in honor of the Disney mouse), is a new lawyer with no experience that doesn’t know kung fu (strike one to Luo), is afraid of horses (strike two) and loves his daughter (strike three). Yet the three must overcome family issues, love issues and trust issues if they are to save the fate of Red Hare, who always puts his health and life in danger for Luo.

In Hollywood there’s a popular saying, and hopefully in everyone’s livelihood, whether you’re a UFC fighter, martial arts actor, or anyone, “Be nice to the people you meet on your way up, because it’s the same people you meet on your way down.” This becomes important to Luo.

Ride On Fights and Stunts are Right On!

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Even at 68, Chan has potent weapons in his fight and stunt arsenal, as Ride On contains brilliant contributions to the fight and stunt columns where filmmakers today and fans alike are still wowed. He’s never been criticized for lacking determination, creativity and amazement when it comes to his limitless repertoire for consistent combative ingenuity and visual sight gags. To paraphrase the Mr Ed (1961) TV show, “A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse of course that is of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Red.” Ride On reminds me of the 2003 award-winning documentary, Red Trousers, The Life of the Hong Kong Stuntmen, which featured fights and stunts using a film within a film design where we see even horse stunts don’t need storyboards and are created on the cuff, live on set. However, at the end of Ride On, this nature of stunt and fight choreography comes into question.

Although there’s only three fights related to Luo defending himself, Bao and/or Red Hair against the criminal gang and the sequences are shorter than usual, they still have the same fluidity and pace that is Chan’s stamp on his airmail speed, pushing-the-envelope creativity. They’re also comparable to Chan’s best use of his smash and crash, rock and roll, rumble and tumble environmental melee as seen in the Mr. Canton and Mrs. Rose (1989) teahouse piece. Yet the most unique and memorable fights, stunts and action sequences feature Red Hare. He kicks, he screams, he blocks and evades, he attacks and defends, he does stunts and has a mean right hoof jab like no other horse in history. The sequences are wildly innovative, real-life action set-pieces using wires on horse and Chan. Yet no animals were hurt or disrespected during the making of this film, something that director Yang was extremely adamant about. The shot where Red Hare does his “Hi Ho Silver,” while whinnyingly standing on his hind legs, front legs pointing to the heavens is adventuresomely captivating because as his legs move toward the sky, Chan is hold onto the font legs and uses them as leverage to kick the face of an incoming thug. This shot, the tram car fight, and several dangerous stunts like when a wuxia villain uses his chi power to strike Red Hair (Chan in the saddle) while using wires and harnesses to make them fly backwards and crash through large stalagmite in a cave, are not only breath taking, but these sequences alone make the whole film a worthwhile watch.

What the Film is Really About

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At the end of the day, below the surface, it’s a tribute film about Chan’s career as a stuntman, perhaps a swan song singing to the world that this part of his life is swooping to an end, where his stuntman alter-ego will lower its head when Luo tells a former stuntmen who has become a super star (Wu Jing, Wolf Warrior films) that when it comes to being a stuntman, “Jumping down his easy. Stepping down is hard.”

When Wu Jing’s character was a young boisterous actor prone to stepping on the wrong toes and getting in stupid trouble, he thanks Luo for saving his life and career. He wants to help Luo do a final film that ends with an insane horse stunt never done before. When Chan was becoming big, he was similarly saved by an elder, Jimmy Wong Yu, who when later his acting jobs were thin, Chan cast him in Fantasy Mission Force (1983), where Jimmy had a dominating prisoner role.

It’s well known that because Chan was always too busy in doing films, he lost connection with his son Jaycee, where his wife raised Jaycee on her own with Chan’s godfather Godrey Ho being a surrogate father image. It’s like Luo who desperately tries to reconnect with his daughter Bao. As Bao comes around, she learns about her father from watching all of Luo major stunts, which of course are Chan clips from most of the stunts that have either almost killed him or caused a major injury that still physically, mentally and/or emotionally affects his health today.

The most obvious and important metaphor for Chan is Red Hare, so named in honor of his early years training in Beijing Opera and his beginning years as a stuntman, where in each case, newbies were called Red Trousers. Throughout his whole film career, Chan always travels with an entourage of stuntmen. Saying that this is his family, barely describes their relationships.

The best way Chan can depict this relationship is via the last 15 minutes of Ride On. I was in tears and could feel what was happening, and what he was saying. The first thing I thought of was the heartbreaking, tear jerking movie I saw as a kid in, Old Yeller (1957) and to me Ride On was remake under the title of Old Redder (2023), about a stunt horse he raised from a sickly foal with weak legs and lungs who’d sacrifice his life for Luo. These are the folks in Chan’s life that are his best friends, one’s he could relate to and those who truly understood Chan the stuntman.

For Chan, film sets are his natural habitat and CGI fights and stunts are hazards that is destroying his environment. He’s aware of this, but seeing the furniture being moved is still agonizing.

When I first interviewed Chan in 1992 on the set of Drunken Master II at Golden Harvest studios, where I was the only one on set for 12+ hours, watching him film part of the finale fight against his then bodyguard, Ken Lo, one of the last things Chan said to me was, “Only Jackie Chan can do what Jackie Chan can do. I’ll never do CGI stunt; stunts must be real. The day CGI replace real, is the day I hang up my shoes.”

The end of Ride On is sadly and grievously clear. Sniffling tears. Your still Chan the man to me.

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