From the late 1970s through the early 2000s, Jackie Chan established himself as one of the all-time great movie stars in a string of terrific action comedies, from Drunken Master to Project A to Wheels on Meals to Police Story. His output has been a bit more serious lately: Recent years have seen the action legend starring in movies like the espionage thriller Vanguard, the revenge thriller The Foreigner, and the fantasy epic Iron Mask — all of which are various shades of dull and forgettable.
In 2023, he’s doing things a bit differently. Hidden Strike, which was in production for about half a decade, appropriately served as a bit of a transition film for this latest period of Chan’s career. Half serious action, half buddy comedy with John Cena, it’s a solid enough straight-to-streaming action movie that shines more when it leans into the comedy pairing of its two stars. After that came the impishly funny Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, where Chan shines as the voice of the Turts’ caring rat dad, Splinter.
And Chan completes his 2023 trilogy with Ride On, which hit theaters in limited release in April, and is now out on digital and on home video. This latest comedy leans even further into the slapstick martial arts movies that made Chan an international household name in the first place. And this time, his co-star is a horse.
While Ride On doesn’t reach the frantic, joyful highs of Chan’s best collaborations with childhood friends Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, it’s still an enjoyable comedic entry in the career of one of the all-time great movie stars. It’s a throwback to a bygone era of Hong Kong and action-comedy filmmaking, end-credits blooper/stunt reel and all.
In Ride On, Chan essentially plays an alternate-universe version of himself, an aging stuntman named Luo Zhilong. “Master Luo,” as his many disciples lovingly call him, was once the greatest stuntman in Hong Kong, but he never made it as a movie star. All of Chan’s greatest movies still happened in this universe, but in this world, he was solely a stuntman.
Long removed from the movie industry, Luo now spends his days quietly working odd jobs with his beloved horse, Red Hare. Luo treats Red Hare like a son, and calls him his “last disciple” in the field of stunt work. Their relationship is the highlight of the movie, with slapstick gags and a great rapport. Ride On opens with Red Hare dragging Master Luo out of bed in the morning with his teeth, pulling him up by the nape of his neck.
That relationship is where the movie shines — Chan and the horse performer, Chitu, have terrific chemistry, and they clearly had a blast working together. Chan’s sweet and sincere performance is a perfect fit for a buddy comedy with an animal co-star, and his childlike, innocent smile can still light up a screen. (Luo’s daughter remarks, “You got old before you grew up.”) The scenes of Master Luo and Red Hare practicing their stunt routine are delightful, especially as Luo speaks gently, then sternly, to the stubborn horse as if it’s a child pupil.
While the movie is primarily comedic in tone, the few action sequences harken back to the prop-heavy slapstick choreography of Chan’s glory years. In an early scene, tables, chairs, and food scraps become crucial instruments for Master Luo as he prevents debt collectors from taking Red Hare as collateral. Later on, he uses a ladder, a broom, and other items in his stable to ward off would-be horse thieves, with Red Hare’s help, of course.
Like all the great Chan fight scenes, the action has punchlines and varied pacing, with moments between action beats for laughs. (Longtime Chan collaborator Guanhua Han served as fight choreographer.) Many of the action sequences reference classic Jackie Chan movies through costuming and choreography, like Drunken Master II, Dragon Lord, and Armour of God II: Operation Condor. Occasionally, Ride On switches between Luo’s perspective and the movie perspective on the same stunt.
Apart from protecting his horse, much of the movie focuses on Master Luo’s relationship with his estranged daughter, Bao, and her timid boyfriend, Mickey. The sentimentality in Master Luo’s bond with Red Hare is applied to his daughter as well, but less effectively: The sappy background music largely plays better over the comically heightened emotional drama between a man and his large horse son than it does over the far more real conflict between a daughter and her mostly absent father. (Which is even more awkward considering Chan’s real estrangement from his actual daughter.) And the movie’s depiction of Master Luo’s relationship with Mickey is even more tired, with a rote “overprotective father” narrative that sees Luo essentially torturing Mickey with training to allegedly help him become a better man.
Beyond the animal buddy-comedy antics, Ride On is primarily an ode to the bravery of stunt performers and the dangers of the job: A title card before the closing credits dedicates the film to stunt performers throughout the long history of Chinese cinema.
It’s also a celebration of Chan’s illustrious career. Master Luo smiles as he sees a figurine of Chan’s famed Project A clock tower stunt in the town square. One of the more touching scenes sees Master Luo and Bao watching clips of some of his greatest and most dangerous stunts together — the Police Story slide, the Supercop helicopter hang, and many others that resulted in severe injuries, like the one from Armour of God that nearly cost him his life. And while Ride On doesn’t stick the landing on this specific point, it’s clear the movie wants to share with a new generation of movie watchers just how difficult the work of stunt performers is.
“Audiences today don’t know what we achieved,” Master Luo tells Red Hare before a climactic stunt. “That’s why we need to show them.”
Ride On is available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu.