Back in the old days, when there was little to no computer-generated imagery on the silver screen, directors, especially those directing action films, had to depend on the skill and commitment of a stuntman to put his life on the line and execute a dangerous action sequence. The new Jackie Chan starrer Ride On is an action comedy that builds around the sentiment regarding the stunt job and unabashedly pays homage to Jackie’s career as a consummate stunt professional, nicely embedding it in a sentimental family drama.
The film, directed by Larry Yang, revolves around the story of a washed-up stuntman named Lao, who lives with his horse and sustains his existence by doing street acts. Trouble arises when a wealthy businessman makes up his mind to take his horse away, and Lao is forced to seek his estranged daughter’s help.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Ride On’?
On a peaceful day, a magnificent horse roams around the rundown ranch of a man named Lao and wakes him up from a deep slumber. His life seems peaceful as he goes to the nearby movie set to showcase his circus acts, with the horse being the central attraction. Soon, a famous movie star passes by with a wealthy businessman and exchanges a glance of recognition with Lao. The businessman questions his association with a silly street performer, and it is only then that we get to know that Lao isn’t an ordinary man. He was once the most sought-after stuntman in all of Hong Kong. A teacher and inspiration to many younger, budding artists, such as the star himself, he dedicated most of his life to carrying the legacy of the “stuntman spirit.” Sadly, his days of glory had now faded, and he was reduced to living a life of poverty, knee-deep in debt, barely making it through the day.
Lao didn’t actually mind; as long as he had Red Hare, the horse, life was just fine. A bald apprentice often kept him entertained by engaging in quarrels with his girlfriend. During one such ongoing episode that continues on in the background, two nicely suited men show up at Lao’s place and hand him a tedious court document, essentially implying that his horse could be taken away. Immediately, there is tension in the air, and he throws the men out. The horse wasn’t just a stunt animal for Lao. He had raised him with the same care as he would raise his own child, although the irony here is that he had missed most of his daughter’s formative years because he was busy with stunt work. But that certainly wasn’t true of his care for Red Hare. When Lao was still a hotshot in the business, his friend Van owed him a huge amount of money. Lao saw a malformed foal on Van’s estate and decided to keep it to himself, taking care of him day and night and training him as a stunt horse. He had to be quick in his decision, otherwise the deformed foal would have been euthanized. Lao recognized something in the foal’s desperate eyes and let him have a new life. With an unwillingness to give up and a desire to carry on, Lao essentially saw in the creature the “stuntman spirit.” It was due to this spirit that their bond was unbreakable.
This was three years ago. Currently, he spends his days earning his daily bread with Red Hare, and his nights are spent mostly fending off local debt collectors. One evening, he runs into Dami and his gang, notorious for their torturous methods of collecting their debts. Lao had gotten a little rusty but hadn’t forgotten his art of fighting altogether. When Dami proceeds to start a full-fledged brawl, Lao defends himself, but not without Red Hare’s assistance. Miraculous kicks by the trained horse mesmerized the audience, which had spontaneously gathered to witness the thrilling fight. Lao somehow escapes, but the videos of this spectacular incident spread like wildfire across the web. Lao and Red Hare actually end up getting famous. Lao’s movie-star protege offers him and Red Hare an opportunity to star in his film in a major action sequence. Red Hare is even more essential for Lao’s survival now. The thought of it being taken away was unbearable. There was only one person he could turn to, and that was his daughter, Bao.
Does Bao Help Lao?
Bao had her issues with Lao, and she was fully justified in having them. He had left her alone during one of the most critical times of her life. When her mother, Lao’s ex, was diagnosed with a terminal illness, he did not return from work. He arrived only when it was too late. She had passed away, but while her health deteriorated, Bao had no one to comfort her or help her process her feelings. When Lao asks for her help, all the anger and resentment rush in to fill the gap that has risen in the father-daughter relationship. The only thing that compels her to help him is a promise made to her dying mother that if and when Lao ever asks for her help, she will not refuse.
The task is not easy. Lao doesn’t understand her generation. He only knows stunts and how to make Red Hare do rare tricks. Lao isn’t even aware that his daughter is just a bailiff and not an actual lawyer, yet he demands her help. That’s the extent of his worldly knowledge. Under these strenuous circumstances, Bao asks his lawyer boyfriend, Mickey, to help out with Lao’s case. They both arrive at Lao’s place, and a cold war is initiated between Mickey and Lao when Lao learns that he is Bao’s boyfriend. Lao tests him to see if he can take care of his daughter, as all fathers tend to do, while Bao is smitten by the magnificent Red Hare. She befriends it, and Red Hare recognizes the presence of Lao’s bloodline. Mickey agrees to fight Lao’s case while Lao agrees to pay in his own way: by teaching Mickey how to fight so that he can protect Lao if the day ever comes.
Seeing Lao getting comfortable with Mickey, Bao starts to mitigate her own issues with her father. Lao and Red Hare are called into the film business once again, and through Bao’s words of encouragement, a nervous Red Hare emerges triumphant in the superstar’s film, doing action sequences no one had imagined in their wildest dreams. After this successful movie, offers start pouring in, and Bao decides to become Lao’s manager to negotiate offers on his behalf. She gets happy to see Lao getting his mojo back, but there is that well-known concern at the back of her mind about him becoming a workaholic again. When it came to showing the stuntman spirit, she knew Lao could put everything on the line. More than him, it was Red Hare who could suffer. Nobody wanted the old Lao to star in their movie; it was the magic of Red Hare that everybody was actually after. Only Lao could get it to do the stunts, and hence they had to be hired as a pair.
Bao keeps her concerns to herself for a while and asks Lao to meet Mickey’s affluent parents. The meeting is held in a high-end restaurant, and Lao doesn’t fare too well under those circumstances. He acts like a fool in front of Mickey’s parents, which enrages Bao, who questions his intentions for meeting her. Did he come into her life again to wreck it once more? Lao is disappointed in himself that he made his daughter feel that way.
The familial troubles are not the only worries on Lao’s mind. Ho Xing, the owner of the Flying Dragon Company and a collector of beautiful horses from all across China, had contacted him, showing him his horse collection, expressing how badly he wanted Red Hare to be added to his collection. When Lao refused to give Red Hare up, Ho Xing tried to use a legal loophole to get hold of Red Hare. Mr. Van’s company had been taken over by Xing, and it meant that he could claim his right over the foal, which was taken away by Lao. The case was due to begin over the custody of Red Hare, but the most important thing for Lao was to reconnect with his daughter.
Does Lao Reconcile With Bao?
Lao milks every opportunity he gets to work on a movie set, trying to push the limits at his age. He doesn’t pay heed to Bao’s advice about not overworking Red Hare, and on one of the shoots, he falls off its back, injuring himself. The news reaches Bao, but she doesn’t go to meet him in the hospital. She instead visits the ranch looking for a file necessary for the case and finds a collection of CCTV footage stored by Lao of all the meetings Bao had with her mother at Bao’s favorite restaurant. Lao couldn’t be there, but Bao’s mother ensured that he got a glimpse of her anytime he could. If he cared so much for Bao, why didn’t he come to meet her? A teared-up Bao rushes to find the answers and is shocked by Lao’s revelations. Eight years ago, Lao severely injured himself when a stunt went horribly wrong. He suffered brain damage and was in a coma for eight months. When he recovered, he couldn’t speak for over a year and showed symptoms of amnesia. Everybody left him, and he went into depression. He couldn’t even stand himself and hence could not gather up the will to face Bao’s mother. In such hardship, he shut himself off, bearing his burden alone. That was his way of coping with the tragedy. He realized that it was wrong, but at the time, he just wasn’t able to do it anyway. Bao sees the angst and the pain in his eyes and finally forgives him. There is a bitter-sweet reconciliation between the two, and they spend time seeing Lao’s old filmography (Jackie Chan’s real footage), where he can be seen suffering intense pain for his stuntman spirit. Bao assumes an unsaid promise from Lao that he would stop working himself to death and also not put Red Hare in danger again.
Old habits die hard, they say. Bao’s illusions of a promise from Lao’s side are broken the second she learns that he has committed to another project where he and Red Hare could possibly suffer fatal injuries. Her trust is broken once again, and she decides not to meet him if he goes through with the stunt. She gives Lao a clear choice but his silence says it all. His decision was in favor of the job. On the movie set, his impertinent adamance is frowned upon by everybody. The director offers harnesses and a safety protocol for the stunt, explaining to Lao how he would complete the stunt using visual effects, but Lao declines. He is uncompromising in his approach, which translates to being unreasonable on a modern movie set. Once the stunt begins and he sees that Red Hare would actually have to fall over a number of steps, his unshakeable core shudders, and he puts the brakes on his selfish act. Realizing his error, he shows up in front of Bao and apologizes, and they both go to the trial to fight the case for Red Hare’s custody.
‘Ride On’ Ending Explained – Does Red Hare End Up With Lao?
Mickey tries hard to present a solid case in Lao’s favor, but in front of the corrupt Ho Xing and their expensive lawyers, they stand no chance. Lao loses the case and is ordered to take the horse back to the new owner, Ho Xing. In an absolute tearjerker of a moment, Lao travels with Red Hare for the last time and hands it to Ho Xing himself. Lao leaves, but Red Hare turns out to be completely hysterical in his absence. It is absolutely impossible to tame it, and it runs off to look for Lao, who chides it and commands it to go back, even though his eyes are brimming with tears. What could he do? He had lost the case. Lao returns to the ranch, completely empty. He had lost the “spirit” that Red Hare brought with it. He patches up the warning poster on the entrance gate to signify he no longer had Red Hare on the ranch, the one who managed to patch up his wounded soul. Knowing he won’t be able to survive without Red Hare, Bao meets Ho Xing personally and shows him scenes from Lao’s filmography that stand as indelible proof of his love for his work and his integrity as a man. She lets him know that Xing would be taking the symbol of the “stuntman spirit” away from him if he didn’t return Red Hare to Lao. Ho Xing is convinced and reunites Red Hare with Lao. Before leaving, he removes the patch from the warning sign at the entrance, restoring the “Beware of the Horse” poster on the entrance, essentially restoring Lao’s “spirit.”
Ride On is many things at once: A family drama, an action comedy, and a sentimental animal drama. The one thing that it most proudly is an ode to Jackie Chan’s career and his contribution to cinema. The legend of Asian cinema and the recipient of the honorary Academy Award, Jackie Chan, is a true champion of the “stuntman spirit,” a marvelous specimen of skill, discipline, consistency, and humility all combined in one. Through his story, the film honors all the stuntmen and recognizes their sacrifices, which have made Chinese cinema what it is.