Based on Ching Nakamura’s adult manga Gunjō, Netflix’s Ride Or Die stars Kiko Mizuhara as Rei and actor-musician Honami Sato (she’s the drummer of hip-hop/progressive band Gesu no Kiwami Otome) as Nanae – two friends with an exceedingly murky relationship. After a decade of no contact, Nanae calls Rei out of the blue. This stirs an old infatuation in Rei, a lesbian who has been in love with the straight Nanae since their prep school days. Once they meet, Nanae strips naked to reveal horrific bruises all across her body, evidence of her husband’s domestic violence. Nanae then asks Rei to murder her abusive husband, tacitly offering sex in exchange. It’s a request that Rei is happy to oblige.
With such a hard-boiled neo-noir premise as that, the last thing you’d expect Ride Or Die to be is a tenderly contemplative road trip about two friends who bond and fight over their complicated histories as they run from the cops. But after a slickly filmed, Scorsese-esque opening that follows Rei picking up Nanae’s salaryman spouse in a seedy bar, and climaxes with a gruesome mid-coitus killing in Nanae’s opulent condo – director Ryuichi Hiroki takes a deft, counterintuitive turn away from lurid pulp fiction thriller territory.
Whatever the film’s ultimate takeaways might be, “Ride or Die” doesn’t lead viewers towards them by any obvious route. By the time this rewardingly non-prescriptive slab of pulp fiction even arrives at its flex of a title card — which drops at the end of 28-minute prologue that pings against everything from “The Postman Always Rings Twice” to “Thelma & Louise” — it’s clear that Netflix’s latest Asian slow-burn isn’t adhering to the path of any particular narrative tradition, least of all those of the soft-hearted Yuri stories that Hiroki’s source material subverted to powerful effect.
It is a much-needed change of pace from the kind of modern cinema that reduces every story to its moral arithmetic and a helpful refresh for the kind of modern audiences who watch movies the same way. It’s a shaggy and distended portrait of friendship that pinballs through time as freely as it does between genres, and a few too many of the 140-minute story’s frequent detours wind up in dead ends, but “Ride or Die” retains enough forward momentum to roll across even its least successful chapters because of how stubbornly Hiroki refuses to keep score between these characters.
“Ride or Die” is not a goal-oriented romance — it might not be a romance at all — and that makes this long and winding road trip all the more worth sticking with to the end. Sato and Mizuhara’s abrasive chemistry only grows stronger as the film moves along and the heartrending accord they reach as the sun rises on the final act pays off the various cruelties and cul-de-sacs that Hiroki drives through on the way there. The last scenes here too good to spoil for the same reason they’re too fraught and complicated to explain, but there’s something irreducibly beautiful about seeing people discover their value even if it can only be measured in their private currency.
It’s easier to appreciate Ride or Die in concept than execution. It meanders sort of by design, with drawn-out flashbacks, go-nowhere subplots, and bountiful character exploration that still doesn’t seem like enough. It opens with shocking panache and concludes with a fizzling, banal anticlimax. At times, it offers compelling drama, at others, it’s shallow, flimsy, and indulgent, most egregiously when Rei and Nanae openly contemplate killing each other or themselves, and we don’t know if they’re spilling their ugly honest guts or joking morbidly or just whining like goth teens.
We’re compelled to sympathize for many reasons: Nanae’s long life of abuse and socio-economic struggles, the unwillingness of Rei’s family to accept her as a gay woman, the fact that Mr. Shinoda is a violent cretin who wholly caused Nanae’s desperation, and maybe had it coming. I didn’t know whether I wanted them to escape and live happily ever after, get busted and atone for their crimes, or drive a vintage Thunderbird into the sea to sink forever.
Final Score – [6.3/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
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