I was over the moon to learn that Netflix were adapting lesbian manga for screen. After all, Netflix have produced some truly superior Sapphic content. And the world needs more stories about lesbians of color. Plus, there’s only one thing I love more than a lesbian romance: a lesbian romance where abusive men die. That’s the premise behind Ching Nakamura’s Gunjō, the core plot of Ride or Die.
Rei (Kiko Mizuhara) has been in love with Nanae (Honami Satô) since their schooldays. But Nanae married young, and they didn’t see each other for ten years. When they finally reunite, Nanae shares two things: the first is that she loves Rei, and the second is that her husband beats her. Rei – “the lesbian fool who was jealous of her crush’s husband” – kills him. And the two women go on the run. Like Thelma and Louise, if Ridley Scott only had the courage to make it gay.
Whereas Gunjō was all about the obsession and dysfunction at the heart of this relationship, Ride or Die gets the full Hollywood treatment and frames it as a viable – if not conventional – romance. Rei and Nanae are softer, sweeter incarnations of their manga selves. But by playing it safe, the film sacrifices the unpredictable quality that made Gunjō so very compelling. The black humour is largely lost. Which is a real shame, because it would have made a running time of two hours and twenty minutes pass a damn sight faster.
After an explosive opening, Ride or Die quickly fizzles out. The story gets repetitive. Rei and Nanae bicker. They get in trouble. They steal a vehicle to escape. And, in spite of the near-constant conflict, they decide to stay together. Rinse and repeat. But the worst crime of repetition is the cringe-inducing hetero sex. It was bad enough watching Rei getting freaky with Nanae’s husband in a kinky game of cat and mouse. We then had to watch her getting raw-dogged in the back of a taxi, face a study in boredom while the driver reaches ecstasy.
This scene could have been cut. And all the flashbacks too. Sure, everybody loves the trope of lesbians at a girls’ school. But the non-linear timeline simply doesn’t work. While each flashback revels more about Rei and Nanae’s relationship, they disrupt the flow of the story and generate needless confusion. There’s also a lot of melodrama. The overwrought emotions and (trigger warning) talk of suicide pacts may have been believable when Rei and Nanae were teens; it doesn’t quite ring true in women pushing thirty.
Ride or Die isn’t all bad. The lighting is consistently stunning, whether in a shot filled with a city’s neon glow or a beach at sunset. And although viewers need to wait 1 hour and 57 minutes until there’s any lesbian action (not that I was counting…), the sex scene is smoking hot. When it finally happens. Mizuhara and Satô have a chemistry that creates an entirely convincing depiction of lesbian desire. That being said, Ride or Die fails to inspire the deep love and loyalty alluded to in its title. This is quite possibly the dullest lesbian thriller you will ever see.
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