Eureka continue their quest to resurrect classic Hong Kong action movies with this handsome Blu-Ray box set containing two classic Jackie Chan features, Project A and its sequel,Project A Part II (a.k.a. Project A 2). As ever, I was eager to snap up a chance to review it, being a huge martial arts and Jackie Chan fan. The bonus this time around was that I hadn’t actually watched the second film prior to now.
Director: Jackie Chan, Sammo Kam-Bo Hung (uncredited)
Screenplay: Jackie Chan, Edward Tang, Yu Ting, Jack Maeby (english adaptation)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Dick Wei, Mars, Isabella Wong, Tai-Bo
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 105 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
The oddly titled Project A (reportedly named this to prevent competitors ripping off the film before it was released, as had been the case previously), sees Jackie Chan (who also wrote and directed the film) play Sergeant Dragon Ma Yue Lung of the Hong Kong Coast Guard. After a number of their ships are blown up by pirates, Dragon and his squad are forced to become regular police officers. This is particularly humiliating as the two forces enjoy a fierce rivalry and Tzu (Yuen Biao), a police captain Dragon had come face-to-face with previously, is the drill sergeant in charge of whipping the coast guard into shape during their police training.
One of Dragon’s first assignments as a police officer is to detain the gangster Chiang (Hon Yee-sang) at a VIP club. When corrupt officials prevent him from doing his duty, he throws down his badge and captures Chiang by force. It seems Chiang is also involved in a plot to sell rifles to the pirates and Dragon’s old friend Fei (Sammo Hung) believes someone in the police force is selling them to the gangster. Dragon is fed up of all this corruption, so tries to sabotage the plot himself. Later, when the pirates take a group of (largely English) civilians hostage to speed up the rifle deal, Dragon is asked by the Colonel in charge to reform the coast guard and head a secret mission to rescue the hostages and put a stop to the pirate leader, San-po (Dick Wei).
On paper it seems fairly convoluted, but the plot of Project A is actually pretty flimsy and perfunctory. What matters is serving up regular doses of action and comedy where Chan can show audiences what he does best, and many fans believe this is the finest example of this. The film is perfectly paced with no downtime. There’s always something of interest going on in a scene, be it a thrilling fight, breathtaking stunt or amusing gag. Even in the film’s smaller or quieter moments, Chan will throw in a neat physical trick to add a bit of spice to the mix, such as an quick acrobatic flourish as he moves across a room or parks a bike.
The bigger set pieces are what stick in the mind though, and this is full of them. From an early bar room brawl with hints of musical choreography and lots of effective physical comedy, to the awesome final showdown on the pirate island, it’s a superb showcase of Chan and his talents. The scene that stands out for me though is an epic chase in the middle of the film. Beginning with a breathless string of amazing stunts, wonderful comic timing and athleticism, it then moves into a superbly choreographed bicycle chase that blows my mind every time I see it. Topping off the scene is a brilliantly co-ordinated Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung double act fight. This is followed not long after with the film’s biggest stunt, a nod to Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! which sees Chan hanging off a clock tower and falling a great distance to the floor.
It’s not all about Jackie Chan though. As mentioned, Project A also features his Peking Opera School ‘brothers’ Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. They’re both among my favourite martial arts movie stars and are too often left in Chan’s shadow. They’re certainly supporting players here, but are still given quite a lot to do. Biao in particular gets to show he might well be the most acrobatic of the trio, with some amazing kicks and flips. Hung doesn’t do quite as much fighting here as the others, but gets to show off his skills at comedy.
Project A came at a pivotal time in Chan’s career. After Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master made him a star in the East, he made a mixed bag of films before attempting to break into Hollywood with Battle Creek Brawl and a small role in Cannonball Run. This attempt failed, so he came back to Hong Kong and Project A saw him really hit his stride, beginning a series of fan favourites throughout the rest of the 80s, including Police Story, Armour of God and Dragon’s Forever. Project A is up there with all of those, possibly even the best. It’s certainly one of his most consistently enjoyable films, and that’s saying something. It may be a bit episodic and clumsy in its storytelling, but it’s loaded with eye-popping and memorable stunts, gags and action sequences. With two of Chan’s best co-stars backing him up, it’s a film that Hong Kong action movie fans can’t miss.
Project A Part II
Director: Jackie Chan, Sammo Kam-Bo Hung (uncredited)
Screenplay: Jackie Chan, Edward Tang, Jack Maeby (english adaptation)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Rosamund Kwan, Bill Tung, Mars, David Lam, Ray Lui
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 101 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Project A Part II continues where the first film left off, with some upset and now down-and-out pirates vowing to kill Dragon for despatching their boss, San-po. This thread of the story largely plays out in the background though, with the bumbling pirates only cropping up now and again before tying up their tale towards the end. Instead, most of the film follows a completely new story, dropping Hung and Biao’s characters.
The main thread begins with Superintendent Chun (David Lam) blatantly staging an arrest to make it look like he’s doing his job, when in fact he’s in league with the local gangsters, allowing them to run their gambling houses and brothels in town. His superiors aren’t aware of all this, but his latest fake arrest causes them to give one of his three ‘rings’ (police districts) to Dragon, after the great job he did of the Project A mission.
At his new station, he finds all but one of the officers there corrupt and cowardly. So Dragon gathers his loyal ex-coast guard colleagues and the upstanding officer Ho (Kenny Ho) to take down the local gangsters and show the lazy officers how it’s done. This annoys Chun and his gangster friends, so they hire some revolutionaries to frame Dragon for the theft of a diamond necklace. This means Dragon ends up under arrest while the matter is dealt with, but he still manages to do some digging. He gets embroiled with the revolutionaries (including Maggie Cheung and Rosamund Kwan) and discovers they only took on the framing job to raise funds for their cause. Although Dragon doesn’t want to join them officially, he does help them out alongside his quest to clean up the police force. This all culminates in an epic showdown of course, where all the loose ends are tied up.
Once again, the plot sounds quite complicated, and actually, this time around, it is. There’s possibly a little too much going on, as it can get a little confusing at times, but more emphasis is put on the story and drama here. It takes itself more seriously and even throws in some politics with the involvement of the anti-Manchu revolutionaries. As such, Project A Part II isn’t quite as funny or light-hearted as its predecessor, but that’s not to say it isn’t as good and there are still plenty of jokes and visual gags thrown in. There’s a particularly funny extended sequence in one of the revolutionaries’ house, where an endless stream of unwanted guests show up, each having to hide from the next.
Chan seems to have been keen on upping his game for his sequel to Project A, which sees him once again in the director’s chair and at the writing desk. The budget is clearly higher (as the first film was a great success) and more care and attention has gone into the craftsmanship, particularly the production design. There are some lavish sequences, such as a grand ball and a fight in a large tea house which employ a great number of extras on top of the more detailed set dressing. The cinematography is stronger here too, with some more atmospheric lighting and an impressive long take in the ballroom scene which has various conversations weave in as characters dance past the slowly moving camera.
And don’t worry, the film still contains plenty of superb action set pieces. The tea house fight is particularly impressive, with some very clever moves being employed, making great use of props and set. There are some dangerous falls and stunts here too. The film’s finale is also spectacular as you’d imagine, ending on another silent move nod, this time referencing the falling house stunt from Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr.
With Chan’s desire to outdo his fine work in Project A, its sequel is a classier, more ambitious and slightly more serious affair, but it’s not quite as pacy or funny. It’s still hugely entertaining though and packed with mind-blowing fights and stunts as well as some very effective comedic moments. On paper you could say it’s better than the first in fact. I wouldn’t go that far, but it comes pretty damn close. All I can say is that I hope Eureka keep churning out these Hong Kong classics on Blu-Ray as I can’t get enough of them. Next stop, the Once Upon a Time in China trilogy, coming in December!
Jackie Chan’s Project A and Project A Part II is out on 29th October on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Eureka Classics series. The transfers look fantastic – clean, detailed and sharp yet natural looking. You get a variety of audio options, which cover all the bases (on top of the various edits of the films).
You get plenty of special features too:
– Special Limited Edition Box Set of 4000 copies
– 1080p presentations of both films, sourced from brand new 2K restorations and making their UK debuts on Blu-ray
– Original Cantonese audio tracks for both films (mono for Project A and stereo for Project A Part II)
– Restored 5.1 Cantonese and English audio options
– Project A Alternate English dub track from the original UK VHS release
– Optional English subtitles
– The export cut of Project A Part II, featuring a unique English dub track not heard on any other version of the film [presented in SD]
– New video interviews with Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns
– Archival interview with Jackie Chan [30 mins]
– Archival Introduction to Project A by star Jackie Chan
– Interview with actor Lee Hoi San [22 mins]
– Interview with actor Yuen Biao [18 mins]
– Interview with actor Dick Wei [14 mins]
– Interview with actor Michael Chan Wai-Man [20 mins]
– Interview with composer Michael Lai [17 mins]
– Interview with stuntman Anthony Carpio [29 mins]
– Interview with stuntman Mars [15 mins]
-Someone Will Know Me [13 mins] – an archival featurette which includes interviews with stuntmen Mars, Chris Lee Kin-Sang and Rocky Lai
– Alternate outtakes for Project A from the Japanese version of the film
– Archival behind-the-scenes footage [24 mins]
– Deleted Scenes
– Box set exclusive Collector’s booklets for each film, featuring new essays by James Oliver; rare archival material; and full credits for both films!
Most of the features have previously been available on the old Hong Kong Legends DVDs, but their repetition is welcome as they’re very good and provide a lot of insight into the work of all involved. Bey Logan’s commentaries and other contributions are missing (probably due to the sexual misconduct allegations that came out last year), but the piece by Tony Rayns makes up for it, being well-researched and interesting as always. The ‘Someone Will Know Me’ featurette is a nice addition too and surprisingly poignant. The transfers here are superb and the Part II export dub is a new inclusion, as is the Project A VHS dub track, so it’s definitely still worth the upgrade.