‘Nonstop Action On The High Seas!’ – Jackie Chan’s Project A & Project A Part II (Blu-ray Review)

Rating:

In case you didn’t get the memo (although I can’t imagine as to why you would not know this) but Jackie Chan is a martial arts legend.  Born out of the vacuum left by the tragic death of Bruce Lee and the copycat imitators that followed in Bruce’s footsteps, Jackie Chan is unlike any other action star.

Excelling in skills in writing, directing, starring as well as a stunt performer, Jackie Chan is a multi-disciplined artist.  It’s fair to say he is a perfectionist, going that extra mile to ensure authenticity for his audiences with a comedic and physical breathlessness that is a loving homage to his on-screen favourites of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd (which Project A and its sequel pay tribute to).  Always thinking multiple steps-ahead, the camera never moves, ensuring you believe every hit, fall, jump or landing.  Even by Hollywood standards, no one would dare to do what Jackie Chan does, not if it meant repetitive takes that would worry a money conscientious studio or risking their lives where insurance won’t cover it. But that sets him apart from other action stars. Despite the incredible stunts, there’s an element of vulnerability in his performances. He’s not superhuman (both on and off screen), and therefore every set piece challenges all expectations knowing the risk is severely and dangerously high. Whether you’ve recently discovered him or been a fan for years, he unquestionably deserves the title as one of the greats. You see – legend.

Project A and Project A Part II are a testimony to his work and his action beliefs – peak Jackie Chan as people would call it.  Thanks to Eureka and their brand new 2K restorations with its original Cantonese language, this is the best version you will see of Jackie’s work, and it’s absolutely stunning.

Both films have a plot that’s relatively simple yet radically different in tone.  The first Project A film tackles a ruthless band of cut-throat pirates who terrorise and disturb the peace with their brand of mayhem across the South China Seas.  Part II shares more of a commonality with Jackie Chan’s other successful and unforgettable project Police Story, tackling police corruption and criminal gangs.  Enlisted to stop both scenarios is Dragon Ma (Jackie Chan), a coastguard cop in a period piece action spectacle during the turn of the century.

However straightforward that may sound, it’s the level of artistry that Chan brings with each film – a standard that has longed inspired its modern counterparts such as John Wick or Atomic Blonde and their brand of choreographed chaos.  The simplicity may not challenge you, but then again, it’s not supposed to.  However formulaic or conventional, it’s a meticulously designed framework that Chan and his stunt team perfected, allowing them to build escalating and jaw-dropping stunts that are beyond belief.  Project A and its underrated sequel rise to that statement, having found endless levels of love and admiring respect.

It’s not every day when Beethoven’s fifth symphony can brilliantly set the tone for an epic fight scene, and yet Project A’s epic bar brawl scene is one of those fantastic moments.  Performed like an operatic stage play and dance, it’s a fast-paced spectacle involving a furious melee of feisty punches with Dragon Ma and Captain Tzu (Yuen Biao) defying both balance and movement as their colleagues settle a rivalry between the coastguards and the police.

Adding Sammo Hung as Fei completes Project A’s triple threat of kung-fu artistry, utilising all forms of comedy from physical, spoken to slapstick with a charm that’s inescapable.  With the same high-octane repertoire for risky manoeuvres, the payoff is rewarded with Chan’s clocktower homage to Safety Last! to the showdown piece of Ma, Fei and Tzu fighting the pirate chief, Sam Pau (Dick Wei).

Project A Part II brings the same, intense energy that we’ve come to expect, but sadly missing the effective combination of Hung and Biao (both were filming Eastern Condors).  Nevertheless, it still packs a weighty punch, relying on the talent of Maggie Cheung (Hero, Police Story) to drive home the political undertones of Chinese status amongst the corruption and disorder.

The entirety of Part II’s third act is something to behold, crafting the best use of Jackie Chan’s talent as a high-risk performer, death-defying manoeuvres and physical comedy.  It takes up the majority of the film, eccentrically moving from one set piece to another (which on another day could have featured on the TV show Gladiators).  But the scale of amazement is one of awe.  It may not have matched its predecessor and its pitch-perfect design, but it makes a proficient statement on where it stands in regards to Chan’s legacy.  The sequel rewards audience loyalty with some of the best action sequences ever committed to film.

When it’s not fulfilling its combat duty or paying tribute to Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr., it turns into an ingenious Marx Brothers-esque sketch (Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera springs to mind).  It’s the perfect demonstration of timing where characters deliberately avoid each other or forced to cram themselves into hiding spaces as they check on Yesan (Maggie Cheung) and the investigation of her missing friend.

With the 2K restoration, the level of clarity is exceptional, noticing the intricate details of its period setting, the sharp clothing attire to something taken for granted like the perspiration of a fighter.  Considering there has been various cuts or the poor English dub copies produced over the years, the Eureka release has paid notable attention to deliver the best, uncut quality it can and it shows within every single frame.

The blu-ray box set is packed with a decent range of features, filled with outtakes, deleted scenes and alternative endings. But where the box set makes a significant impact is the interview packages, formulating as ‘behind the scenes’ context in making the films as well as Jackie Chan’s philosophy with action cinema.

To any fan, this would make a worthy addition to the blu-ray collection.

Dir: Jackie Chan

Scr: Jackie Chan

Cast: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Maggie Cheung, Yuen Biao

Prd: Raymond Chow, Leonard Ho & Edward Tang

DOP: Yiu-Tsou Cheung

Music: Michael Lai

Country: Hong Kong

Year: 1983/1987

Runtime: 211 minutes (combined)

Jackie Chan’s Project A and Project A Part II is released as a special limited edition blu-ray box set on 29th October.