Jackie Chan's Project A & Project A Part II [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (25th October 2018).
The Film

"A pair of incredible action-adventure extravaganza’s from the legendary Jackie Chan, Project A and Project A Part II make their long overdue debut on Blu-ray in the UK from brand new 2K restorations. Starring three of the greatest martial-arts action stars of all time (Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao), the Project A films blended unparalleled martial artistry, death defying stunts and physical comedy in a way that has yet to be matched."

Project A: In turn-of-the-century Hong Kong, the Coast Guard's efforts to suppress pirates who have been raiding ships going in and out of the harbor has been unsuccessful, and mainland police Captain Chi (Hard Boiled's Hoi-San Kwan) argues that the money and resources allocated to the Coast Guard would be better spent on the police force rather than the admiral's (Hark-Sun Lau) "Project A." The enmity between the two forces is felt down the chain when the Coast Guard and the police force get into a large brawl with Chi's arrogant nephew Captain Tzu (The Way of the Dragon's Biao Yuen) provoking Coast Guard Sergeant Dragon Ma (Rumble in the Bronx's Jackie Chan) before the fight is broken up, Ma reprimanded, and Tzu allowed to slip away. When two of the Coast Guard's ships are blown up, however, the Coast Guard is disbanded, and the sailors start training to be regular cops under the tough tutelage of Tzu. They find ways to resist and sometimes humiliate Tzu who nevertheless recruits Dragon and his buddies Jaws (The Legend of Drunken Master's Mars) and Tai (Heart of the Dragon's Tai-Bo) as Part of his special squad to arrest gangster Chiang (Supercop's Yi-Sheng Han) who they believe is hiding in the VIP club of Mr. Chou (Miracles' Hoi Sang Lee). They force their way into the club without a warrant and a fight ensues. Tzu become disillusioned, however, when Chi arrives and not only blames Dragon rather than himself but the way his uncle seems to kowtow to Chou. Disgusted with the corruption, Dragon announces that he quits the force before then apprehending Chiang and giving credit to Tzu. Leaving the club, Dragon runs into old acquaintance and thief Fei (The Victim's Sammo Kam-Bo Hung ) who reveals that Chou relayed intel to the pirates to blow up the Coast Guard ships before their mission and that the gangster is also arranging to trade a hundred police rifles to the pirates through blackmailing Chi. The pair foils the trade and make off with the weapons only for Dragon to discover Fei's attempts to go behind his back and sell the weapons. Soon the gangsters are after Fei and Dragon while Chi is trying to arrest Dragon for deserting the police force. When the Rear Admiral's ship is attacked by pirate Lo Sam Pao (The Seventh Curse's Dick Wei) and Dragon discovers that the government may resort to letting Chou arrange the ransom payment, he convinces them to reinstate the Coast Guard and let him lead Project A.

Chan's fourth effort as a director, Project A was also his most ambitious film yet, taking full advantage of the resources of Raymond Chow's Golden Harvest Company with a period setting, hundreds of extras, and major action setpieces that took almost a year to film. It sets up certain plot devices that fans will see reworked in next hit Police Story and its sequel – which could be seen as the series transposed to the cop film genre – from the reuse (reincarnation) of buddies Mars and Tai-Bo, to his protagonist quitting the force in protest of police corruption and being drawn back by an innate sense of duty. The plotting is rather basic, with the only real diversion being Chan's respect for fellow Peking Opera student Yuen Bao to put them on equal footing as a fighter during the brawl scene in a manner he would usually afford to the final villain in order to draw out the fight sequence. Pirates are pirates, gangsters are gangsters, and the police are ultimately good if sometimes compromised, with only Hung's thief occupying a gray area. As usual, Chan's love interest, here Isabella Wong (The Young Vagabond) is incidental in the extreme; however, like poor Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love) in the Police Story films and Project A: Part 2, he does get to throw her off a height to safety. The four action set-pieces are invigorating and well-staged with plenty of evidence of the physical contact – sadly the end credits of this early peak Chan effort consists of more action highlights from the film rather than outtakes as would become common starting with Police Story – but the climactic fight cannot help but pale next to the previous set-piece involving bicycles, handcuffs, the inner workings of a clock tower, and a death-defying homage to Harold Lloyd (the third take of which did culminate in a fall that shattered Chan's ribs). Although Police Story might have been a bigger hit and had wider international distribution, Chan would take on Project A: Part 2.

Project A: Part 2: The survivors of Lo Sam Pao's band of pirates find their way to shore and make a blood pact of revenge against Dragon Ma (Chan) who has been transferred to the district of Sai Wan to undermine Superintendent Chun (Twin Dragons's David Lam) who has the prestige of overseeing three major districts but whose latest bad publicity in a news story in which he shot two jewelry store robbers has brought back rumors that he has been staging arrests; indeed, the audience discovers that Chun had arranged with gangster Tiger (Royal Warriors's Michael Wai-Man Chan) for the two men to rob the store in exchange for compensation to their families during their eighteen months sentences, only for Chun to kill the fleeing robbers before they could expose him after the shopkeeper's death changes the conviction to a likely death penalty. Dragon and his buddies – including Jaws (Mars) and Tai (Tai-Bo) and are mistaken for troublemakers by the police when they intercede on behalf of San-San (Days of Being Wild's Maggie Cheung) and her cousin Chau Ling (Infernal Affairs II's Carina Lau) who are fundraising for revolutionaries headed by Dr. Sun Yat-sen to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. Although Chun steps aside for Dragon to take over, the Police Commissioner (First Strike's Bill Tung) warns him to expect trouble from the rogue officer. Dragon discovers how deep the corruption runs when he orders the men to clear all outstanding warrants, including the arrest of Tiger, and all the officers but idealistic Sergeant Ching (Fist of Legend's Sun Wong) either threaten to quit or make excuses why the cannot work on the night of the raid. Dragon cancels the raid so as not to tip off Tiger and then executes it with the help of Jaws, Tai-Bo, and Ching, embarrassing Chun with the arrest and throwing a kink into the district's network of criminal operations. Believing Dragon to be another corrupt cop, the revolutionaries' representative Mr. Man (Firestorm's Ray Lui) – with the help of the beguiling Miss Pak (Once Upon a Time in China's Rosamund Kwan) – sets Dragon up for the robbery of a necklace intended as a gift by the governor to his daughter Regina (A Better Tomorrow II's Regina Kent) at the ball given for her birthday. Dragon is arrested but allowed to go out with Tai-Bo as his police escort as he attempts to uncover who really took the necklace, but their investigation becomes intertwined with the disappearance of San-San's cousin who has been abducted by agents of the Empress Dowager, and Dragon faces danger not only from Chun but also the hatchet-wielding pirates who have tracked him down.

Like Police Story 2 which came out the year after, Project A: Part 2 is more densely plotted than the first film; however, that does not necessarily make it more satisfying or fully coherent on the first view. With the pirates reduced to comic relief – for the characters within the film, that is, since the outtakes show that one of their hatches actually did strike the camera lens – the debonair Chun makes for a less interesting villain after Tiger is out of the picture, and the agents of the Empress Dowager do not get to show their training until the climax. While the second act set-piece of the first film was the highlight, here it is a protracted variation on the French farce (as critic Tony Rayns describes it in the disc's interview) with various parties sneaking around San-San's spaciously cramped apartment unaware of each other's presences. The revolutionary subplot takes up a fair amount of running time only to be tied in rather loosely to the main conflict, but it does allow for something of a dry run for the warehouse climax of Police Story 2 with both Cheung and Lau thrown to safety by Chan who makes a novel use of chili peppers in fighting his foes; indeed, like the aforementioned sequel Project A: Part 2 is not as satisfying as the original but still entertaining and sometimes thrilling. The end credits sequence features both outtakes and a picture-in-picture of Chan in the studio performing the theme song.

Video

Project A: Unreleased theatrically stateside, and in the UK by Sino Cine, Project A was largely unseen stateside apart from bootlegs of the UK panned-and-scanned VHS. When the film had an official home video release, it was on DVD in 2000 from Dimension Films in a non-anamorphic transfer of a Miramax recut version (98:09) featuring a replacement score by erotic thriller composer Nicholas Rivera (Striking Resemblance) and a non-anamorphic transfer. An uncut, anamorphic upgrade followed in 2002 in the UK from Cine Asia (reissued later by Hong Kong Legends) with English and Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. When Echo Bridge licensed the Miramax library, they seem to have been provided with more than one master. While the HD-mastered anamorphic transfer in their two-disc, eight film The Jackie Chan Collection set featured an anamorphic transfer of what turned out to be the uncut export version with only the opening credits replaced by the fullscreen video credits from the Dimension cut; however, their Blu-ray editions proved more problematic with the solo Blu-ray being the shorter Dimension cut but framed at 2.35:1 while the shorter cut was also included in the four film Jackie Chan Miramax Multi-Feature set but cropped to 1.78:1 (it is uncertain which is on the The Jackie Chan Collection: Six Film Set). Derived from a new 2K restoration, Project A is an improvement over the SD versions, the compromised Blu-rays of the Dimension version, and the Fortune Star upscales; however, it can only look so great. The image is overall sharper but still flattens out during those moments of distortion, and the skintones are not as orange as the older transfers but also not as overly cool as the Police Story restorations.

Project A: PART 2: Unreleased theatrically or on VHS in the United States and direct-to-video in the UK in its export version, Project A: Part 2 had its first English-friendly American release in a non-anamorphic transfer in 2000 from Tai Seng which became unavailable when Miramax swiped up the rights. Their 2003 DVD featured an anamorphic transfer of something in between the ninety-eight minute export cut and the one-hundred-and-five minute HK cut, utilizing Fortune Star's newer dub for the longer version while cutting the opening recap and replacing the credits, coming to a running time of 101:12. It was this version that was carried over to the two-disc, eight film The Jackie Chan Collection DVD set at the correct aspect ratio while at least one of the Echo Bridge Jackie Chan Film Collection boxed sets has this cut but is once again cropped to the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. While the SD transfers looked soft in keeping with other productions of the period, the Blu-ray reveals a slickness that betters the first film as well as both Police Story films, in that it actually looks like a late eighties film. The sharper image no longer looks like the daylight exteriors have been diffused and colors in the set decoration and costumes are more pleasing although the overall color correction may also be "modern" (one assumes Tung's police commissioner was meant to have a more tanned complexion as seen in the earlier transfers for whatever reason).

Audio

Project A's audio options consist of Fortune Star's Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix, the original Cantonese LPCM 1.0 mono track, Fortune Star's English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix, and the "classic" English LPCM 1.0 mono mix. The 5.1 mixes are front-ehavy as expected with the surrounds utilized more during the action scenes but nowhere near as dynamically as one would expect from a film actually mixed in 5.1 (or even Dolby Stereo for that matter). The 5.1 English dub is expected bland, but "inoffensive" next to the "classic" dub in which Chan and Yuen are given relatively normal dubbing while much of the supporting cast speaks in stereotypical "oriental" accents. Optional English subtitles are available.

Project A: Part 2 includes Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 1.0 mono mixes as well as Fortune Star's English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix. The quality of the surround mixes is the same as that of the first film, but the English track renames the characters of Cheung and Lau as "Maggie" and "Carina" and gives them bimbo-sounding voices (not unlike the revoicing of Cheung in the Miramax version of Supercop). The Cantonese mono track is recommended. Optional English subtitles are included.

Extras

Extras for Project A start off with an interview with critic Tony Rayns (38:09) who gives context to Chan's discovery as one of many actors put up to replace Bruce Lee, and his vehicles under Wei Lo (The Big Boss) including Chan's first directorial efforts before their fallout. He also discusses Shaw Brothers rivals Golden Harvest and how they enabled directors like Wei Lo and King Hu (Come Drink With Me) under them to form independent companies for their product. He discusses the ambitious nature of Project A for Chan as well its reunion of Chan with his Hung and Yuen with whom he trained in the Peking Opera for several years as a child (and how the biographical depiction of this in period in the subsequent film Painted Faces might have soured their working relationship for the sequel). In "The Pirate's Cave" (22:00), actor Lee Hoi San discusses his training, his typecasting as villains, and Chan's perfectionist attitude in Project A towards the action scenes. In "The Elusive Dragon" (18:03), actor Yuen Biao discusses his Peking Opera training under master Yu Jim who gave named all of his students "Yuen…" with Chan and Hung dropping those names professionally. He largely glosses over Project A and Chan in favor of discussing his work with Bruce Lee. In "The Pirate's Cave 2" (13:55), actor Dick Wei recalls being discovered by director Chang Cheh (The One-Armed Swordsman) at Shaw Brothers, his early career, and contrasts the filming coverage and stunt choreography of Chan to that of Sammo Hung, as well as his preference for hand-to-hand fighting over weapons. "Can't Stop the Music" (17:23) is an interview with composer Michael Lai (Armour of God) who studied music to form a band but would become music director for a television network before moving on to scoring through producing Chan's albums. Deleted scenes include more training of the sailors by Tzu as well as another fight between Dragon and Tzu (one wonders the cutting of these scenes might have also contributed to the fall out between Chan and Yuen) as well as some more comic relief from Mars. Also included are an alternate end credits & outtakes (2:23) sequence, the Lunar New Year's Introduction (2:25) by Chan that accompanied the release in Singapore and Malaysia, as well as a 2K restoration trailer (4:24).

The disc of Project A: Part 2 is similarly stacked with extras, the major one of which is the full the full export version (98:51) with the original English dub in Dolby Digital 1.0. As with the export versions of Police Story and its sequel, the titles appear on black without music. The recap to Chan's theme song is the major deletion while other smaller ones occur throughout. The image is softer and a tad faded with whites and highlights a tad too bright. There is another interview with critic Tony Rayns (38:01) who notes that the presence of the revolution subplot was inspired by Margaret Thatcher's 1984 visit to Hong Kong and her hornet's nest she stirred by first to renew the lease of the New Territories and then to sign the agreement to return the territories and British Hong Kong in 1997 when the lease ran out. He spends more time than the previous interview on analyzing the film itself, and notes its many faults, particularly the overly crowded plot and the disappointing middle act "stage farce" set-piece. "The Big Boss" (19:38) is an interview with actor Michael Chan Wai-Man who had studied martial arts and become a cop before pursuing a movie career – in his interview, Rayns notes that his frequent casting as gangsters lead to rumors about his career as a cop – before discussing some of his earlier films in the context of Chan's staging, filming, and editing of fight scenes in Project A: Part 2. An interview with stuntman Mars (15:25) has the stuntman/actor discussing starting off discussing his Peking Opera training before landing a role in Chan's Dragon Lord and becoming part of his stunt team. "Jackie Chan: King of Action" (30:31) is a documentary produced around the release of City Hunter and including some of the same interview footage with co-star Richard Norton (Rage and Honor) included as a separate piece on Eureka's Blu-ray of that film. "Someone Will Know Me" (13:11) is another vintage documentary, but this one focuses on Chan's stunt coordinators Mars, Rocky Lai – who plays pirates in both films – and Chris Lee (Eastern Condors). This is more of a puff piece with cutaways from English-overdubbed casual talking head interviews with the three to comments from three fawning female fans at a screening. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (3:05) and the export trailer (2:13). Not provided for review were the collector's booklets for each film, featuring new essays by James Oliver; rare archival imagery; and full credits for both films.

Overall

Jackie Chan's ambitious period action films Project A and Project A: Part 2 come to Blu-ray in as definitive form as we are likely to get, with some new interviews and a wealth of archival materials.

 


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