Project A (1983)
Reviewed by: Masterofoneinchpunch on 2009-09-23
Summary: The Password is Beat Me Up
While Jackie Chan's previous film Dragon Lord (1982) did not have as much local success as Chan wanted* his next film Project A would be an artistic and commercial success. It is the maturation point for Jackie as a filmmaker and would start a string of successes that would help establish Chan as an action auteur. He directed, starred, co-written and even hired two "brothers" in Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao (they had grown up together in the same opera troupe and performed as the Seven Little Fortunes amongst others; Sammo was already an established success at this time and certainly is a prodigious presence in this movie) in the first film where they all had decent acting time -- kudos to those who can name the first film they acted in together.

Dragon Ma (Jackie Chan) is a sergeant in the Hong Kong Water Police where pirates are problematic on the coastline (they would remain an issue even past WWII), his department is poorly financed, there are interdepartmental squabbles with the landlubber police and their haughty commander Captain Chi (Kwan Hoi-San) and his nephew Inspector Hong Tin Chi (Yuen Biao: Knockabout) and they just had their remaining ships blown up real good (nice model sets in that scene). Project A is the codename to combat these buccaneers. However, it looks bad for the Water Police when they get merged back into the main police force and there is a plot to steal rifles and be sold to the pirates headed by Lo San Po (Dick Wei: The Five Venoms) who ultimately does not seem that bad to me. Later the pirates make the ultimate mistake in kidnapping a ship with a Rear Admiral aboard and take them hostage. This leads to Dragon Ma eventually teaming up with wayward thief and gambler Fei (Sammo Hung) and Inspector Hong to combat these irascible swashbucklers.

There are several stunts in this movie that are truly amazing. Much has been stated about the clock tower fall inspired by Harold Lloyd in Safety Last and with good reason. It is a superlative stunt and still one of my favorites as well as Jackie too. Jackie hangs by a clock hand about 50 feet above the surface and lets go to crash through two cloth awnings until the rude smacking into the ground proving that gravity is indeed a harsh mistress. It would be the first "superstunt" Jackie would do in a film and which would soon be a reoccurring theme in his movies to risk his life to please the audience. All three takes of this life-threatening drop are available to see on the film: two are shown in the movie and one is shown in the outtakes at the end. Every take looks quite painful. Leading up to this situation is another quick stunt that was quite dangerous. He climbs a flag pole to the top while handcuffed so he can unwrap himself from that mast and escape his predicament. But you look at how high he is from the concrete floor below and realize that if he messes this stunt it could be much worse than the fall through the awnings.

The comedic fighting in this film is also quite adroit and amazing in its action direction led by Jackie and Sammo. The first scene between the water and land police is a crazy melee of kung fu, throwing objects and spaghetti. It is quite reminiscent of an updated western bar fight. The Keatonesque bicycle chase and action sequence is a brilliant combination of the two. While the scene certainly had been influenced by such films as Sherlock Jr., especially in the bicycle camera view towards the end, Jackie gives it such a unique touch that makes it such an aesthetically pleasing and entertaining spectacle. Add in several other fight scenes and a fantastic finale with the three brothers and the antagonist and you have quite a satisfying film.

Project A was a hit in Hong Kong (19M HK dollars box office) and found critical support there as well. Jackie Chan would be nominated for Best Actor for Hong Kong Film Award; however, this film would win Best Action Design (Jackie Chan's Stuntman Association was even nominated against itself that year in Wheels on Meals) an award it truly deserved. It is also an important film for Hong Kong cinema. It helped push action movies into modern day locales and away from the Qing era and before dominated themes (though this film is considered a period film since it takes place in early 20th century).

While the film may not know what to do with female characters like Wong Man-Ying and the plot is not the most sublimely cohesive -- there is a grenade scene early in the film which seemed a bit excessive, not that funny and did not seem to fit -- this film is consistently fun and beautifully directed (cinematographer Cheung Yiu-Jo does not get enough credit for the work he has done with Jackie Chan). Action aficionados certainly talk about this film though it is somewhat overshadowed by Police Story (one of my favorite films) when they discuss the oeuvre of Jackie Chan. With the humor, the dangerous stunts with complete disregard for human life and the awesome action scenes it is easy to recommend this. I certainly love this film and find multiple viewings rewarding. There does remain one question that I will resolve soon: which film is better: this or the sequel?

The DVD I have of this movie is the slightly antiquated Media Asia R0 which is uncut but not as preferable as the R2 HKL release or the R3 Fortune Star release if you are region free. I do prefer it over the Dimension release which is cut, dubbed-only and a modified score. You can find a variety of links explaining the differences between the uncut and the Disney release but all you need to know is that the end credits are cut (like in Dragon Lord). Anyone who would cut the "ouchtakes" of these movies does not understand the audience who would purchase these DVDs. One huge negative of this is that you miss one take of the clock tower fall where things do not go quite right.

* I feel it has been overstated as being a flop since it was a success in Japan and made a modest amount of money in Hong Kong. The idea that this film was a flop was possibly done to increase the stature of Project A, but regardless Project A is a seminal movie in the history of Hong Kong cinema. I do think if Golden Harvest had any qualms about helping finance this film the presence of Sammo Hung during one of his most popular periods certainly soothed any worries.
Reviewer Score: 9