Review for Jackie Chan's PROJECT A & PROJECT A PART II
Eureka know exactly how to proceed with their Jackie Chan films, or so I thought. Starting off with Drunken Master and then releasing Police Story 1 and 2 makes perfect sense. You want to get his most popular and best loved films out there in high definition first, before moving onto the more niche titles in his filmography. I can’t explain why they released City Hunter next, which is as niche as it gets, but that appears to have been a brief blip. Next we’re moving on to Jet Li’s finest, with the Once Upon a Time in China collection, but for October, we are being treated to two Jackie Chan classics in the Project A movies. The first Project A film is also notable in being the most memorable cinematic outing of the Three Dragons, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, and Sammo Hung.
Introduction: Project A
The sea-lanes are infested with pirates, and it is up to the Hong Kong coastguard to hunt down and apprehend the vicious corsairs. The coastguard is less than successful, its ships are notorious for getting lost, and the life expectancy of crews is risible. It’s a money-pit that particularly rankles the members of the police force, who haven’t had a pay rise in years. Dragon Ma is the plucky coastguard who is eager to prove himself, but when the latest flotilla is sabotaged before it even leaves port, the Governor of Hong Kong has enough, and disbands the coastguard, seconding all the crews into the rival police force.
This means some tortuous retraining at the hands of Captain Chi, but during their first mission to capture a criminal, Dragon is almost thwarted in the arrest by his corrupt superiors. He resigns in disgust, determined to defeat the pirates his own way. It doesn’t start well, when he gets involved with old friend Fei who plans to liberate some police rifles. The same rifles are destined for the pirates and soon Dragon has to run from the police, as well as some disgruntled brigands. But when the Admiral who has been called to defeat the pirates, is kidnapped by the very same, Dragon, Fei, and Chi will have to set aside their differences, dust off Project A and work together to defeat the criminals.
Picture: Project A
Project A gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc from a 2k restoration. It’s an impressive first impression, with a clean and crisp image with rich colours. The film has scrubbed up well, with no sign of print damage, while it looks properly filmic throughout. That’s more to do with the filters used and the anamorphic lenses (some frames show edge distortion from that), than it does from obvious film grain. If there is softness, it’s down to the source material, but if there is something to complain about, it’s the degree of black crush and lack of contrast in darker scenes. It’s most notable at the end of the film in the caves, and at night.
The production design in Project A is also something special. This was an era when most Hong Kong films were set in an indeterminate legendary past on mainland China, when a master would invariably instruct a student, to do battle (reluctantly) with whatever bad guy may be lurking. Either that or they would be set in contemporary times. Project A was unique in being set in a different historical period. While there are anachronisms, the look of the film is astounding. It evokes a lushness of the mid-colonial period, with the look of 19th Century Hong Kong, and the uniforms and costumes of the time. The transfer brings out the best of the frenetic action, breathtaking stunts and hilarious slapstick.
Sound: Project A
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Cantonese, as well as PCM 1.0 Mono Cantonese and a ‘classic’ English dub. My opinion of dubs on these films has been established in countless reviews, while I’m becoming more aware of late of how ineffective the surround upmixes are. If you don’t want the dialogue buried in the mix, the Cantonese mono track is the way to go. It may all be front and centre, but the action comes across well, the dialogue is clear, and there is no distortion or tinniness to put up with. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos.
Extras: Project A
The disc quickly boots to a static menu.
I think the absence of Bey Logan content is beginning to be felt on Eureka’s releases of old HKL titles, as for this release they’ve actually commissioned some original content for the extras.
The Interview with Tony Rayns is new, lasts 38:12 and he talks about Project A.
You’ll have seen the rest of the content before.
The Interview with Lee Hoi San lasts 22:03.
Interview with Yuen Biao lasts 18:06.
Interview with Dick Wei lasts 13:56.
Interview with Michael Lai lasts 17:27.
The latter is edited out of the feature Bey Logan documentary that was in the HKL 2-disc collection for Project A.
You get 10:12 of Deleted Scenes this time presented in 1080p.
You get the Alternate Ending Credits and Outtakes for 2:24.
The Lunar New Year Introduction lasts 2:26, and you get the 2k Restoration trailer for the film which lasts 4:26.
Introduction: Project A: Part II
The action comes to land, as Dragon is reassigned. Superintendent Chun is the rising star of the Hong Kong police force, but it’s an ascent that has been built on corruption and bribery. When his underhand nature becomes obvious even to the press, his superiors decide to find a politic way of removing him. The first step is to take one of the districts under his control and give it to the hero of Project A to clean up.
Dragon and his friends find Sai-Wan a ferment of corruption, where only one policeman is principled enough to refuse bribes, and organised crime works hand in hand with the police. When Dragon brings his own particular form of justice to Sai-Wan, Chun’s underhand livelihood is threatened. He plans to frame Dragon, using some Chinese revolutionaries. Things get complicated when agents of the dowager empress show up to put a stop to the little revolution. If that isn’t enough, the pirates who survived Project A have sworn to avenge their leader and kill Dragon.
Picture: Project A: Part II
Project A: Part II gets a similar treatment to the original film. It’s cleaned up a treat thanks to the 2k restoration, the image is clear and sharp, colours are consistent, and the print is stable. There is a filmic quality apparent throughout, thanks to the light film grain and the anamorphic lensing, but this time I had reason to stick the old Hong Kong Legends DVD into the player, and took the chance for a compare and contrast. And contrast is the key word here, as the HKL disc is a lot warmer an experience, emphasising the reds and yellows in the print, and generally brighter. The Blu-ray on the other hand has a cooler colour timing, and is generally a smidge darker, notable again in darker scenes (such as the theft of the diamond) where contrast is lacking and black crush is apparent. The Blu-ray looks much better than the DVD, in terms of detail and clarity, but it could have been better, and that goes for both films.
Sound: Project A: Part II
The reason I had to check the DVD is here, with the audio. You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Cantonese, and the default option of PCM 1.0 Mono Cantonese, with optional English subtitles, accurately timed and free of typos. The mono is the way to go, compared to the overcooked surround tracks, keeping things front and centre. But at 5:49 there was a missing line of dialogue. I tried in the 5.1 track and some muffled dialogue was there, but hardly clear, and not subtitled. It’s when I tried the HKL disc that I noticed that its 5.1 audio track was just the same. As I watched through the film, I noticed that there were moments in the PCM 1.0 mono where the dialogue had to compete with action and effects, or the music soundtrack, and this leads me to suspect that this might be a downmix. It’s the same kind of thing on the Police Story Blu-ray that was corrected with a disc exchange program (though its downmixed mono was the least of its problems to be rectified). Now this doesn’t in anyway detract from the viewing experience (apart from those few silent lip flaps), and I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but it is worth being aware of.
Extras: Project A: Part II
The HKL disc of Project A: Part II was pretty bare of extras, and having removed the Bey Logan material, there’s even less to work with, so Eureka have nabbed some extra features from other titles which work with this movie, and added some new content as well.
The Eureka disc boots to a static menu, and the first thing you’ll note is the Project A: Part II: The Export Cut. This is shorter at 98 minutes, and is presented at 1080p upscale, and with a DD 1.0 mono English track (which precluded me spending too much time with it). One thing you will note is the brighter colour timing.
The Interview with Tony Rayns is new for this disc, and last 36:02, as he talks this time about the sequel.
The Interview with Michael Chan Wai-Man was on the HKL disc, and here lasts 19:40.
The Interview with Stuntman Mars lasts 15:26, and was originally on the Project A disc.
Jackie Chan: King of Action lasts 30:34, and the interview with the action superstar was originally on the HKL Police Story 2 disc.
I haven’t seen Someone Will Know Me before, a 13:12 featurette that goes behind the scenes with the Jackie Chan stunt team.
Finally you get the Original Theatrical Trailer and the Export Cut trailer.
With over three hours of high definition comedy action, the Eureka Entertainment Project A Collection is a treat. Naturally if you are looking for depth of character and intricacies of plot, then you probably took a wrong turn somewhere, but for slapstick, kung-fu mayhem, and good old-fashioned good guy versus bad guy face-offs at a relentless pace, you simply can’t go wrong with the Project A movies.
Project A is my favourite of the two, featuring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao leading a movie together for the first time. The period setting and the piratical villains make it a singular Hong Kong film. The input of Sammo Hung is apparent in the style of the set pieces, and it’s a chance for the actors to show off their skills. The plot is pretty much irrelevant, but this is a film to savour, not analyse. While the pirates provide the impetus for the story, they remain invisible for much of the film, allowing the main characters to spend more time trying to stay one step ahead of each other than they do worrying about the villains. It’s only when the pirates get serious that the three heroes put aside their differences and work together to deal with the problem.
Project A II is a different animal. Made 4 years after the first film, it stars a Jackie Chan who has found his persona, and who knows what stories he wants to tell. He carries this film alone and it shows in the style of the film. While the comedy is no less raucous, the sheer goofball antics of the first film have been restrained, the action is if anything more frenetic, and there is a stronger plot running through the film. Jackie Chan’s earnest underdog character is brought to the forefront as he single-handedly battles corruption at the heart of the police force. The nautical flavour of the earlier film has been lost, and while the turn of the century period shines through, Project A II never feels as anything other than a Police Story (with a hint of the Untouchables) transposed to an earlier setting. It still delivers in terms of pulse pounding action and delicious comedy, but does feel a little generic in comparison to the earlier film. There is also more of an overt message to Project A II, not only because of the revolutionaries fighting the corrupt leadership on the mainland, but many of Jackie Chan’s later Hong Kong movies had a strong thread of self empowerment and civic responsibility to them, and that comes through strongly here.
For sheer comedy and unexpurgated action, Project A is perfect, while the sequel delivers more of a plot, with the stunts and action sequences are even more energetic if possible. I’m beginning to appreciate Project A: Part II a little more when it comes to its story now, but I still prefer the original. Both films deliver in terms of excitement, with homage paid to silent stars like Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. Visual spectacle like this, accomplished without the aid of wires or CGI, is becoming increasingly rare. That was true 13 years ago when I reviewed the DVDs and its even truer today. These films really are timeless classics.
You can get greedy; you’ll always want more from a movie release. I’m a little annoyed that I can’t retire those DVDs as they still have exclusive extra features. It may take some time for some people to get used to the new colour timing for the films, and the mono audio, especially for Project A: Part II could be better. But really, you’ll have never seen these films look as good as they do in this Blu-ray collection, unless you saw them in the cinema back in the eighties. I just want my retail copy so I can take a look at the booklets that come with this release.