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Project A boxset

 
 
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Project A

cast: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, and Dick Wei

director: Jackie Chan

106 minutes (15) 1983
widescreen ratio 16:9
Hong Kong Legends DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Project A (aka: A chi-hua) is something of a classic in kung fu circles. Made in 1983 at the height of what is still considered the golden age of Hong Kong filmmaking and starring Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung (perhaps better known in the west for his appearances on Walker, Texas Ranger and cable TV favourite Martial Law), Project A is responsible for some of kung fu's most enduring and iconic scenes. So why aren't I smiling?

This film has really put me through the wringer. I watched this film and was so profoundly unimpressed and bored by it that I started to wonder whether I have ever really enjoyed a kung fu film in my life. Maybe I wasn't 'getting it'. But upon further reflection, I have decided that the problem is that this is simply a dull film.

Umberto Eco once wrote that the way to tell that you are watching a porn film is if the director spends an unreasonable amount of time showing you stuff that normal films don't bother showing you like people driving or knocking on doors. Eco's observation may have lost its bite with the rise of the three hour long plotless videos featuring nothing but women gagging and retching from having a penis shoved too far down their throats, but the principle still stands today; if the interesting parts of your film can fit into a trailer then you are making a bad film. Project A for all its immaculate kung fu pedigree is an awful film.

The film is famous for a scene involving Chan fighting with a bicycle and another scene featuring him hanging off a clock in a Harold Lloyd style. These are famous and iconic scenes and with good reason as they prove why Jackie Chan is one of the biggest stars on the planet. However, once you look past these two scenes you're left with an hour and a half of tedium. The film revolves around Chan and his old friend Hung. Chan is a member of the coast guard but when it is dissolved due to its failure to deal with the pirates attacking Hong Kong he is transferred into the police. However, the police are corrupt and Chan teams up with his old criminal friend to steal some rifles, before a change of heart sees him decide to return to the fight against piracy and take charge of the coast guard before infiltrating the lair of the pirate king. The performances are weak, the dialogue atrocious and the plot knuckleheaded and overly long. The humour is atmosphere shattering and so broad as to be unlikely to amuse any but the most toothless of Chinese peasants. Simply put, without the two scenes mentioned previously, this is soporific stuff.

Compare Project A to films such Hero, House Of Flying Daggers and even the soppy and poorly paced Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and it is easy to see why Project A remained a cult film in the west while the other three enjoyed mainstream success. It's all very well being a magnificent athlete and doing all your own stunts but if the stunts make up no more than 20 minutes of your film then you're doing something wrong. Project A is an example of a poorly written action film that is completely reliant upon the quality of its action set pieces to carry what are terrible performances and writing. If the likes of Bad Boys 2 and Van Helsing are to be rubbished as empty-headed eye-candy then I see no reason for a double standard letting kung fu films off the hook for making mistakes we would not tolerate from a western filmmaker.
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