Project A, made in 1983, marked Jackie Chan’s return to the Hong Kong film industry after his first attempt to crack the American film market (resulting in Battle Creek Brawl and a cameo in Cannonball Run). It reunited the three opera school brothers — Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao — in a huge period comedy with a very liberal dose of action scenes, and earned a ridiculous amount of money at the HK box office at the time. Nowadays, there are good versions available on DVD from several distributors, and it shows every now and then on both SBS and World Movies here in Oz.
There’s a good reason for that, too. It’s one of Jackie’s best films, showcasing some of his best stuntwork, some excellent funny moments, and some good performances (both in acting and in fighting) from all involved. It’s always a treat to see all three opera brothers on screen at once, and they work particularly well together here.
The plot concerns Marine Police officer Dragon Ma (Jackie Chan), who is about to go off once again to battle pirates on the high seas, something which hasn’t entirely been successful on previous attempts. Everyone knows it, and the government seem to view the Marine Police as a bit of an embarrassment, while the regular police participate in quite a robust inter-service rivalry with them. This erupts into a bar fight early in the film, complete with much slapstick, breaking bottles and facefuls of spaghetti.
Just as they’re about to set out, however, the Marine Police’s ships are blown up, sabotaged by miscreants meeting at a swish VIP club in town. They’re negotiating with the pirates for the sale of 100 police rifles, something that would really tip the balance of power in the pirates’ favour. This is overheard by Fei (Sammo Hung), a mahjong-playing petty criminal who just happens to be a friend of Dragon’s, from before he joined the marine police.
Meanwhile, the Marine Police are disbanded, made regular police and put under the command of Captain Chi (Yuen Biao). Captain Chi subjects them to hard training in a series of vignettes, broad parodies of these “training an elite force” scenes. Captain Chi and Dragon Ma set out to find out who is supporting the pirates, while Fei looks for a way to make some ready cash while looking out for his friend…
Project A is really a light-hearted adventure film (I bet someone, somewhere’s called it a ‘romp’), with a great deal of slapstick and broad comedy in it. There’s a lot more to it than that, though. The celebrated clock tower fall in the middle of the film is a reference to Harold Lloyd’s stunt in 1923’s Safety Last!, and Jackie and Sammo draw from 70s martial arts cinema and Chinese opera in several scenes. Each action sequence (and there are a lot of them) is meticulously choreographed, from the balletic mayhem of the bar-room brawl at the start of the film to the bicycle chase through alleyways near the end. Dick Wei is gloriously over-the-top at the pirate leader Sam Pau, scowling and roaring his way towards the inevitable battle against Dragon and his buddies.
The adventures of Dragon Ma in Project A and Project A: Part II (a sequel that’s every bit as good as its predecessor) are thoroughly worth watching. See Jackie Chan at the height of his powers, working with a cast of 80s Hong Kong’s finest!