Film & DVD Review
Jackie Chan's heroic turn of the century Hong Kong cop finds himself caught in the midst of a fast-moving politcal intrigue. A group of Chinese revolutionaries are being hunted by agents of the Dowager Empress, and Jackie has to use all his courage, wits and physical prowess to keep the peace. This extravagant period film features some of Chan's most stunning action set-peices.
There aren't many people in Hong Kong cinema that can excite from the stunts in their films quite the way Jackie Chan can (or should that be could?). This film, Project A II, is the sequel to the film that contained one very infamous stunt from Jackie Chan, that stunt being him falling from the clock tower. Nothing in that stunt was faked, and it looked sore... very, very sore. Sequels being the way they are, expectations were set for something that was going to beat that incredible stunt.
Story-wise, Project A II follows on directly from the end of part 1. Dragon Ma (Jackie Chan) is regarded higher than ever after his success in defeating the pirates, and is seen as one of the most promising members of the law. However, a member of the police, Superintendent Chun, who is in charge of several precincts is known for being quite corrupt, and things start to get out of hand when a crime he got people to stage goes wrong. With the superiors knowing that something has to be done, they instruct Dragon Ma to work along side Chun in one of the most troublesome precincts. Once there, Ma and his close friends who work with him, discover that the entire police force in that precinct is corrupt and lazy, and not willing to arrest any of the known criminals still at large. These criminals are in league with Chun, with both helping each other out where necessary. In the mean time, Ma and his friends run into a group of Chinese patriots who are trying to gain support against the Manchurian government, while the Manchurian government officials are after them, letting no one stand in their way, not even the police.
There are obviously other elements and developments to the story that I have not gone into here, as you'll want to have something new in the story to look forward to! However, this is a Jackie Chan film and the aspects of the film that you are most likely to watch for are not the story. You want to see kung fu and comedy, and that is the criteria on which Project A II will be judged to have passed or failed. I'll cut to the chase and state the results from the start, Project A II passes, but not with flying colours.
While there are quite a number of fights throughout the film, not as many of them use the trademark Jackie Chan style of fighting where everything and anything can be used as a weapon. Most of the action is hand-to-hand with little interplay of props and random items. I found this to be a little disappointing, as the fights weren't as interesting as they could have been, with little to make them stand out from each other. There are two main exceptions to this, and these are the fights I enjoyed the most. The first is where Dragon Ma is handcuffed to Chun, and Ma is attacked by a group of pirates. The resulting chase with the two handcuffed together allows for some very funny moments as Ma and Chun try to hit the pirates as they would normally, only to find they are somewhat restricted! The other exception is the fight between the Manchurians and Ma. For me this is most memorable because of the use of the chillies!! I don't ever recall seeing chillies being used in a fight in any film before, and as the out-takes at the end show, they were real chillies!
Performances in general are of a decent standard. There will never be an Oscar winning performance in a Jackie Chan action flick, but no one is wooden or anything like that. The most credit has to go to Jackie Chan's stunt team. The falls and stunts which they perform deserve a lot of merit, as a lot of them look ridiculously painful, especially the main one. This stunt involves someone falling backwards off a first floor landing, down on to the ground, landing on and breaking a large vase on the way. It looks very impressive when seen on film, and it had me wincing in pain while watching it. However, for me it was the main stunt of the film, but it was not nearly as impressive as Jackie Chan's fall from part 1.
Watching older Jackie Chan films like this one offer a lot of insight into his Hollywood films. I don't know whether it is Jackie's idea or the Hollywood director's, but there are recycling of many moments in his US film. The most notable one taken from this film is one that is repeated in Shanghai Noon. In that film when Jackie is up against some Indians they throw two axes at him, which he avoids, just. He then grabs those axes and throws them back at the Indians, who calmly pluck them out of the air as if they were being handed to them. Well Project A II is where that set piece originated from. The only difference is that instead of Indians, here they have pirates.
Despite Project A II not being up to the standards of part 1, or a lot of his other Hong Kong films, I still recommend giving the film a watch. It is not as funny as it could have been, but it is still very funny and highly entertaining in many places.
Audio & Subtitles
While the Cantonese audio track is listed as being 5.1, the vast, vast majority of all the sound comes from the front centre speaker. I can't actually recall hearing any audio from the rear surrounds at all, although I imagine ambient effects would have been spread around. Despite this, the actual soundtrack was nice and clear and basically sounded pretty decent. In the fights, there is some nice bass on a lot of the impact noises, giving the fights a little bit more oomph!
The English subtitles are flawless with regard to spelling and grammar. Hong Kong Legends have been guilty of anglicising the subtitles on quite a few of their previous releases, but I wasn't aware of anything to that effect here.
The anamorphic widescreen film transfer is a little hit and miss in places. The standard varies throughout the film in most areas. Grain levels go from not really noticeable at all, to quite noticeable in other places. Colours range from being a little pale and washed out looking in some scenes, to being very vibrant and bold in others! Detail levels are a little more consistent looking, being reasonably soft at most times. Blacks aren't as deep as would have been hoped for, being greyer with not a huge amount of shadow detail. The film is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which means even on a widescreen TV there will be small black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. At the very top of the film print, in a little strip next to the black bar, there is some quite obvious at times colour distortion. That part of the print is slightly paler and bluer than the rest of the screen. Depending on the colours on screen at that position it may not be that noticeable, but at other times it definitely is. As it occurs for the films duration, I can only guess it is either a side effect of the film print restoration process (a similar thing was evident on HKL's The Prodigal Son, but next to the bottom of the print), or the print that HKL were given already had this damage. Lastly, there also appears to be a little picture distortion. It would appear that things that are meant to be vertical are distorted towards the centre of the picture. This can be seen clearly in the next screen grab.
DVD & Extras
For extras the Project A II DVD comes with a not bad helping, as you would expect from a HKL release. First off there is the obligatory audio commentary from Bey Logan. Next up you have two trailers for the film, the UK promotional one and the original theatrical one. Then you have the interviews section. First interviewed is Chan Wai Man, who plays Tiger in the film. This is a 20-minute interview and it has him talking about his experiences working with Jackie Chan, and his general martial arts career. The second interview features Bey Logan and a member of Jackie Chan's stunt team talking about the action scenes and stunts that were performed in the film. This runs in at 24 minutes, and is a very interesting watch. They talk about the number of takes each stunt took, how they made it as safe as possible, and just generally how it was all done. Lastly there are trailers for six other Hong Kong Legends titles.
I did enjoy Project A II, but it didn't have as much of a 'Wow' factor as I was hoping for. Because it is a sequel to Project A, which incidentally was the first Jackie Chan film I ever saw, it was always going to have to be much better than its predecessor to be regarded as highly. In that area it fails, but as a film in its own right it is entertaining. There are laughs, there are stunts, and it is enjoyable.
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