AKA A GAI WAAK 2
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: NOW, in EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT’S ‘JACKIE CHAN’S PROJECT A AND PROJECT A PART TWO’ BOXSET
RUNNING TIME: 106 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
On the eve of the 1911 Chinese Revolution, a small group of pirates vow to kill Dragon Ma in revenge for their captain’s death. Meanwhile, Ma is transferred to be in charge of the district of Sai Wan after the Superintendent, Chun, is thought to be staging his arrests, and sees that all of his policemen except one have been taking bribes and are too cowardly to arrest local gangsters. Chun decides to implicate Ma in the theft of the Governor’s diamond pendant, while also in the city are a group of revolutionaries and agents of the Dowager Empress….
Opinion tends to vary on whether Project A Part 2 is inferior or superior to its illustrious predecessor. To my mind it does have a few plusses, like more female characters and more elaborate sets, but just falls a bit [but only a bit!] short by comparison. It’s still a cracking period action comedy full of invention and containing a nice pacifist message, but it doesn’t flow quite as well and sometimes slows down considerably. The plot may be more complex but on a first viewing the storytelling gets a bit confusing in the second half, it being hard to keep track of who’s on who’s side and what’s they’re trying to achieve even though it’s quite simple really. And it’s interesting to compare Chan’s fighting style in the two movies. As he often did, Sammo Hung made Chan more fierce and no-nonsense in the first one, but left to his own devices for the sequel, Chan employs more humorous bits in his fighting and seems a bit less adept at defeating his opponents, even though he’s still a wonder to watch and the film is still a terrific showcase for his talents, talents that were inevitably diminished when he went to the United States to make movies. I can see why some prefer it, and both films are classics of their kind.
It was the first of Chan’s many sequels to earlier films that he would make, though it was largely the fact that Emperor Showa of Japan said that he was such a fan of Project A that led him to make a follow-up. His last few films had been box office giants, but he’d badly fallen out with his childhood buddies Hung and Yuen Biao whilst making Dragons Forever, so even if they hadn’t been busy filming Eastern Condors at the time it’s doubtful that they would have come on board for this film anyway. Again the script was by Chan and Edward Tang, with some input from Yu Ting. Chan’s most expensive film to date required the creation of an enormous city set and costumes being imported from England. However, Chan took so long to perfect some of his scenes that he began to run out of time and had to perform some stunts without any rehearsals, while the chili peppers he chews during one scene were real because the prop department couldn’t make the fake peppers in time. But his efforts paid off in terms of box office. This time the export version lost nine minutes, including the opening recap of the first movie, much of the footage involving the pirates, part of the comedy ‘how many people can you fit in a room’ scene, and even some shots from the first major fight scene. By contrast the US video/DVD version only lost four minutes of mainly minor trims to many scenes, and this time kept the bloopers and the original score.
The opening ‘highlights’ recap from Project A introduces a very Police Story-like theme song sung by Chan about modest heroism – in fact come to think of it a fair bit from that film influences things in this one. Chan then chooses to gradually build up to his first big action scene, teasing us with Superintendent Chun defeating two robbers and Ma evading some of his cops who try to beat him up with their truncheons before he decides to tell them that he’s their new superintendent. He’s then offered a bribe, but does find one decent cop in his new district, Ho, so along with him and a few Coast Guard buddieshe still sets out to rid the town of the gambling dens and prostitution that ruin the city for him, leading to a near-recap of a situation in Project A when he tried to arrest some crooks in a hotel. However, even in this scene it’s notable how Chan has modified his fighting style a bit from the first film where the influence of Hung, who liked his martial arts tough and serious, was very strong as it also was on the Chan films that he fully directed around the time. While he’d certainly done it before, it was Police Story where he brought in using props and his environment to a large degree, and Project A 2 sees him add far more humour than before to the fighting too and be much more defensive, often running away and even losing fights, an approach he would then maintain through much of his subsequent work. He even does what some may consider to be cheating at times, such as rubbing chili in opponents’s faces. It makes his character more relatable and the action more unpredictable, though there are times where you want Chan to let rip because you know how incredibly skilled he is!
There’s quite a lot going on in this film. There are Chinese revolutionaries around and government agents trying to suppress them, corrupt Chun who seems to be dealing with both factions, and some pirates out to avenge the death of San-Po. While Winnie Chi returns for a small cameo, there are more female characters and with a bit more to do. Yesan [Chan’s Police Story co-star Maggie Cheung] and her cousin Carina are flower sellers raising funds for the revolution, while Miss Pak is a revolutionary. Most of the characters, including some holding others at gun point, wind up in a crazy Marx Brothers-influenced comedy set piece set in Yesan’s house where everyone is hiding from everyone else. It must have been a nightmare to plan [it took ten days] and is very clever, though goes on for a bit too long. Ma also hides in a room by merging in with a painting, then accidentally locking lips with one of the figures in it as he moves away. This typifies Chan’s liking for using familiar gags but putting his own spin on them, not caring if his character may look silly – in fact he seems to prefer it. The comedy is never sophisticated – at one point somebody uses yelling into someone’s mouth as a cure for hiccups and it works – and a few jokes don’t really come off. Most of it raises at least a smile though. The script could have done a bit of work to give the plot more clarity in places, and one group of characters are converted to another side with ridiculous ease, while the uneven pacing lacks Project A’s smoothness. This film misses Hung and Biao too with none of his cast members possessing their magic and unique chemistry with Chan.
We get a final half hour of constant thrills and spills, fights going all over the place including even in a chicken plucking factory, as everyone is after a little black [not red] book. The fight in a thicket of bamboo sticks was reworked in Rush Hour 2, while the last five minutes virtually repeat the ending of Police Story and slightly better one of Buster Keaton’s most dangerous stunts. After running down a falling facade, Chan has a second one land on him. Keaton narrowly escaped injury because he was standing exactly where a hole was, but Chan has a thin section to poke his head through. All it would have taken for either of them to be killed onscreen would be to have been standing just a few inches out. The Jackie Chan Magic here also includes him fighting while handcuffed, and pulling a tablecloth out from under a large meal during a fight with the pirates which has an axe-catching gag repeated in Shanghai Noon. Quite often my favourite things he does are the smaller things, like his method of descending to a street, which are often carried out almost casually, as if he does things this way every day. His character isn’t so invincible as before, though Chan isn’t afraid to give Ma some flaws, like a bit of an ego when the police arrest the crooks he’s been fighting but he challenges the two leaders to a fight anyway. One of them is Shaw Brothers bad guy Wang Lung-Mai, the other Chan Wei-Man, a real-life cop who usually played Triad leaders, leading many to believe he actually was the head of a gang. Chan also lets Ma deliver a very pacifist speech which probably is his own philosophy on things. The revolutionaries want him to join him, but Ma doesn’t want to take place in such a thing that would cost the lives of many, though he supports what they’re trying to achieve and wishes them well.
Chan seems to be forming a genuine directorial style here that stylistically would reach its peak in Miracles [which is in some ways a spiritual successor to this one], with lots of slow pans showing off the meticulously constructed sets for this much more studio bound film, which are full of detail that sometimes threatens to detract attention from the main going-ons. Out of the cast members I haven’t mentioned, another Police Story alumni Bill Tung, gets some fine comic moments as he finds himself mending a leaky tap and getting handcuffed to a sofa. Michael Lai is again credited with the score, but apart from some reprises of material from the first film, the music sounds awfully like the work of Tang Siu Lam who scored Police Story 2, with its more conventionally poppy arrangements. It’s decent though occasionally seems at odds with what occurring on screen. In the end I still like Project A 2 just slightly less than its predecessor but, as with the first two Police Story films, there’s not that much in it really. Both films are evidence that Chan is one of cinema’s most inventive auteurs.
As with Project A, the sequel looks stupendous on Blu-ray and I don’t really need to say any more on that except that it’s a bit darker than the DVD. Again we have Cantonese mono and quieter 5.1 audio options though only 5.1 for the English soundtrack on the full version, which is a slightly better dub than Project A. The mono is my preferred choice as usual but the 5.1 seems quite faithful, with no added sounds.
Eureka have been able to include the Export Cut in SD in mono, and it’s really quite a good version, slightly faster paced and the room scene benefiting from a bit of cutting. While the Bey Logan audio commentary and making of are understandably missing, Eureka have ported over the remaining special features from the Project A DVD, found a Chan featurette from another DVD and added another Rayns chat. He compares the two and goes into rather unnecessary detail about the plot, but offers an interesting possible reason as to why Project A Part 2 is unusually political, and details Chan’s comedy and how he followed another Hong Kong comedy star, Michael Hui. Overall good if a bit long winded as usual – though I never tire of hearing Rayns talk, he has a pleasant, unrehearsed manner. Chan Wai-Man then goes into his martial arts school background, talks about competitions, his two roles for Chan, and Bruce Lee. Stuntman Mars, who’s very visible in both Project A films but also turns up in many other Chan movies, then chats about his career and staging fights and as well as telling of how he got his name. The Chan interview also talks to some others including Sammo Hung, and we get a good overview of his style of action filmmaking. Chan often seems just a bit full of himself when he describes how he stages and films action. I don’t mind, and the guy’s still a hero of mine, but it’s quite noticeable. Someone Will Know Me concludes the special features. It’s a short but very sweet TV programme from 1988 which visits the set of Project A Part 2 during the filming of two of the major sequences and interviews three of the stuntmen including Mars.
While I personally don’t think it works quite so well, Project A 2 is still a most worthy sequel. Eureka’s boxset of the two films comes with my Highest Recommendation. More Please!
SPECIAL EDITION DETAILS:
*1080p presentation, sourced from brand new 2K restoration
*Original Cantonese audio track
*Restored 5.1 Cantonese and English audio options
*Optional English subtitles
*Project A Part 2: The Export Cut [90 mins]
*New video interview with Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns [36 mins]
*Interview with actor Michael Chan Wai-Man [20 mins]
*Interview with stuntman Mars [15 mins]
*Interview with Jackie Chan [30 mins]
*Someone Will Know Me [13 mins] – an archival featurette which includes interviews with stuntmen Mars, Chris Lee Kin-Sang and Rocky Lai
PLUS: A selection of rare archival content!
Box Set Exclusive – Collector’s booklets for each film, featuring new essays by James Oliver; rare archival imagery; and full credits for both films!