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Project A Series
Following up their work on the very nice Police Story Trilogy box set, Fortune Star are once more resurrecting some classic Jackie Chan movies, this time the equally popular Project A Series. These historical adventures set in early 1900's Hong Kong deftly mix action and comedy, and find Jackie at the top of his game. Both films, directed by Chan himself, nicely exploit his likeable persona and physical prowess, and are arguably among the best of his works.
Project A from 1983 stars Jackie as Dragon Ma, officer in the HK Royal Coast Guard at the turn of the 20th Century. Unsuccessful in their many attempts to capture a band of pirates pillaging their territorial waters, Dragon's unit is disbanded and all of the men absorbed into the land-based police force with whom they have been bitter rivals. The rag-tag group doesn't take particularly well to the new assignment. After being humiliated and almost thwarted from capturing a known criminal by his own superiors, Dragon throws away his career and vows to take down the pirates himself, reluctantly assisted by former friend turned scam artist Fei (played by the great Sammo Hung).
The film is quite silly but a lot of fun, thanks to the frequent kung-fu battles and Jackie's insane determination to put himself in all sorts of real physical danger for the benefit of his audience's amusement. Many of the corny jokes don't translate into English well, but the slapstick physical comedy is better measured than in many Chan pictures. The movie works best when there is no dialogue at all, such as the raucously funny bicycle chase, which takes plenty of advantage of Jackie's talent for incorporating props into his fights and action stunts. Sammo Hung is also a huge plus as the comic relief, and if the movie has one serious flaw it's that there isn't nearly enough of him. The plot is fairly thin and some of the humor a little lowbrow, but when the kicks start flying, not to mention the bodies, furniture, and anything else within Jackie's reach, it's great entertainment.
Since Project A was a big success, the inevitable sequel followed in 1988. Project A Part II (onscreen title Project A II) picks right up where the last one ended, with the now-defeated pirates swearing revenge. As if that weren't enough to build a movie around, Dragon also has to tend with crooked cops, gangsters, revolutionaries, and government assassins. The poor guy's got his hands full! The first picture was fun, but the sequel is a significant improvement all around. Sadly, Sammo doesn't return, but everything else really clicks. The movie has a better plot, better characters, better integration of humor, and even better fight and stunt choreography. The film features one wild, inventive action sequence after another. Highlights include the big restaurant brawl, the battle in a soy mill, and a tussle inside an aviary. There's also a marvelous comedy moment when (a baby-faced) Maggie Cheung has five sets of opposing characters in her small apartment at the same time and must maneuver deftly to hide each of them from the others.
Jackie doesn't do wire-fu and uses slo-mo sparingly; instead, the crazy fool just throws himself into all manner of death-defying stunts with abandon. You feel his pain when he takes a particularly hard tumble, because you can see that it's really him doing it, not some stunt double or a visual effects artist. Not always do the movies themselves live up to the enthusiasm with which he makes them, but Project A is a better than average Chan picture and Project A Part II is one of his best, a superb mix of the comedy and action formula that he's been developing for years.
Fortune Star's box set contains both movies in their original Cantonese language and full-length Asian cuts. The discs are encoded in the NTSC video format without region coding and will function in any American DVD player.
Both movies are presented in their 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratios with anamorphic enhancement, and you truly need the full width of the screen to appreciate how well choreographed the fight scenes are. As indicated on the packaging, they have been "Digitally Remastered", and keeping their origins in mind they look pretty good.
The source elements used for both transfers are very clean. Colors are decent and black level depth reasonable. The image is a little on the soft side and has only mediocre detail in wide shots, but also fortunately has very little edge enhancement. Despite the gap of 5 years between their productions, the movies look very similar to one another. Part II is perhaps slightly softer and in certain scenes has a greenish tinge, but overall they both look fine for Hong Kong productions of the period.
As they have been doing with their other catalog titles, Fortune Star remixed the soundtracks into both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround options. Unlike the contemporary shoot-'em-ups of the Police Story or Better Tomorrow films, the Project A audio does not seem to have as much intrusive replacement of sound effects, perhaps because it's just not as easy to replace kicking and punching sounds as it is gunshots. As a consequence, neither movie sounds as rejuvenated as those others.
The sound on both movies is rather dull and unimpressive. The high-end is shrill, and the newly beefed-up bass comes out overly boomy. Very little stereo or surround dimensionality has been attempted. When we do get surround directionality in the first movie, it sounds very artificially processed and not organic to the film. Part II fares better in this regard, feeling more natural. Dialogue is a little hollow and will require amplification. Most of the dialogue was originally ADR recorded and still has some minor sync issues.
The original monaural tracks have also been provided in Dolby 2.0 mono for the purists (thank you for that), but have not had any restoration work done. These tracks are much more shrill and uncomfortable to listen to. They also have worse audio sync. It seems to me that perhaps the movie's ADR was always slightly off sync, and Fortune Star has cued up the 5.1 mixes to keep the sound effects correct even if it means the dialogue is a little off, while the mono mixes are the opposite. Not being a Cantonese language speaker, I was personally less bothered by dialogue lip sync and much more bothered when sound effects hit a second before the onscreen action. The mono tracks really feel more like an old, badly-dubbed kung-fu movie, despite being in their original language.
In my opinion, the DTS tracks are the best option for both movies, as they sound smoother and cleaner when amplified. I recommend a volume boost, however, as they need some juice to get some life into them.
A Mandarin dub is also available in Dolby Digital 5.1. English subtitles have been provided, along with both Traditional and Simplified Chinese. The English translation is decent, though many of the jokes in the first film just don't translate.
Both discs offer your choice of English or Chinese menus. Each movie includes the original as well as newly edited trailers (the new trailers trash). Also available on every disc are photo galleries that can be viewed either as still images or part of an automated slide show.
Disc 1 includes three deleted scenes with optional English subtitles. All of them are good and help to clarify the plot. I think all of them should have been left in the movie, especially the training scene. We also have a short featurette called NG Shots that is an EPK-style assembly of behind-the-scenes footage mostly focusing on Jackie's stunt flubs (how has this guy not gotten himself killed?).
Exclusive to Disc 2 is Someone Will Know Me, a vintage 13-minute documentary about the supporting players in Jackie's stunt team. This seems to have been prepared for American TV and has a cheesy English voiceover, but the piece is genuinely interesting and you really get a feel for the personalities of some of these usually unheralded men.
No ROM supplements have been included.
Two classic Jackie Chan movies in one very nice box set. The digitally remastered picture quality is pretty decent on both, probably the best either has looked on home video. The sound, though remixed, is still limited by its origins, but it's fine for what it is. The DVDs are region-free and reasonably priced at most Asian retailers. It's a bargain. Definitely recommended. Have fun.
Armour of God Series
A Better Tomorrow Trilogy
A Chinese Ghost Story Trilogy
Infernal Affairs Trilogy
John Woo Collection
Once a Thief
Once Upon a Time in China I, II, III
Police Story Trilogy
Sammo Hung Action Collection