'A' gai wak aka Project A (Hong Kong, 1983)
Directed by: Jackie Chan
Starring: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Biao Yuen
'A' gai wak juk jap aka Project A II (Hong Kong, 1987)
Directed by: Jackie Chan
Starring: Jackie Chan, Maggei Cheung, David Lam
Despite what one may think while reading this blog, I am fascinated by popular, pure entertainment, when it's done right... And there aren't many instances in film history when a group of filmmakers can make the claim they made entertaining movies that were praised for their artistic merits. It was the case with classic silent Hollywood comedies and actor-directors like Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin. It is the case, recently, with the hot streak of Pixar animations. And, for martial arts pictures, it was the case for Hong Kong produced movies in the 70s and 80s. As a performer (actor would be, on one hand, a compliment and, on the other, a grave understatement), director, choreographer and comedian, Jackie Chan stand out as one of the (if you will indulge me) auteurs of this time and genre and his movies are a unique combination of action, death-defying (literally) stunts, slapstick comedy and skillful storytelling.
In "Project A", Jackie Chan is Sergent Dragon Ma of the Hong Kong Coast Guard, sometime in the beginning of the 20th century, who also gets trained as a police officer. Throughout the movie, he brings down corrupt businessmen and a vicious band of pirates that terrorize the ocean coast. In "Project A II", Dragon Ma becomes a police inspector and he is quickly pitted against his corrupt and vengeful predecessor, but also against local gangsters, a group of anti-colonialist rebels, emissaries of the Chinese empress and a few pirates that escaped his plans in the first movie. The second movie has a lot more going on and the action set pieces don't seem to fit the plot as well. There's also an ambiguous political message and possibly too many characters than a director/screenwriter like Chan can keep track of. So I prefer the first movie, but I enjoy both of them to a great extent.
As I mentioned before, both films are full of martial arts sequences, action set pieces and stunts, that are carefully timed to create a narrative all of their own. They have become landmarks in film history, such as the bicycle chase in the first movie or the finale of the second one. And, of course, there are the homages that Jackie Chan (an admirer of classic silent comedies) brings to Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. In the first movie, he hangs from a clock tower in the manner of Lloyd in "Safety Last!", but after that he drops to the ground in a long fall that - according to various takes shown in the movie and in the blooper reel at the end - was shot at least three times. In "Project A II", right before the end, there's a homage to "Steamboat Bill, jr.", when Chan (like Keaton before him) survives the fall of a large wooden structure on top of his head.
Jackie Chan movies are fun, engaging and entertaining. And since the choreography involves the camera movements and angles just as much as it does the actors or the sets, Chan is also a visually creative and skilled director (although that aspect may be missed among all the fighting going on). So there's no reason not to relax in his company every once in a while.