1983, 101 minutes, 35mm, in Cantonese with English subtitles
Directed by: Jackie Chan
Starring: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Dick Wei, Wu Ma, Chin Kar-lok
Tuesday, June 25 @ 6:30pm (buy tickets)
The first flop of Jackie’s new career had just happened. Dragon Lord, his previous martial arts movie, had gone out of control and failed at the box office. People were disappointed and the shine was off Chan’s golden boy status. He needed a hit. He and his screenwriter Edward Tang put their heads together and tried to think of what to do. While Chan sunk into a depression, Tang went to the movies, watching Raiders of the Lost Ark again and again. Then he came to Jackie with his idea: no more kung fu, instead how about a movie with pirates, and cops, and the coast guard, and swashbuckling action, and giant stunts. Inspired by the novelty, Chan went for it, and realizing that it was a massive risk he recruited his two brothers from opera school: big brother Sammo Hung, and little brother Yuen Biao. The result is a movie that crackles like lightning. It may be 30 years old, but it still feels new.
Chan plays Dragon Ma, a freewheeling coast guard sailor patrolling the pirate-infested waters of 19th century Hong Kong who finds himself out of a job when the entire fleet burns down. Transferred to the police department, Chan and his laidback coast guard buddies find themselves butting heads with the uptight, very British police force, led by the commander’s nephew, played by Yuen Biao. In an attempt to get a promotion, Chan teams up with a conman (Sammo Hung) to steal a load of rifles and then take credit for the arrest, but things go wrong and a boatload of colonial officials are kidnapped by pirates.
PROJECT A is powered by pure inspiration. When Jackie realized he didn’t have money for big stunts, he found a bunch of bicycles and staged an alley chase that has become a classic. This is the first time Chan went in for big stunts and they are insane, including a fall from a clock tower that took him three days to muster the courage to make. Dick Wei is on hand as the pirate king who turns up for the big final battle, leading to a new career for this brawler who would become a favorite Jackie Chan bad guy. But the real beauty onscreen is in the chemistry between Jackie and his brothers, Sammo and Yuen. The three of them have fallen out with each other over the years, patched things up, and fallen out again, but they all grew up with the same master, with the same training, in the same school, at the same time. When they act together onscreen it’s like being privy to a family rumble, and when they fight it’s as real brothers. The way they anticipate each other’s moves, work with each other’s bodies, and complement each other so well is a thing of beauty. Never again would they be this in synch. While PROJECT A captures the transformation of Jackie Chan into a director of more than just martial arts movies, it also captures the powerful bond between these three brothers. It’s enough to bring you to tears when you’re not busy picking your jaw up off the floor.