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" Two words for you: Duck! "
— Tate Donovan, Hercules

MRQE Top Critic

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You may have heard the word auteur in relation to film criticism. It literally means “author” and often refers to a film’s director. What it’s really getting at is a person who is completely responsible for a film, someone whose soul has been poured into the movie. Since moviemaking is such a collaborative effort, very few people who make movies can claim stylistic credit, among them, auteurs.

Although the French critics who coined the term in the late 1940s probably couldn’t imagine such an example, Jackie Chan is as much an auteur as you’re likely to see. Not only did he star in 1987’s Project A2 (the sequel to Project A and sometimes called Project B), he also wrote, directed, choreographed the stunts and fight scenes, and sang the theme song.

Criminals, Commies, and Cops

A true Jackie Chan film on a sparse widescreen DVD
A true Jackie Chan film on a sparse widescreen DVD

Set in colonial Hong Kong (and looking like That ’80s Show), the plot starts off with a group of pirates vowing revenge on Dragon (Jackie Chan), who killed their leader in the previous movie.

Meanwhile, Dragon, a seaman, is transferred to the Hong Kong police force. The commissioner suspects the chief inspector of corruption, and he wants an outsider to look into the matter.

On the streets of the city are three more factions: the crime lords who run the opium and gambling dens (take that, William Bennett), the well-meaning but misguided communists, and the imperial agents who are as corrupt as the cops and who want to stop the communists.

Gawk This Way

Of course, the first time through, you’ll probably forget all about the plot so that you can gawk at Jackie’s many impressive fight scenes, including a few stunts worthy of Buster Keaton.

My favorite is a scene in which Jackie is handcuffed to the crooked inspector when they get ambushed by six ax-wielding pirates. For a good five or six minutes, they dodge hatchets, jump over spinning furniture, and leap from balcony to balcony, all while shackled together.

The final action scene lasts twice as long, and ranges from warehouses to rooftops, and through the streets and markets of old Hong Kong (including a memorable scene involving hot peppers). It ends with a wonderful homage to Buster Keaton, who in Steamboat Bill, Jr. risked his neck by standing in place while a two-story wall (with a carefully placed window) fell down around him.

Picture and Sound

Thankfully, the DVD is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) format. I had previously seen a full-frame, pan-and-scan version, and I can say that the action scenes make much more sense, and flow more smoothly in the widescreen version: further proof that the film snobs who started letterboxing videos fifteen years ago were right.

The soundtrack is encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, which is fine. But I am very disappointed that the only soundtrack is a dubbed English-language version. There is no Chinese soundtrack. In an action movie, that’s usually a good choice — after all, who wants to be reading subtitles when there’s a Jackie Chan fight happening?

But the tradeoff is that the English-dubbed voices are sometimes ridiculously out of place. Most of the speakers sound American, but one cop has an bad Australian accent, another has a bad British accent, and the commie-imperialist double-agent has a laughable Cockney accent. Even Jackie, if he dubbed his own voice, sounds as though he’s speaking in a lower register, as though he’s putting on a cartoon voice. Maybe it isn’t even him. The English language credits don’t say.

DVD Extras

The only extra features on this DVD are four trailers for other movies being released on Dimension Home Video this month. I’d like to have seen the clip from Steamboat Bill, Jr., information on Project A, or even a filmography of Jackie Chan.

Conclusion

Jackie Chan is no longer an auteur. His most recent films have been made in the United States by American directors with major support (and control) by studios. He still controls most aspects of the stunts and fight choreography, but even those have been watered down by insurance costs, safety standards, and his own age.

If you’ve only seen The Tuxedo and Rush Hour, give Project A2 a look. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it is a more essential Jackie Chan film than anything he’s made in the last decade.