Project A Review

Foreign film fans dread the word “Americanization,” so much so that it might as well be four-letters long and be referring to their mothers, and that’s more mature than what happened to Project A.

This is an ’80s martial arts dream project, Jackie Chan teamed with Sammo Hung and Biao Yuen for a bit of seafaring escapism. Then, in comes an American distributor who slashes the opening credits to replace them with an an embarrassing CG pirate flag, cuts out the entirety of the soundtrack to replace it with shameless, lifeless synth, and dubs it with the most hackneyed accents possible.

Oh, and there are fight scenes cut. Seriously.

The logic is mind-boggling, especially since most translations end up slashing dialogue or trimming some of the fat from the narrative, but no. Project A suffered the elimination of its hallmark, its bread and butter, and as distressing as it is, quite a bit of its entertainment value.

Narrative be damned, Project A fumbles from one scene to next, its fun, lively Navy vs. cop struggle utilized for all its worth until it turns into a confusing mis-mash of character criss-crossing. In come stolen guns, pirates, shady characters, convicted murderers, and players who change sides with alarming frequency.

Some of that lies direct in Project A’s lap, while the rest is in the hands of the carefree dubbing. What can be destroyed, at least not with any totality, are the fights… err, the ones that remain anyway. With free-for-alls that are crafted entirely for their scale beginning with a vicious piece of mayhem in a bar and concluding with a wacky pirate conflict, nothing Project A does feels miniscule. Falls are tremendous: off balconies, through tables, onto upright chairs, and most memorably, from the face of a clock.

Chan’s insistence on paying tribute to the grand clock hanging from Harold Llyod’s Safety Last resulted in Chan performing the stunt three times, without wires, and without padding. Of course, the American cut excises the third attempt from the end credits, because who would want to see that?

When it’s untouched, the magic of Project A just glistens, including a meticulously crafted bike chase/brawl that is simply unimaginable if you’re not in the mind of these action stars. The free-flowing editing keeps each stunt in line and logical, a hallmark of any Chan-related fight sequence. In its purest form, Project A ranks amidst Chan’s/Hung’s/Yuen’s most eclectic, energetic, and aggressive. Truncated? It’s stunted and restricted, and that’s not fair.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Because the Stateside treatment can actually get worse, there’s this AVC encode from Echo Bridge who clearly care about the content as much as Miramax did when they licensed it. Crushed onto a single disc four pack, compression runs rampant, reaching ludicrous levels within darker environments. In Project A, there are a lot of nighttime or dim interiors.

The first 10-minutes are a tragic mess, saddled with a case of judder before moving into the bar where a blue scratch runs through most of the scene. Even when the print is stable, it’s been haphazardly handled with excessive damage and little to no concern has been made towards keeping it intact. This has clearly been sourced from aged elements, and mastered as rapidly as it could be cranked out.

Colors overstep their boundaries with bleeding primaries and overly rich flesh tones. When it doubt, take the easiest way out to make it appear lively apparently. Black levels are domineering too, forging ahead and forgetting that shadow detail is actually allowed to exist. While not readily apparent, it’s likely there some contrast boosting applied too. That would explain the elevated, aggressive grain which doesn’t seem logical even from a low level film stock. It’s made all the worse by the suffocating encode that clumps it all together.

Project A’s North American HD debut is one step shy of a total loss. Appreciable detail is left, just spotty. Resolution boosts this presentation over muddier, lower res DVD counterparts for sure, even if it can be called a minimalist boost. Sweaty close-ups will reproduce individual beads of sweat, and pores squeeze their way through the swarming encode on a few occasions to find a way out of their confines. It’s not enough to give it a pass, but at least there’s a sense that if a caring studio lands this one, future editions could shine.

Video ★★☆☆☆ 

Audio materials are in better condition than the visual brethren, maintained without any flagrant errors, unless of course the dubbing is personally considered an error. It should be. Anyway, pushing rants to the side, fidelity is crisp, letting dialogue out without any scratchiness or skips. Even if it’s clearly not natural, the dubbed words sound in place, not studio recorded as so many of these tend to be.

A handful of explosions fill the space afforded to this DTS-HD 2.0 mix, while other directional effects are meager at best. Fights situate themselves evenly with limited directionality even as objects like barrels roll on by. Crowds are contained and shattering glass or stray objects never break out. It’s mediocre, but considering all else, that’s not such a defect.

Audio ★★★☆☆ 

Project A is given multiple commentaries, lush retrospectives with all involved, and a full slate of trailers.

Oh, wait, sorry. That was in a fantasy land where someone cared to give this film the special edition it deserves. There’s nothing here at all actually.

Extras ☆☆☆☆☆