If the most innovative and enjoyable aspect of Jackie Chan’s films is his fusion of silent era slapstick with martial arts fight choreography then it doesn’t get more fun than Project A (1983). In Project A, which is set in the nineteenth century, Chan plays a seaman who gets drafted into the police force to battle gangsters and pirates. There’s a nationalist overtone to Chan’s romanticized depiction of nineteenth century Hong Kong.
In Project A the Chinese, in the form of Chan and Yuen Biao’s characters, are the voices of reason and justice. They stand against imperial corruption by the British and those pirates that terrorize their ships. It is easy to miss the politicizing of Project A with all of the stunts and gags, but it is the defining feature of the movie. It’s a sense of national pride that unites Chan, Biao and Sammo Hung (who plays a thief) to fight the evil pirate played by Dick Wei.
But what makes a Jackie Chan movie worth watching isn’t the filmmaker’s politics, it is his unbelievable stunt work. In typical Jackie Chan fashion fight choreography is combined with physical gags. Project A isn’t much for plot, it just barrels along rapidly from set piece to set piece, capitalizing on Chan’s prowess as a physical performer. Chan wears his influences on his sleeve in Project A with a direct homage to the Harold Lloyd classic Safety Last! (1923).
Project A zips along almost too quickly though. While it is Chan’s best showcase as a martial artist and physical comedian it lacks the emotional underpinnings of a film like Police Story (1985). None of the characters in Project A is developed beyond either their archetype of their celebrity persona. While a film like Project A may not need emotional dimension to retain most audiences attention, to those who become bored with or confused by elaborate fight scenes Project A is bound to be boring.