Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A great escalation of improbabilities (Project A Part II)

Holy Hong Kong Hi-jinks, it's time once again for the 1001 Movies Blog Club! I haven't weighed in on the weekly feature in close to two months, and clearly it is time to rectify that. And what better reason to dive back in than a peek into the impressive oeuvre of Mr. Action himself, Jackie Chan! Specifically, the Must-See film up for consideration is 1987's Project A Part II.

You might think that after such a long spell without any analysis of 1001 Movies entries, my cup of commentary would runneth over. But the truth is this is far and away the one movie from the Master List which has inspired the least reaction from me, emotionally and intellectually. It's not that I disliked it, found it painful to watch, felt my cognitive capacities were being insulted, took exception with the viewpoints the film was espousing, or any other potential criticisms. It simply struck me as utterly inessential and lacking any lasting impact. There's not a whole lot in the film that's worth discussing.

Don't get me wrong, I like plenty of martial arts movies, and I like Jackie Chan a lot, too. It's not as though I came into the viewing experience with a bunch of negative biases or an axe of some sort to grind. But if I were going to try to sell someone on the virtues of kung fu movies, or of Jackie Chan in particular, Project A Part II would not have any part in my strategy. There are better examples of the genre and the star in question, just within my own personal experience, and doubtless many more that would leap to mind for someone with a deeper or farther-reaching fandom than my own.

There seems to be a theme emerging this week, if you consider this movie alongside something like yesterday's subject. On a narrative level, Project A Part II is yet another movie where a bunch of things happen to and around our protagonist, who simply reacts and endures and perseveres and ultimately triumphs but doesn't in any way evolve. Now, to a large extent, this is actually a forgivable flaw, or at least one that fans tend to turn a blind eye to as inherent to the genre. The point of most martial arts movies is not well-developed character arcs; the whole point is the martial arts on display. That's even more true with Jackie Chan in particular, since he has such a distinct, dazzling style to his fight choreography, in the way he interacts with the environment and uses every surface and every loose object as a weapon, a shield, or a launchpad. He doesn't need to change, and frankly the plot itself doesn't need to be particularly cohesive or intricate or even make a lot of sense (which is certainly an accusation easily leveled at Project A Part II, particularly if you haven't seen Part I, for instance). A minimal, flat and functional "and then this happens" approach is perfectly acceptable because it's understood that the whole point is simply to string together a number of martial arts displays by getting the characters, such as they are, from one fight scene to the next to the next. Not to be excessively crass, but it's basically the same operating storytelling theory as porn: nobody's really watching for the plot, which only exists to bridge the action scenes one to another.

(It just occurred to me that in the movie Office Space, one of the points of common interest that Peter and Joanna initially bond over is a love of kung fu movies. Which always struck me as a particularly quirky bit of characterization for Joanna, because kung fu movies are generally considered the near-exclusive domain of guys. It's supposed to signify that Joanna is a cool, one-of-the-guys kind of girl. But now I wonder, was this Mike Judge's way of slipping something freaky past the MPAA, and "kung fu" is code for "porn"? Granted, I may be overthinking this. I would say that is also a recurring theme for this week, except in reality it's a recurring theme for this whole blog, obviously.)

Anyway, a weak plot and undistinguished acting and rudimentary shot composition are all forgivable if the action scenes, the main draw, are spectacular. But that's not a word I would use to describe the martial arts scenes in Project A Part II. They're good, but again, I've seen better. And to a certain extent, there's plenty of entertainment value to be found in a middling kung fu flick, especially if you dig the genre. I just can't quite fathom why anyone would consider this specific film a Must-See. Aside from one extended bedroom-farce riff in the middle, there's not all that much to recommend the movie to a potential viewer. Project A Part II is like the food produced by an average-at-best pizzeria that happens to use an especially spicy kind of pepperoni. If you are a fan of pizza in general, and if you happen to like spicy pepperoni, and if you're hungry and have to eat anyway, and if you happen to be in the pizzeria's neighborhood, then sure, I wouldn't steer you away from ordering a slice, per se. But if you have other tastes or other options, you might want to consider other possibilities.

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