An overly ambitious and wildly uneven combination of Damon Runyon, Frank Capra, and Jackie Chan, MIRACLE contains a weak and talky second act (the part "freely adapted" from POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES), but does boast some of Chan's most deliriously entertaining fight choreography.
Caught in a gangland crossfire in 1930 Canton, innocent country yokel Charlie Kuo Ching Wah (Jackie Chan) is mistakenly named as successor to the dying boss of one of the gangs. Pouring his energies into the Ritz nightclub, he makes it a huge success, with singer Ruby Yang (Anita Mui) the star
But superstitious Charlie won't make a move without buying a flower from street-vendor Lady Rose (Gua Ah Leh), whose daughter in Shanghai thinks mom is well-to-do member of high society. So when the daughter, Bella (Gloria Yip), writes that she's coming to visit, bringing her wealthy fiance and
his father, Charlie and Ruby go into action turning Rose into a fashionable lady, and futilely trying to teach his mobsters to act like bourgeoisie for Bella's engagement ball.
Meanwhile Charlie's underling Fred (Lo Lieh), still smarting over being passed over for leadership of the gang, frames Charlie for murdering two gangsters under rival Tiger Lo (Ko Chuen-hsiung), who covets the Ritz. Charlie is kidnapped and engages in a spectacular battle with Fred's men in a rope
factory. Winning his freedom, at the last moment Charlie rounds up the richest and most-famous local citizens to attend the ball and pull off Rose's charade.
Striving for a more humanistic story than usual, Chan and co-writer Edward Tang appropriated the Damon Runyon-inspired plot line of Capra's LADY FOR A DAY (1933) and its remake, POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES (1961), and reduced it to situation comedy (complete with buffoonish cops and mistaken
identities), coming up with 1989's top-grossing picture in Hong Kong. What brought in the crowds though was clearly not the story but the exhilarating, award-winning action choreography. Once again making brilliant use of physical space, Chan not only incorporates the architecture into his fights,
but choreographs inanimate objects (rickshaws, barber chairs, fans) into virtual dance partners. The set for the final showdown, the rope factory, resembles a gigantic Rube Goldberg device composed of pulleys, ladders, spools, and multiple levels, with Chan bouncing around inside it like a
pachinko ball. Power-kicker Billy Chow is terrific as Chan's main nemesis in the scene, while literally dozens of Hong Kong celebrities contribute cameos throughout the film.
This is reputed to be Chan's favorite amongst his directing jobs, and it's easy to see why. For perhaps the first time, he lavished as much attention on the dramatic scenes as the action. The sets are grandiose, the tracking shots fluid and elaborate, the montages cleverly composed, the widescreen
cinematography sumptuous and effusive. Chan's original version of the film purportedly took nine long months to shoot (in part because the sets were destroyed by a typhoon and had to be rebuilt), cost in excess of HK$60 million, and ran to three hours--far too long for the distributors' liking.
Hence the various release prints under assorted titles (THE CANTON GODFATHER, MR. CANTON AND LADY ROSE) are all abridged in different ways, none more so than the version dubbed into English with bad Peter Lorre imitations and Brooklyn accents ("moiderer!") and sadly panned-and-scanned images.
Naturally the edits are all from the middle section of the film, excising the romance, interrupting the flow and pacing, but leaving the fights intact.
Anita Mui, one of Chan's favorite costars (later of RUMBLE IN THE BRONX and DRUNKEN MASTER II), is a delight as Rose, handling both the comedy and the singing adroitly. Among the deletions from the dubbed version is a scene where she attempts to leave the club with an admirer, while a jealous
Charlie frantically tries to restrain her in a comedy of physical errors, culminating in the two kissing. Without the scene, the couple's relationship is never quite defined, and motivations are hazy. But frankly, it's not a movie about motivation, it's about motion, and on that level it's
absolutely brilliant. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1989
- Rating: NR
- Review: An overly ambitious and wildly uneven combination of Damon Runyon, Frank Capra, and Jackie Chan, MIRACLE contains a weak and talky second act (the part "freely adapted" from POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES), but does boast some of Chan's most deliriously entertainin… (more)