Miracles: Mr. Canton and Lady Rose

Buy a rose, save your life.

Directed by Jackie Chan

Hong Kong; 1989

Starring Jackie Chan and Anita Mui

122 Min.

 

In Short: Not as much action as you’d expect from a 1980’s Jackie Chan film, but Miracles makes up for it with its entertaining and well told plot. If it feels a bit Capra-esque, that’s because it’s meant to be. While it probably won’t be anyone’s favorite Jackie Chan movie, it might be the one to earn him respect from non-Martial Arts fans.

Review: Action takes a backseat to plot in this unique outing from Jackie Chan. I realize as I type this sentence that it’s probably not something I’ll say very often, and could mean many different things to many different people. It it a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it depends on your point of view and what you watch a movie for. There’s always that crowd of people who feel that plot is the most important aspect of a film, but generally speaking, action films are not about intricate plots, and the most important element should be the craft and excitement of the action scenes.

Jackie Chan films are no different from other action films in this regard. In fact, my number one complain about Wheels on Meals, another Jackie Chan-starring vehicle directed by his co-star Sammo Hung, was that there was too much plot, while I gave Chan’s directorial debut Fearless Hyena a high recommendation in spite of its extremely formulaic and done-to-death plot. The truth might just be that Chan is a better director than Hung (which he is), but with Miracles it’s clear that the story was what inspired the project, more so than the stunts Chan is synonymous with.

Said story begins with Jackie Chan playing Kuo Cheng-Wah, a down-on-his luck young man who gets cheated out of all his money on his arrival to Hong Kong. A lady selling roses comes by and offers one to him, saying it will bring him good luck in the future. This proves to be true to a ridiculous degree, as soon after he purchases the flower he finds himself climb to the top of one of Hong Kong’s local gangs after a misunderstanding from its dying boss. Obviously this setup is probably too unrealistic for most cynical American critics, but the film does well with its premise.

Elements of many different classical Hollywood genres inspire different elements of the film. Frank Capra is the main inspiration here, as the title is actually a reference to the film Pocketful of Miracles, but elements of 30’s gangster movies, big-budget musicals, and Ernst Lubitsch’s sophisticated comedies also seem to be of great influence. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jackie Chan film without the huge influence from silent comedians such as Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. What places Miracles squarely in the 80’s are the long, roving steadicam shots (operated by Chan himself, as we see in the closing credits), which recall his American contemporaries Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma.

Finally, while there isn’t as much action as most would like to see from a Jackie Chan film, what action there is in the film is as good as you’d expect from Chan at the height of his career. People flip over tables, chairs, and rickshaws, and get tangled up in ropes. Billy Chow and Lo Lieh pop in to get beaten up. In other words, it’s the great craft and physical comedy that has made Chan the star he is today.

Chan would only be credited as director in two more feature length films (1991’s Operation Condor and 1998’s Who Am I, though it’s widely known that he took over directorial duties of Drunken Master II after Lau Kar-Leung left the set) after Miracles which is rather unfortunate. Many of his best films were his self-directed efforts, and this film and Police Story 2 in particular show that Chan was growing in his directorial chops. Beyond his excellent action sequences, these two films show Chan having skill with mise-en-scene and a visual flair that set him apart from most other martial artists-turned-directors, and that on his best day he was as good of an action movie director as Tsui Hark or John Woo on their own best days.

As it stands, Jackie Chan has left behind a number of great films as both a director and a star, and Miracles is a notable outing from his most prolific and creative period. It would have been nice if there’d have been more action sequences, but it’s a worthwhile film nonetheless.

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About Adam DiPiazza
I love Peach Snapple.

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