miracles

1989, 127 minutes, HDCAM, in Cantonese with live projected English subtitles
Directed by: Jackie Chan
Starring: Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Wu Ma, Billy Chow, Bill Tung, Richard Ng, Mars, Dick Wei

Monday, June 24 @ 1:15pm (buy tickets)
Tuesday, June 25 @ 3:45pm (buy tickets)

 

One of Jackie Chan’s great neglected achievements, MIRACLES (aka Mr. Canton and Lady Rose) is a remake of Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (itself a remake of Capra’s Lady for a Day), and it represents the road not taken in Jackie’s career, a sign that the world wasn’t ready for the uncompromising quality Jackie Chan wanted to give it. Although two comic sequences run a few minutes too long, degenerating into sub-Benny Hill theatrics, and although the orchestral score sinks to burlesque on more than one occasion, this movie stands as one of the Chan’s finest, most technically polished, and with a screenplay that was (until Little Big Soldier) his tightest. Imagine Guys & Dolls set in Hong Kong with action scenes instead of musical numbers and you’ll have an idea of how magical this movie is.

Chan plays a penniless country bumpkin arriving in 1920’s Hong Kong and strolling right into the middle of a gang war. In one of those “only in the movies” mix-ups he finds himself with a dead mafia godfather in his arms and being named the head of the gang. That’s the Mr. Canton part. Lady Rose isn’t co-star Anita Mui (who plays a singer working in Chan’s nightclub to pay off her father’s debts) but an elderly rose hawker whom Chan considers his lucky charm. She’s been passing herself off as a high society matron in letters to her daughter living overseas, and thanks to her mom’s tales of her wealthy background (and enormous financial sacrifices) her daughter has attracted a wealthy fiancée’. Daughter loves her mum, and so she’s coming back to Hong Kong, fiancé’s well-heeled family in tow, for a prenuptial celebration, never dreaming that her mother actually lives in a slum. Chan and Mui, toasts of the Hong Kong underworld, step in and decide to make mom a lady for a day, installing her in an expensive suite and enlisting various goons and cheap hoods to impersonate the gadabouts and society swells of upper class colonial Hong Kong. Needless to say, complications ensue.

With a plot this demented, and cinematography this accomplished (there are several head-spinning one-take sequences), the movie itself seems like one of those impossible Chan fight scenes where he pulls off one impossible trick after another. Chan manages to keep his plot afloat with delicate pokes and jabs, while teasing out once-in-a-lifetime performances from his supporting cast, not doing so badly himself, perfectly evoking period Hong Kong, and staying light on his feet.

The action comes in a couple of set pieces, scattered about the movie that are like more narratively-integrated Gene Kelly numbers than the showstopping production spectacles of a Busby Berkley extravaganza. Choreographed and stylized to the point of looking like ballet, they are some of the most rarefied fight-work Chan has ever done. Like a glass of expensive champagne, the movie never loses its fizzle, leaving audiences dizzy and light-headed with its screwball, heart-on-its-sleeve charm. When it’s over, no matter who and where you are, you’ve got no choice but to applaud.

Miracles