Miracles [奇蹟] (1989)
AKA Mr. Canton and Lady Rose, Miracle, Black Dragon, The Canton Godfather, Big Brother
Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Gua Ah-Leh, Richard Ng, O Chun-Hung, Sunny Fang Kang, Bill Tung, Tien Feng, Ngai Jan, Gloria Yip Wan-Yee, Wu Ma, Billy Lau Nam-Kwong, Lo Lieh, Lee Hoi-Sang, Michael Chow Man-Kin, Paul Che Biu-Law
Directed by Jackie Chan
Expectations: Very High. It’s the only classic Jackie film I’ve never seen.
Miracles is Jackie Chan’s favorite of all the films he’s made, but I doubt many of his fans share the sentiment. It is a lavishly produced film, a true achievement for Jackie Chan the director, but from a viewer’s perspective it is a bit all over the place. It is a prime example of the flexible approach to mixing genre and tone often seen in Hong Kong films, and as such it is both a rousing success and somewhat underwhelming. I imagine that future viewings of the film will only make it better in my estimation, as it won’t be working against 20-some years of expectation and personal hype.
Jackie’s film is a remake of the Frank Capra film A Pocketful of Miracles, which in turn was a remake of the earlier Frank Capra film Lady for a Day. I haven’t seen either of the Capra films, but judging from their synopses it would seem that their stories are more focused on the deceptive plotline that makes up the bulk of the second half of Miracles. Again I haven’t seen the other films, but this would make sense because just watching Miracles, it feels like the first half is almost entirely unnecessary in a strict plot sense.
While this is true, the first half is also jam-packed with entertainment. It brings the 1930s setting to life exceptionally well, hitting every beat you could want in such a film (fights, stunt work, comedy, drama, dance numbers, tommy gun gangster action, etc.) It’s almost like a long, exciting prologue to the main event. It also sets up the characters in such a way that in the second half they can just exist and interact with one another in hilarious and meaningful ways. I must admit that while I was watching it felt somewhat tedious and drawn out, but taking a step back to think about it reveals that it’s more well-crafted than I initially gave it credit for. This is where I feel like future viewings would improve and enhance the experience.
What’s easy to appreciate on this viewing is the action. It’s not plentiful by any means, but there was more than I expected there to be and absolutely all of it is of the highest caliber. Even still, I think it would be easy to be jaded and disappointed with what’s here. By this point Jackie had built up an incredible legacy of unique fight choreography and death-defying stunts, and Miracles really doesn’t offer any action that tops, or even attempts to top, anything he had done previously. This shouldn’t matter, though, as Miracles offers more of a further refinement of Jackie’s style instead of major advancement. The choreography is especially tight and well-orchestrated, working together with absolutely expert editing and camerawork to create scenes of action that appear seamless and effortless. This kind of incredibly precise and complex action is truly the product of immense craftsmanship; Jackie Chan and his incredible stunt team were truly firing on all cylinders in the late ’80s! I dare anyone who doubts this to try to film something similar.
It’s within the traditional technical aspects of Miracles (directing, editing, camerawork, cinematography, etc.) where the film represents a significant advancement for Jackie Chan the director. The sophistication of these technical aspects dwarfs his previous efforts, even though the older films are overall more pleasing works to me as a viewer. Regardless, the sheer quality of this film’s production is quite impressive and it overshadows most of whatever issues I have with it as an overall film.
No matter how great it looks, what I truly can’t believe is the amount of money spent on Miracles. The budget was a whopping HK$64 million! To put this in perspective: the highest grossing film in Hong Kong up to this point (1988’s The Eighth Happiness) grossed HK$37 million. I’ve always heard that Miracles was a flop, but it was actually incredibly successful upon its release. It made HK$34 million (almost double the gross of John Woo’s The Killer, released the same year!), but due to that gargantuan budget it was virtually guaranteed to be a losing film for Golden Harvest no matter how well it did. I’m sure the budget skyrocketed after the production caught some bad luck when many of the sets needed to be rebuilt after a typhoon destroyed them. Ironic that this would happen to a film about a character who won’t do anything without buying a rose for good luck!
Despite being somewhat disappointed, finally seeing Miracles was a real treat for me. It’s easy to see why Jackie has so much love for the film, and it makes me really curious about which films Jackie saw in his youth that influenced and informed his cinematic identity. His directorial work bears a very unique style that feels more focused on the big picture than the smaller moments, and I wonder where that sprouted from. This style is perhaps why the overall films don’t hold up as well as his brethren Sammo Hung’s, but Jackie’s films remain incredible achievements nonetheless. If you’re a Jackie Chan fan and you’re open to a film that’s only secondarily an action movie, then definitely check out Miracles. Don’t be like me and wait 20+ years to see it!
Oh, and ardent Hong Kong film fans will delight at the wealth of cameos from Hong Kong stars and directors sprinkled throughout the film.
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan is Armour of God 2: Operation Condor! It was always one of my favorites, so I hope it holds up. See ya then!