PopGap #26: Miracles (1989)
Written by dorrk
In my opinion, you shouldn't rob banks or do bad things.
At the peak of Jackie Chan's reign as Hong Kong's #1 martial arts movie star he got bit by that bug that plagues so many popular entertainers: he wanted to do something more artistic. Although his self-directed movies had become incredibly ambitious — Project A 2 was a period piece of some scale, featuring his most spectacular stunts to-date — Chan felt the urge to broaden his horizons even further with Miracles, an ode to classic Hollywood, mixing screwball comedy, musical numbers, and gangsters, all covered in the customarily thin film of Hong Kong sentimentality. But these types of vanity projects are rife with pitfalls, and Chan half-stumbles into more than one of them.
Miracles (a.k.a. Qi ji, a.k.a. Mr. Canton and Lady Rose, a.k.a. The Canton Godfather) follows Kuo, a naive country rube (Chan) who, on his first day in the big city, gets swindled out of his money, witnesses a gangland hit, and, in a facile contrivance, is handed the keys to one of Hong Kong's most prominent crime families. Disapproving of illicit activities, Kuo tries to steer his suspicious underlings toward legitimate enterprise — a lavish nightclub — but meets resistance from a rival crime lord. Additionally, Kuo and his apparent love interest Yang (Anita Mui) try to assist a poor flower lady (Gua Ah-leh) in masquerading as a wealthy woman of societal influence. There is so much going on in Miracles that it would take a screenwriter of considerable skill, wit, and cleverness to keep it all straight, let alone humming and successful. Chan and frequent collaborator Edward Tang have never shone as writers, with their movies relying heavily on Chan's brilliant gift for astounding stunts and enchanting fight choreography. For Miracles, counterintuitively, they've minimized Chan's greatest assets — there are only two big fights in two-plus hours — relying instead on long periods of the most ordinary and uninspired rehash of old movie tropes. Miracles makes more sense a movie pitch than a finished film, and it's easy to imagine the delight on Chan's face as he explains the nutty story and elaborate visual details… but, sadly, it never feels fleshed out beyond that point. Normally fun actors like Bill Tung are wasted on going through the motions of contrived subplots; while the female character in Chan's movies are usually reduced to screaming for help, Mui looks utterly stranded without even that to do; farcical situations lack zest because the characters caught in them barely register as entities. Chan skates by on his usual charm, but he's kind of a dullard when there's no fighting, and there's no fighting for most of Miracles.
Chan's ambition shows the most in the film's production design, which recreates 1930s Hong Kong on a fairly large scale and stages a few glamorous musical numbers for Mui, but there isn't a sense of purpose behind of any of it except maybe to show that it was possible. Even then, Tsui Hark's sweeping 1986 action comedy Peking Opera Blues betters it in almost every period detail. As for the two big fights in Miracles, they are incredible, as they should be with Chan at his prime. While the stunts lack the staggering imagination Chan invested in Project A 2, they are fast, funny, and full of the neat uses of props and settings that have become Chan's trademark. However, the nature of Miracles' rambling and half-baked script relegates these fights to sideshows that aren't important to the story, so even though the rope factory fight feels climactic, it isn't; there's still 10 more minutes of uninteresting narrative hijinks to wrap up (and with a morally dubious cop-out that clearly exposes the lack of thought put into the writing).
Miracles was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Flickcharter Tory Kluender, who can be found on Flickchart under the username ToryK. He ranks it on his chart at #52 / 3609 (99%), which puts it at #5 out of a staggering 52 Jackie Chan movies! Miracles ranked on my Flickchart at #1887 / 3779 (50%), leaving it dangling at #14 out of 17 Jackie Chan movies.
Trailer for Miracles (1989)
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