released in 1989, miracles is what i like to call jackie chan’s first detour. it’s an interesting deviation from the usual jackie chan movies. it’s also a remake of both frank capra’s lady for a day (and pocketful of miracles), which is based on a damon runyon short story. miracles is actually the literal translation of the original chinese title. the original english title is mr. canton and lady rose. other idiotic english titles include black dragon, and canton godfather. in his biography, chan named this as his favorite out of all his own movies.
directed by chan himself, miracles is about a new-in-town country bumpkin who inadvertently becomes the leader of a gang in 1930s hong kong. he also believes that an old lady who sells roses on the street brings him luck. there’s also a rival gang and a singer that prompted chan’s character to build a nightclub, instead of the usual stuff that gangs do.
it’s a movie that can only be made at its time. it was a time that the mid-thirties jackie chan was on top of his game and every film of his is something of an event. he had enough box office clout to do something different. it’s telling that the first memorable scene in the movie is an elaborate tracking steadicam shot of a musical number.
there are action scenes to be sure, but none of them are that memorable. they seem randomly placed and poorly paced. but they don’t seem to be his focus. there are way more three stooges type slapsticks and muggings for the camera than action. after being a box office success, miracles seems to be chan trying to do a classic hollywood movie rather than a jackie chan movie with classic hollywood elements. the set and the film techniques seem more to be the focus than stunts and action set pieces.
the second half of the film turns into a birdcage type farce except not as carefully scripted. instead of being clear of what’s going on, most in the audience would be confused rather than laugh. improper setup is deadly in a farce. but that first musical montage/steadicam shot would make brian de palma proud. in fact, i think the same tracking/steadicam shot may have been in his 1993’s calito’s way. in addition to trying to prove that he can direct not just an action movie, i think he was also trying to make a statement against the triad/gang movies made popular by john woo and ringo lam at the time. notice the importance of the sunglasses in the opening gang war scene.
chan’s relationship with golden harvest is very much like that of the old hollywood studio system. every time he makes a film the budget ballons higher than the one before. supposedly costing $9 million, it made back about half its money in its original theatrical hong kong release(also unfortunate that it was released in june of 1989) even though it made about as much as the other chan films at the time. and the money shows on screen, with detailed set and costumes(most of which were destroyed by typhoon and had to be rebuilt). there are the expected fights in confined spaces and usages of props. most of the funny stuff fail and it never quite achieved the emotional aspects it tried to reach(really? closeups of a single tear?).
coming after police story 1 & 2 and armour of god, miracles is mostly for the curious and hardcore jackie chan fans only. give it a once over after you’ve completed the police story, project a, armour of god/operation condor series. and the lucky stars series. and the wheels on meals, dragons forever movies starring the three brothers. there are loads of cameos for hong kong movie fans.
luckily, there’s armour of god ii/operation condor ii, supercop, legend of the drunken master coming up in his career. it’s a light hearted film even by jackie chan standard. just remember that it’s probably the only chan movie where the most memorable sequence is a musical montage. but then again, it could have been a lot worse for a vanity project. alas, miracles overall isn’t as entertaining as even some of the latter chan films like the first two rush hours, the shanghai noon/knight movies, or even who am i or accidental spy.
p.s. the version i got is only 105 minutes. there’s a 127 minutes version out there that contains some more of the supporting characters and the singer character(played by hong kong madonna anita mui, who later appears in rumble in the bronx and legend of the drunken master) who’s supposed to be the love interest. it certainly didn’t come across in the 105 minutes version. i also recall that the original cut is somewhere around 3 hours.