Review: Miracles (The Canton Godfather) (1989)

Miracles was Jackie Chan’s answer in 1989 to the criticism that Hong Kong cinema wasn’t capable of doing more than low-budget action films, limited to genre pictures and nothing more. This film had an enormous budget for its time, took nine months to shoot and was made with a great deal of care and attention to detail. The sets are enormous and detailed. The costumes are great. There are tracking shots and other complicated camerawork everywhere. And, as always in a Jackie Chan film, there are a a bunch of incredibly choreographed, prop-filled fight sequences. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, and all the time and effort put into it really shines through.

Jackie plays our hero, a young man newly arrived in Hong Kong and looking for a job. Straight away, he’s cheated out of most of his money and sits by the side of the street, thoroughly disenchanted. On a whim, he buys a rose from a poor flower seller (played by Gua Ah Leh), narrowly escaping being run over in the process. Later, he stumbles into a gang war, only to be mistakenly crowned the new leader of one of the gangs, as its old boss expires. He’s an honest man, but he needs the mob’s protection against its enemies, who have already recognised him and would happily do him in if given the chance.

So Jackie sets to work trying to build an honest business out of the gang, working from the inside. To help him, he has kungfu film veteran Wu Ma as his consigliere and Anita Mui as the new singer in their nightclub. Arrayed against him are the clumsy but persistent Inspector Ho (Richard Ng); the Tiger gang, headed by Dick Wei; and the lieutenant that would have gotten the top job if Jackie hadn’t, played by perennial bad guy Lo Lieh.

Into the midst of the chaos of Jackie’s remodelling effort and the ongoing gang war with the Tiger gang steps Mrs. Kao, the flower seller from whom Jackie buys a rose every day. Her daughter’s coming to visit her after many years, with her husband-to-be and his wealthy father. The fly in the ointment is that Mrs. Kao has been pretending to be Madame Kao, doyenne of Hong Kong society, respected by all and currently a resident at a large, plush hotel. The revelation of her true status would be enough to ruin her daughter’s marriage, and only Jackie has the power, money and ingenuity to help her maintain her deception.

The story is pure melodrama, with a strong focus on character relationships and comic situations. Into this drama are woven several of Jackie’s most inspired fight sequences, using the large sets to full advantage and showing off the prowess of the many stuntmen and action-movie actors in the cast. There are fewer fights in the film than in other Jackie Chan films, with more of the focus on the story, but it gives Miracles a comfortable pace that fits the lighter tone of the film.

One thing that is particularly interesting is the casting of at least three action film stars in non-fighting roles: namely Wu Ma, as Jackie’s right hand man; Dick Wei, as the head of the Tiger gang; and Shaw Brothers star Lo Lieh as a lieutenant in Jackie’s gang. All three do an excellent job, especially Wu Ma, who seems to be thoroughly enjoying his role. Anita Mui is great as well, playing Luming Yang, the young singer who becomes central to Jackie’s success both with the nightclub and with Madame Kao’s situation. There are a lot of cameos from other stars in the HK industry, too; Yuen Biao, Jacky Cheung, Chu Yuan, film composer James Wong, Simon Yam and Amy Yip are all in there.

While not the most explosively physical film in Jackie’s back catalogue, Miracles is technically very impressive, solidly written and acted, and great to look at. If you enjoyed the setting and the humour of Project A and its sequel, you’ll love this one.

9 ceiling fans caught with fingers out of 10.
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