Review for Miracles: The Canton Godfather
This is the one that almost got away. It’s no secret that it was the comedy stylings of Jackie Chan that got me watching kung fu movies to begin with, and while late night TV got me a whole lot of videos of subtitled kung fu that I just couldn’t get on retail, it was the advent of DVD that really kicked an obsession into high gear. It wasn’t long before I had realised that Hong Kong Legends could cater for my addiction, and I was trying to get them all. But the truth of the matter is that I was kind of late to the HKL party, and while I had quite early on pegged Miracles as the Jackie Chan movie to ‘complete’ my collection after seeing the trailer on a disc, when it came to buying it, I was too late. It was out of stock, deleted, and infuriatingly when HKL rose from the ashes as Cine Asia, Miracles was the one JC back catalogue title they didn’t re-release. It took me close to twenty years, but I’ve finally got to watch Miracles, and thanks to 88 Films, I’ve got it on Blu-ray. I have really been looking forward to this!
Kwok Chun Wah’s first day in Hong Kong starts inauspiciously when he’s conned out of most of his money in the hope of getting a job as a cashier. That’s despite his only skills being kung-fu and opera. He spends his last money on a flower from a kindly rose seller, but his luck only gets worse when he gets caught in the middle of a gunfight between rival gangs. He tries to save the boss of one of the gangs, but as he dies, he seems to indicate that Kwok Chun Wah should be his successor. No one else seems too eager to take the job, but it turns out that regularly buying a rose gives Kwok Chun Wah the kind of luck that keeps him alive in a world where he’s caught between two rival gangs and the police. He even starts to prosper as a gang leader.
Then the rose seller comes to him for help. She’s been writing regularly to the daughter she’s been putting through school with the money she has earned, telling of her aristocratic life in Hong Kong. The reality is that she’s just hawking flowers on the streets. But her daughter is engaged to be married to the son of an influential businessman, and they are all coming to Hong Kong to celebrate the engagement. She needs help to convince them that she’s aristocratic, and if anyone’s got experience pretending to be something he’s not, it’s Kwok Chun Wah.
There are two versions of the film on this disc, Miracles, the International Version which lasts 1:46:33 with English audio and optional subtitles, and Mr Canton and Lady Rose, the Hong Kong Version which lasts 2:07:41. This has the original Cantonese audio and an alternative Cantonese audio track with a different mix and music cues, with optional translated subtitles. For the purposes of this review, I watched the longer version.
Miracles got a 4k restoration and that is where this 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is sourced from. The image is impeccable, clear and sharp with gorgeous colours and exquisite detail. The film has seen some restoration, and there is no sign of age or print damage. It makes the most of this period film, the lush cinematography and the production design, and the gorgeous costumes and lavish sets. Golden Harvest really invested heavily in this film, and it shows in every frame. I didn’t see any sign of DNR or similar post-processing, and the viewing experience was properly cinematic.
The simple DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono Cantonese does what it needs to bring the action, music and dialogue across with clarity and fidelity, without suffering from distortion or dullness. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, but suffer from some issues, some with the formatting, some inherent in the translation. The worst of these happens early on, and in a key moment of the film where the gang boss names his successor. It all falls down to wordplay, synonyms in Cantonese which aren’t synonyms in English. The translator has to resort to production notes on screen, explaining that the boss said one thing, but his gang heard another. It’s clumsy and awkward. There are one or two moments in the film where some colloquialisms are translated a little too literally and don’t quite make sense, and there are also scenes when two people are conversing rapidly, and the subtitles flick by so quickly that you can lose just who is saying what. Too close a translation will appeal to purists who want as authentic an experience as possible, but can alienate casual or first time viewers, and I think a looser translation that flowed better might have been preferable in a couple of scenes here.
You get 1 disc in a BD Amaray case. You have the choice of three artworks here, a reversible sleeve for the case, and a colourful o-card slipcover.
Inside the case, you’ll also find a 44 page booklet with plenty of stills and production art. There are biographies for the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, an essay documenting the making of the film (I find it depressing how many commentators praise an old film for not using CGI before CGI was invented. Miracles was made in 1989! The first significant CGI movie was Jurassic Park in 1993. Do some research...) and there is the synopsis for the film.
There are a handful of extras on the disc. You get the Hong Kong Teaser (4:15 SD), the Hong Kong Trailer (4:19 SD), and the Canton Godfather Opening, which lasts 28 seconds and offers an alternate credit sequence for the film.
Jackie Chan: Film Director lasts 10:32 HD, and is an appreciation by Steve Lawson looking at Jackie’s career behind the camera.
It could be worth holding onto that HKL disc if you have it, as the extras are exclusive, and you might want that Bey Logan commentary and the interview.
Miracles is the film that I have long wanted to see, and I have to say that it met all my expectations. It is one of Jackie Chan’s best films, up there with Police Story and Project A. As mentioned in the extras, this was something of a passion project, inspired by the Frank Capra movie, A Pocket Full of Miracles, and the attention to detail, the production values, and the length of time spent in production meant that it was one of the biggest budget movies to come from Golden Harvest. That it practically flopped in the Hong Kong market meant that it put paid to Jackie Chan’s directorial career, which is a shame, as judging by this film, he had a talent for whimsical action comedies. Perhaps it’s because Miracles is so much of a departure from the norm that contemporary audiences couldn’t quite click with it. Most kung-fu action comedies of the time still maintained the hero villain dynamic; however much comedy there might be, things had to get serious for the conclusion.
Miracles on the other hand is as pure a comedy of errors as you’re likely to see from Hong Kong cinema of the time. Even in films like Police Story and Project A there would be scenes, interludes where the comedy would take a turn for the farcical, with mistaken identities, concealed motives and pretence driving the humour. In Miracles, the whole film is like that.
Kwok Chun Wah comes to Hong Kong looking for a career, but gets ripped off instead, and through fortuitous circumstance and a failure in communication, gets installed as the head of a local crime gang. He’s completely out of his depth, and relying on the second in command to guide him through, but it’s his superstitious dependence on buying a fresh rose every day that seems to keep getting him out of scrapes. He becomes good at faking it too, imprinting his good nature on most of the gang, and even opening a night club. There’s a hint of romance with the night club singer.
The longer he remains the boss, the more comfortable he becomes in his role, even though there are genuine gangsters in his gang who see through the act. Just when it looks like he’s settled in, the film takes a turn when the lady who he buys the roses from has a crisis of her own. She’s been writing letters to her daughter as a member of the Hong Kong aristocracy, and now she’s coming home with her fiancé and his rich father, the lie is about to be revealed. Kwok Chun Wah decides to help her by perpetuating the lie, first by getting her a room in a top hotel, and a husband to masquerade with, but also by directing her erstwhile in-law’s visit to maintain the illusion. Given that he’s a wealthy and famous businessman from the mainland, things quickly get out of control.
Normally farcical comedies like this make me cringe more than laugh, but I loved every minute of Miracles. It’s not quite as action packed as you might expect from a Jackie Chan film, but there are two spectacular set pieces, including a climactic fight in a rope factory that is unlike anything I have seen before. And while fists may not be raised in anger too often, that doesn’t mean there is a shortage of slapstick, stunts and action. Just don’t expect too much of the traditional kung-fu. But what really impresses me about Miracles are the production values. The direction, the period detail, the whole feel of the movie speaks of the effort and passion put into its creation. It’s not the best Jackie Chan movie, and it’s certainly not my favourite, but it is the most accomplished. 88 Films give it a splendid presentation on Blu-ray, niggles about the subtitles notwithstanding. It’s one to have in every kung-fu collection.