by Jon Bastian
This DVD is available for purchase at HKFlix.com.
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Forget Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you want a Kung Fu movie that transcends the genre, a bit of chop-socky that’s fun for the whole family, Jackie Chan already did it, just over a decade before Ang Lee. But Chan’s movie, Miracles, has never been seen in its original form in the U.S.—until April 20th, when American Cinematheque will present a four-day run prior to a limited release in selected cities later in the summer. If you’re anywhere near the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, get there. If this film pops up in your town, see it. It has twice the action and just as much romance as Crouching Tiger, but it has none of the pretense. If you’re not a fan of martial arts films, you might be after seeing it. If you’re already a fan, you get the added bonus of an endless game of “spot the Hong Kong star in a cameo.”
Miracles is a loose adaptation of Frank Capra’s 1961 A Pocketful of Miracles, which was itself a remake of Capra’s own 1933 film Lady for a Day, which in turn was a very Americanized riff on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. In other words, Chan’s story has a very distinguished lineage, but in setting it in a 1930s Hong Kong that greatly resembles Chicago of the same era, he gives it a sort of Asian Damon Runyon twist. There are devious gangsters and honorable beggars, and vice versa, redemption and justice, fedoras and fan-tan, incredible fight sequences and even an elaborate musical number worthy of Busby Berkeley.
Chan plays Cheng Wah Kuo, a small town boy who wanders into the big, wicked city of Hong Kong and is almost immediately relieved of all his money by a quick-talking con artist. Meanwhile, rival mobster gangs are having a bit of a disagreement about the ownership of a club called the Ritz. There’s no question that the gangsters and Kuo are destined to collide, but just before they do, Kuo buys a rose from a flower seller on the street (Gui Ya-Lei), who says it will bring him luck. Since the act of walking over to buy the rose takes him out of the path of a runaway car, Kuo takes that advice to heart. Shortly thereafter, for reasons I won’t give away, he finds himself declared the new boss of one of the gangs. At first, his heart isn’t in the life of crime, but since it’s now safer for him to stay with the gang than to leave it, he begrudgingly accepts the position—but not before proving his worthiness in the first of many amazingly choreographed fight sequences.
Refusing to turn over half of the Ritz to the rival mobster Tiger (Ko Chuen-Hsiang), Kuo instead turns it into a nightclub to showcase newly arrived Yang Lu-Ming (Anita Mui), a Shanghai chanteuse who has come to Hong Kong to pay off her late father’s debt to Kuo’s gang. But Tiger isn’t about to give up so easily, and tensions escalate. All the while, Kuo obsessively buys a flower every day from the woman he knows only as Madam Rose. What he doesn’t know is that Madam Rose has created an elaborate deception of her own. She’s been financing her daughter, Belle’s (Gloria Yip), education in Shanghai with her meager income, but has told Belle that she is a rich and important Hong Kong society woman, so she won’t refuse the money. It seems like a completely peripheral story, until the day that Madam Rose gets a letter from Shanghai, announcing that her daughter is coming for a visit, with her fiancé and rich future father-in-law in tow. This news sends Madam Rose into shock, and when Kuo frantically investigates, putting off an important meeting with Tiger because he can’t get his lucky flower, his discovery of Madam Rose’s problem sets up the second half of the film. Because he wants to do the right thing, he decides to make her deception appear to be reality, and complications ensue as he tries to juggle his gang activities, his elaborate ruse and nosey, bumbling Police Inspector Ho (the hilarious Richard Ng). Whenever he does the right thing for Madam Rose, it’s the wrong thing for his gang activities and vice versa, and everything elevates to the level of high farce while still staying grounded in the very real human stories beneath.
Jackie Chan is one of those people who is instantly likeable onscreen no matter what he’s doing. His comedic timing is impeccable, but so are his fight sequences. Here, as always, he works without stunt doubles, and yes, we do get to see his traditional injury outtakes during the closing credits. But in this film, moreso than many of his others, Chan gets to be an actor, and proves that he has talent in more than just martial arts. He is the center that holds this remarkable film together, and it all ends in a wonderful penultimate scene that should bring tears to your eyes. It did mine, and when a film can manage to make me care, laugh and cry all in the same two plus hours, it’s definitely a winner.
Do not miss this one.
Jon Bastian is a playwright and screenwriter in Los Angeles, who has been known to whore for TV.
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