Miracles

on August 01, 2008 by Wade Major
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   While "Miracles" has long been known to be Jackie Chan's personal favorite of all his films, it was until recently the only one of his pictures not widely seen in the United States. Withheld from mainstream U.S. release (excluding Chinatown theatres) since 1989 because of a copyright dispute, the film has risen to almost mythic stature among fans, rivaling such classics as "Police Story" and "Project A." Now, with the dispute finally resolved, the path has been cleared for Columbia TriStar to release the film in its original, unedited director's cut--the first time any Chan film has been so distributed without subsequent changes by an American distributor.

   The disagreement in question stemmed from the fact that "Miracles" (also known as "The Miracle" and "Mr. Canton and Lady Rose") was designed as a remake of Frank Capra's 1933 film "Lady for a Day" (already an adaptation of Damon Runyon's "Madame La Gimp"), a film which Capra himself loved enough to remake as "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961). The only problem was that no one in Hong Kong bothered to get permission to do a remake, incurring the wrath of copyright holder Columbia for more than a decade.

   Though the film has been available on DVD and video for several months, Columbia rightfully realized that "Miracles" deserved, even demanded, to be seen on the bigscreen. An opulent turn-of-the-century period piece, glowingly photographed on vast, expansive sets, "Miracles" adheres fairly rigidly to the "Lady for a Day" story of gangsters helping a poor woman sustain an elaborate charade to convince her visiting daughter that she is actually rich. It's the kind of old-style Hollywood sentimentality that Chan has always adored, and which here offered him a chance to depart from the action-centered martial arts films that had defined his body of work throughout the 1980s.

   Having already made the two "Project A" films, Jackie was well-acquainted with staging films for the period in question, experience which he exploited to make "Miracles" even more visually striking than its predecessors. With uncharacteristically fluid, intricate camerawork, Jackie managed to give the film a distinguishing lyricism that sets it immediately apart from any of his other pictures, a stylish look more evocative of a Hollywood melodrama than a Hong Kong action picture.

   Impressively, Jackie is as comfortable acting in the film as he clearly is directing it, thoroughly in his element as the hapless hero Kuo Cheng-Wah, an immigrant laborer who, through a series of bizarre circumstances, winds up as heir to the empire of a local gangster. Crediting his luck to the rose he purchased from the poor street vendor known as "Madam Rose" (Gui Ya-Lei), he resolves to be a better person than his predecessor. But when Madam Rose receives word that her daughter is engaged to the son of a wealthy Chinese magnate, and that they will all be coming to Hong Kong to meet her, Kuo, at the behest of his feisty nightclub singer Yang Lu-Ming (longtime friend and recording artist Anita Mui), must construct a complex ruse to hide the truth of her meager situation.

   As clumsily as the film wafts between melodrama, romantic comedy, farce, slapstick and the obligatory martial arts, it's hard to be too critical. This is an exceptionally ambitious project that suffers, if anything, from being too much of a good thing. It's a classic case of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole.

   And though some fans will bemoan the fact that the picture is unusually light in the action/martial arts department, the handful of action set pieces that are included are among Chan's best, the grand finale in one of Jackie's patented "factory" settings--complete with giant, rolling spools of rope--offering enough eye-popping stunt-work to fill a dozen other movies. Chan's best work as a director, however, really shines through in the non-action scenes, deviously complex manipulations that would surely impress even the great Ernst Lubitsch.    Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Wu Ma, Richard Ng, Bill Tung, Gui Ya-Lei and Ko Chuen-Hsiang. Directed by Jackie Chan. Written by Edward Tang and Jackie Chan. Produced by Leonard Ho. A TriStar and Sony Pictures Repertory release. Action/Romantic comedy. Cantonese-language; subtitled. Rated PG-13 for violence. Running time: 127 min.

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