Mr. Canton and Lady Rose - a.k.a. Miracles

Jackie Chan has often paid homage to the older films that influenced some of his own action and comic style, but nowhere more so than in this charming and airy bauble of a film. Chan creates a delightful fairy tale that is lovingly soaked in sentimentality and warmth. The plot is based on an old Frank Capra film called “Lady for a Day”. Capra’s films were often referred to as “Capra-corn” and Jackie borrows this style and runs with it. Jackie also brings in elements of Chaplin, Keaton, Busby Berkely and Fred Astaire to give the film a wonderful visual flair and a magical sense of movement.
Jackie, Lady Rose (Gua Ah Leh) and Bill Tung
This 1989 film was a box office flop – which greatly disappointed Chan who has stated that this is one of his favorite films – and it is for the most part not really popular with his die hard fans. That’s because this movie is not really about action or stunts or even Jackie Chan, it’s more a good hearted salute to the magic that was Hollywood – HK style. Chan is very inventive in his use of the camera – utilizing some great tracking shots and angles - and he constructs a wonderfully designed art deco world full of bright colors and chic glamour. But in the two hours of running time (on the DVD), there are only three major fight scenes that take up perhaps twenty minutes of the film. The remainder is focused on pushing the story line along. One of the main criticisms of Jackie’s films has always been that he only bothers with a bare bones plot that is there strictly to fit the action around. That is clearly not the case with this film, as the action is woven seamlessly into the structure of the story. In this instance, the story seems closer to Jackie’s heart than the fight scenes.
Wu Ma, Lo Lieh, Michael Chow, Anita Mui
This doesn’t mean to imply that the action scenes are poorly done – far from it. The three action set ups are in fact quite wonderful as Jackie creates some of the most complex and best timed choreography of his career. At times, the action choreography is so delicate, perfectly paced and intricate that it reminded me of a 1930’s spectacular dance number. But instead of Astaire dancing gracefully across the floor or beating out a hypnotic rhythm with his tap shoes, Chan replaces it with some fight routines that come as close to dance as one can imagine.

In all three of the major fights – the teahouse, the outdoor market and the rope factory – Jackie takes a page from Chaplin and Keaton and incorporates the setting and the environment flawlessly into the choreography. I have watched these scenes a few times now and I have never failed to be delighted by how clever and fun they are. Jackie seems to be totally enjoying himself.
 
In a Runyonesque world of the 1930s, Jackie comes to Hong Kong from Canton to make his way in the world. Bill Tung immediately swindles him out of his money and Jackie looks to be down on his luck until he buys a rose from a flower seller – Lady Rose (Gua Ah Leh).  His luck begins to change – as a dying gang leader accidentally appoints Jackie to replace him. Under the guidance of Wu Ma, he takes over the gang and tells them – much to their disbelief - that they will stop their crooked ways. Of course he is challenged but after beating Michael Chow in an arm-wrestling match and two others in a bout, he is acclaimed by all – except Lo Lieh who harbors ambitions of his own. He turns the gambling casino into a sparkling nightclub with singing sensation Anita Mui performing nightly. In a lovely Busby Berkely type number, Anita sings “Rose, Rose I Love You” – a scene that was deleted out of some video versions of this film.

Another gang headed by Tiger (Ko Chuen-hsiang) – with Shum Wai and Ken Lo usually at his side - is also challenging him.  And then there is Richard Ng (assisted by Mars and Lui Fong) in a nearly Keystone cop performance who is keeping a close eye on the gangs.
Gloria Yip, Lui Fong, Richard Ng and Mars
In the other main thread of the film, Lady Rose  - whose flowers have continued to bring Jackie good luck – learns that her daughter, Gloria Yip, has become engaged to the son of a wealthy businessman (Tien Feng) from Shanghai – and the family is coming to meet her. Over the years, Lady Rose has been scrimping and sending all of her money to her daughter so that she could receive a good education – and has been misleading Gloria into believing that she was quite well off. If the family learns that she is only a poor flower seller, the wedding would almost certainly be called off.
Amy Yip (in small cameo), Shum Wai, Ko Chuen-hsiang and Ken Lo
As Lady Rose sinks into tears and despair, Anita convinces Jackie that he must help. Jackie leaves it all in the hands of Anita and she decides to create the illusion that Lady Rose is living in high fashion. What begins as a simple plan - beautiful hotel suite and a fabricated husband (Bill Tung again) – soon spirals out of control and it becomes more complicated and outrageous as the film progresses. Soon reporters and businessmen are being kidnapped and the “guys and molls” are being trained to impersonate high society – all to keep the illusion going. It becomes pure screwball comedy.

Another enjoyable aspect to this film is simply the large cast involved. It’s almost like attending a family reunion – lots and lots of familiar faces. It looks like every supporting actor in HK showed up for at least a moment or two or even longer. It’s a wonderful party. Some larger names such as Yuen Biao (as a beggar) and Jacky Cheung (as a shop owner) make brief cameos. Other supporting actors are Billy Lau, Ray Lui, Billy Chow, Ricky Hui, Lawrence Cheng, Melvin Wong, Amy Yip (as one of the molls) and many others that I can’t attach a name to.

I think that in its rather frothy and charming way, this film is an unrecognized and under appreciated classic. Because it is a Jackie Chan film without a lot of action, it has never found the audience that it truly deserves.

My rating for this film: 8.5