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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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