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“The Canton Godfather” (also known as “Mr. Canton and Lady Rose” and “Miracles”) is another Hong Kong classic which has been digitally remastered on DVD by Joy Sales. The film, which was originally released back in 1989, was directed, written by and starred Jackie Chan, and apparently remains one of his favourite productions due to the fact that it was one of the few where he enjoyed total artistic control. He used this freedom to craft an extravagantly realised action comedy, packing in plenty of wacky fun, musical numbers and innovative fight scenes.
The film features a superb supporting cast of favourites such as Anita Mui and Bill Tong, and was a hit not only with audiences, but with the critics as well, with Chan winning himself a Best Actor nomination at the 9th Hong Kong Film Awards. Its worth noting for fans that this new DVD release, in addition to boasting significantly improved picture and sound quality, also contains a handful of scenes from the Taiwanese cut of the film, previously unseen and unavailable.
Set in the 1930s, the film begins with Cheng Wan Kuo (Chan), a poor and naive country boy who comes to the big city and ends up rescuing a top gang boss, who names Kuo the new leader with his dying breath. Kuo attributes this sudden change in fortune to having bought a rose from an elderly flower seller called Madam Rose, and comes to rely on her for luck as he tries to adjust to his new life. Trying to move the gang away from robbery and other criminal activities, Kuo opens up a nightclub, grooming a young girl called Yang Luming (Mui) into the lead attraction.
When Madam Rose’s daughter, who knows nothing of her mother’s lowly occupation announces that she and her wealthy fianc’ are coming to visit, the big hearted gangster agrees to help, doing everything he can to create the illusion that Madam Rose is actually a high flying socialite. Of course, things don’t all go as planned. Also, Kuo has to deal with rival gangs and a sneaky police inspector, not to mention the daily business of running a criminal empire.
Anyone expecting explosive action may well be disappointed with “The Canton Godfather”, as the film is a loose adaptation of Frank Capra’s “A Pocketful of Miracles”, and as such is a whimsical comedy of miracles and mishaps. Thankfully, Chan proves every bit as good at screwball farce as he is at martial arts, and the film is wonderfully entertaining throughout, with a winning sweet nature that is hard to resist. Chan’s weak willed though good hearted gang boss is frequently hilarious as he attempts to make everyone happy, and spending most of the film rushing around at Mui’s beck and call.
The plot itself, though simple, is well told and certainly keeps the viewer engaged, working well as a comedy of errors, with most of the laughs coming through incompetence or at the increasingly desperate situations that Chan gets himself into. As a result, the proceedings enjoy an amiable air throughout, and although there is a vague hint of satire at times, in general the comedy is far more good natured and less crude than in many other Hong Kong films.
The production was the most expensive from Hong Kong at the time, and the money spent certainly shows itself on screen, with the film providing lavish spectacle with beautifully designed and elaborate sets and costumes. This makes for atmospheric, enchanting viewing on a scale comparable to that of the Hollywood epics of old. The direction is excellent, with some great swooping camera work that makes the most of the locations, and a real cinematic flair which perfectly compliments the big budget gloss.
Although the film does not feature too much in the way of action, there are a few fight scenes which show Chan at his most creative and clearly enjoying himself on the elaborate and expensive sets. These work well to help pick up the occasionally flagging pace and provide a few thrills, and were spectacular enough to win the Best Action Choreography prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
“The Canton Godfather” is pretty much required viewing for Hong Kong film fans as a landmark production from one of the industry’s leading stars. It’s obvious that Chan poured his heart into the production, and his efforts certainly show on screen. “The Canton Godfather” is every bit as entertaining and amusing now as it was on its original release.
Jackie Chan (director) / Jackie Chan (screenplay)
CAST: Jackie Chan …. ‘Charlie’ Cheng Wah Kuo
Anita Mui …. Luming Yang
Ah Lei Gua …. Madam Kao
Chun Hsiang Ko …. Tiger
Ma Wu …. Uncle Hai
Bill Tung …. Tung