Director: Yuen Woo-Ping
Screenplay: Peace Group
Starring: Yuen Yat-Choh, Bryan Leung Kar-yan, Yuen Cheung-Yan, Brandy Yuen Jan-Yeung, Eddy Ko Hung, Yuen Shun-Yi, Huang Ha, Tino Wong
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1982
BBFC Certificate: TBC

The Miracle Fighters was made in 1982, when the legendary director and action choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping was riding high on a wave of well-regarded titles, such as Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, Drunken Master, Magnificent Butcher, Dreadnaught and Legend of a Fighter, most of which were hits at the Hong Kong box office too. This success meant that Yuen Woo-Ping was able to do his own thing, to an extent. He’d even set up his own production company, Peace Film Production Co, and this was used to make The Miracle Fighters, a film in which the director really let loose with his ideas and skills.

The Miracle Fighters was a family affair too, being produced, choreographed, directed by and starring several members of the Yuen clan.

It was quite successful in Hong Kong, coming just one place behind The Prodigal Son in the 1982 box office and was even remade in 2017, as The Thousand Faces of Dunjia, also directed by Yuen Woo-Ping.

I’m ashamed to say I’d never seen the The Miracle Fighters before now though, despite being a great lover of Yuen Woo-Ping’s output from this period (Magnificent Butcher and Drunken Master are two of my personal favourite martial arts films of all time). So, it didn’t take much to convince me to pick up a copy of the film to review for you here.

Set in China’s Qing Dynasty, where marriage between ethnicities is forbidden, The Miracle Fighters opens with the high-ranking official Kao Hsiung (Eddy Ko) defying the emperor’s order to kill his Han wife. Fleeing for his life, Kao escapes with the emperor’s infant son, accidentally causing the child’s death.

We jump forward several years to find Kao an alcoholic, wracked with guilt, but having raised an orphaned child to be a young man named Shu Gan (Yuen Yat-Choh).

The evil sorcerer Sorcerer Bat (Yuen Shun-Yi) soon tracks Kao down and kills him, mistaking Shu Gan for the missing prince due to a jade pendant hidden on the boy. Bat soon realises Shu Gan is not the royal child he was looking for but believes he can still use him to dupe the emperor and gain power over the nation.

Fearing for his life, Shu Gan seeks refuge with two eccentric Taoist priests (played by Bryan Leung Kar-yan and Yuen Cheung-Yan), who are constantly bickering despite being trained by the same master. Recognising Shu Gan’s potential, they take him in and teach him martial arts and magical skills.

Sorcerer Bat remains relentless though, targeting Shu Gan and the Taoist masters.

The opening of the film, as my description above attests, is surprisingly dark and brutal. However, the film soon becomes wildly silly. Some dramatic and tragic turns crop up here and there as it moves on, but largely this is a wacky romp and is all the better for it.

The imagination and sheer ingenuity on screen, as the madcap mayhem unfolds, is a joy to behold. You’ve got a man-child living in an urn who fights by popping his limbs out of it, wielding a paper sword. There’s a scene where our hero appears to be fighting a roast chicken and another when he faces off against a wooden stick man with dangling wooden-block testicles! Our villain fights with bat-style kung fu and, like the Mr. Vampire films, The Miracle Fighters is loaded with bizarre and ingenious tricks and techniques used in the battles involving the Taoist priests.

The performances and comedy are very broad, as is the norm for Hong Kong comedies of the era. As such, it won’t be to everyone’s tastes but if you’re tuned in to the daft humour then you’ll have fun.

I will say though, I found my enthusiasm for the on-screen madness waning a touch about three-quarters of the way through the film, but thankfully the finale pulled me back in.

The quality of the action choreography is first-rate though, throughout the film. There’s a nice mix of more traditional combat, chiefly in the earlier sequences with Kao Hsiung, and wildly imaginative wire-fu duels. Even if the comedy might not tickle your funny bone, it’s hard not to be impressed by the fight scenes.

A quick side note before I tie things up. The altar in the film that the two Taoist priests pay homage to each day features a painting clearly resembling Yuen Siu-tien. With a drinking gag included, it seems to be homaging the actor’s Beggar So persona from Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master but it also acts as a touching tribute to the patriarch of the Yuen clan, who had passed away only three years prior.

Overall, The Miracle Fighters is as mad as a bag of spiders but in the best possible way. Its broad, slapstick comedy might grate at times but the eye-popping ingenuity, superb choreography and wacky shenanigans more than make up for it. Another classic from the great Yuen Woo-Ping.

Film:

The Miracle Fighters is out on 24th June on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Eureka Classics series. The film looks great, with rich colours and sharp details. You get a choice of Cantonese or English audio. I opted for the former and it sounds great too.

LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES

– Limited edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling [2000 copies]
– 1080p HD presentation on Blu-ray of the original Hong Kong theatrical cut from a brand new 2K restoration
– Original Cantonese mono audio and optional classic English dub
– Optional English subtitles, newly translated for this release
– Brand new audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival)
– Brand new audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
– Action Master: An Interview with Yuen Woo-ping – archival interview by Frédéric Ambroisine
– At the Service of the Great Magician: An Interview with Fish Fong – interview with assistant director Fish Fong
– The Shakespeare of Yuen Woo-ping: An Interview with John Kreng
– Reversible sleeve featuring original poster artwork
– Stills Gallery
– Trailer
– A limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by James Oliver [2000 copies]

Frank Djeng provides a commentary over the film. As usual, he tells us everything we need to know about those involved in making it, as well as pointing out some cultural or language-related details non-Hong Kong/Chinese viewers may have missed. It’s an essential listen.

Mike Leeder and Arne Venema discuss the film on another track included on the disc. Leeder has worked with the Yuen clan in the past, so has plenty of stories to tell about them. This makes for an enjoyable listen and, as usual, there are some interesting asides and facts about the cast and crew. As such, it’s another must-listen addition to the set.

The master himself, Yuen Woo-ping, is interviewed in an archival piece. He doesn’t talk about The Miracle Fighters in particular but runs through his career and gives his thoughts on the talented actors he’s worked with in the past. His answers tend to be blunt and straightforward but in a good way. It’s not the warmest interview I’ve seen but I appreciated hearing his thoughts about his work.

AD Fish Fong talks about how he got started in the industry, how he finds working with Yuen Woo-ping and his experiences making The Miracle Fighters. He has some interesting tales to tell, including a troubling account of the fates of many of the snakes in a climactic scene!

John Kreng provides an interview where he talks about Yuen Woo-ping and what he thinks is special about the filmmaker’s action choreography, as well as how his own work was affected by him. Kreng was able to work with the Yuens in some capacity on the remake of The Miracle Fighters (though I can’t see him credited, so maybe I misheard) so he has a lot to say about their processes and he speaks with passion about the subject.

In the booklet, James Oliver makes a convincing argument for Yuen Woo-Ping to be taken more seriously as a director. It’s a valid point, with the filmmaker’s action choreography rightfully praised to high heaven but his imaginative direction given little due.

So, Eureka have put together another excellent package. It gets a strong recommendation from myself. Here’s hoping some more Yuen Woo-ping classics are coming our way. I’d love to see Legend of a Fighter get a HD upgrade, in particular.

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