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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

The Miracle Fighters Blu-ray Review


Eureka Entertainment

Blu-ray Release: June 25, 2024

Video: 2.35:1/1080p/Color

Audio: Cantonese and English LPCM 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 100:51

Director: Yuen Woo-ping


During the Quing dynasty, marriage between Manchu and Han people is outlawed. When it is discovered that high-ranking official Kao Hsiung (Eddy Ko) has taken a Han wife, the Emperor informs him that he will only be forgiven if he kills his beloved before the court. When he refuses, he is marked for death by the powerful Sorcerer Bat (Yuen Shun-yee) and forced to watch as his wife is slain before his eyes. Kao Hsiung flees, kidnapping the Crown Prince during his escape, but, when the prince dies, he’s forced to silently replace him with another young boy. In adulthood, that child, Shu Gut (Yuen Yat-Chor), finds himself relentlessly pursued by Sorcerer Bat and turns to two quarreling taoist priests in the hope of protecting himself with their magic. (From Eureka’s official synopsis)



Following the seismic cultural impacts of the Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999), Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies (2003-’04), choreographer Yuen Woo-ping became the face of a short-lived boom in Hollywood wire stunt martial arts. This later-career fame stoked genuine interest in his previous work from mainstream international audiences, something usually reserved for on-camera stars, like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Chow Yun-fat. This culminated in the unlikely – and financially successful – American theatrical release of his 1993 masterpiece, Iron Monkey, in 2001. Yuen didn’t manage to become a regular Hollywood first-unit director, like John Woo did, but he did have a substantial career renaissance stunt-coordinating blockbusters, including the first two Matrix sequels, Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle (2005), Louis Leterrie’s Danny the Dog (aka: Unleashed, 2005), Rob Minkoff US-Chinese co-produced The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), and three films in Donnie Yen’s Ip Man series (2008-‘19).


Yuen came from a line of martial arts performers. His father, Yuen Siu-tin, was a Peking Opera veteran who started acting on film in the late ‘40s and appeared in a popular series of movies about the historical folk hero Wong Fei-hung in the 1950s. Six of Siu-tin’s eleven children went on to work in the industry, including regular Woo-ping collaborators Yuen Cheung-yan, Yuen Yat-chor, Yuen Shun-yi, Yuen Jan-yeung (aka: Brandy Yuen), and Yuen Cheung-yan. He also studied for a time under Yu Jim-yuen, the same Peking Opera Academy master who helped train Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao (no relation). He graduated from performer and choreographer to director with Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978) and Drunken Master (1979), both early hits that cemented the reputations of himself and star Jackie Chan. Yuen also found success with The Magnificent Butcher (1979) and Dreadnaught (1981), starring Hung and Biao, respectively, before trying his hand at fantasy kung fu with the underseen, oddball classic The Miracle Fighters (1982).



The Miracle Fighters is a uniquely pure exercise, beginning with the fact that it’s a thoroughly Yuen Clan family affair. Yat-chor plays the lead, Shun-yi plays the main villain, Jan-yeung plays a clown-like urn spirit, Cheung-yan plays the female taoist priest, and Siu-tien, who had passed away a few years prior in 1979, has a cameo as an animated painting of the original taoist master. Despite its convoluted preamble, familiar tropes, and period setting, it’s more of a vaudevillian revue than a traditional martial arts movie. It’s a veritable celebration of Peking Opera traditions, acrobatic artistry, sleight of hand, magic tricks, and Looney Tunes slapstick silliness. It’s so fearlessly weird, as if made by people who had already taken their techniques to their limit in a normal narrative context, but, in reality, Yuen and his crew had only recently begun integrating extensive wire stunts and other special effects into their choreography. 


The plot is a sort of an exaggerated version of Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, which had already put a comedic twist on the master/student, folk hero biography format. It also shares DNA with the training-heavy films Lau Kar-leung was making for Shaw Bros. at the end of his tenure with the company (around the same time Miracle Fighters was released), especially the irreverent comedy Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979). The most likely influence, however, was Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) – a watershed picture that combined kung fu, fantasy, horror, and comedy into a new genre commonly referred to as jiangshi. I believe that The Miracle Fighters was the closest Yuen got to making his own jiangshi film, though he regularly collaborated with Hung, as well as an early champion of the genre, Tsui Hark.



Its comedic muggings are probably too broad to appeal to the same wide audiences that made Iron Monkey a surprise hit (characters are peed on for laughs on two separate occasions), but, for those with more adventurous tastes, The Miracle Fighters is a joyfully over-the-top experiment in pure performance and cinema that doubles as an important, though somewhat forgotten, stepping stone to some of the greatest martial arts films of the ‘90s. It was followed by two thematic sequels that are even more underseen outside of Hong Kong, Shaolin Drunkard (1983), directed by Woo-ping, and Taoism Drunkard (1984), directed by Yuen Cheung-yan.


Bibliography:

  • Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition by Stephen Teo (Edinburgh University Press, 2009)

  • The Doxology of Yuen Woo-Ping by Roger Garcia, from A Study of the Hong Kong Martial Arts Film (printed and released at the 4th Hong Kong International Film Festival in April of 1980)



Video

The Miracle Fighters has been on my little Blu-ray wish list for quite a long time now. It has never been officially available on stateside video. I imported the non-anamorphic Universal Laser DVD from Hong Kong way back in the late ‘90s and waited patiently – for a quarter century – for someone, anyone, in any country to at least put out an anamorphic disc. Apparently, I missed that rights holder Fortune Star released a Hong Kong Blu-ray in 2021, but that’s okay, because they’ve supplied Eureka Entertainment with (seemingly) the same 2K restoration for the film’s English-friendly US/UK/Canadian HD debut.


I’m happy enough having the film in HD, but this 2.35:1, 1080p transfer has the extra added bonus among the better Fortune Star-branded Golden Harvest transfers. A lot of the obvious limitations, such as inconsistent focus and anamorphic stretch, are inherent in the material. A 4K scan could produce finer grain texture, but the overall detail is effective, especially the more dynamically-lit close-ups. Print damage is minor and the most common digital artifact is a slight sheen of HDR that might just be a case of the scan itself being a tad subpar. The real star, though, is the color quality, which is wonderfully vibrant and eclectic. Honestly, the film is so much more vivid than the old DVDs that it’s practically a new experience.


It’s great to finally have nice copies of The Miracle Fighters and Iron Monkey. 88 Films has also announced a 4K remaster of Tai Chi Master. Now then, who has the rights to Wing Chun (1994)?



Audio

The Miracle Fighters is presented with original Cantonese and English dub options, both in uncompressed LPCM mono. This is admittedly not a very good English dub, either in terms of performance or lip sync (noting that the film was likely shot without audio and the Catnonese and possible Mandarin tracks would’ve also been dubbed), but I do have a soft spot for it. While the bulk of the tracks share sound effects and even some non-lingual dialogue (“hi-yah” and such), Tang ​​Siu-Lam’s original music has been altered. The scores are similar and I suspect both feature cues from other films, but are definitely different. Compared directly, the English track is slightly louder and a bit cleaner, while the Cantonese dub suffers from slightly more hiss and compression.



Extras

  • Commentary on the Hong Kong theatrical version by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) – Everyone’s favorite NY Asian Film Festival programmer and Hong Kong film expert returns for another charming and informative track. As per usual, Djeng explores the larger careers of the cast & crew (emphasizing the Yuen Clan), the making of and release of The Miracle Fighters, and the taoist traditions and true histories represented in the film.

  • Commentary with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema – In the second track, casting director/stunt coordinator/producer Leeder and Venema, the critic and director/co-writer (with Leeder) of the upcoming doc Neon Grindhouse: Hong Kong cover some of the same ground as Djeng, mainly the larger careers of the cast & crew, but their tone is quite different (they’re very excited to share recommendations) and they include a number of personal anecdotes, as both have worked in the industry.

  • Action Master: An Interview with Yuen Woo-ping (21:23, HD) – In this 2012 interview, conducted by Frederic Ambrosine, the master discusses his career, changes in the industry, special effects assistance, working with all-star actors and his own family, and the differences in his approach to directing his own films and supervising choreography for other directors.

  • At the Service of the Great Magician (17:20, HD) – Assistant director Fish Fong chats about entering the industry, working with Yuen, the origins and making of The Miracle Fighters, casting Yuen Cheung-yan as an old woman, paying homage to Yuen Siu-tin, the logistics of the snake pit sequence (sadly, most of the rented snakes died when the dry ice effects suffocated them), and Taiwanese companies investing in the sequels.

  • The Shakespeare of Yuen Woo-ping – John Kreng, filmmaker and author of Fight Choreography: The Art of Non-verbal Dialogue (Course Technology PTR, 2007) closes things out by looking back on an epic interview he conducted with Yuen during the filming of the first Matrix movie.

  • Trailer

  • Still Gallery



The images on this page are taken from the BDs and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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