Monday, July 04, 2016

Big Trouble In Little China

If you were to ask fans of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, particularly those who didn’t see it theatrically in 1986, to hazard a guess at its box office gross, I suspect almost all of them would guess high. Director John Carpenter’s follow-up to the very good but conventional (and Oscar-nominated) science fiction romance STARMAN falls into several genres: action/adventure, fantasy, comedy, martial arts, romance. Inspired by wuxia films popular in Hong Kong at the time (though not well distributed in the United States), the subversive BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA debuted at #12 (!) at the July 4 weekend boxoffice and quickly faded from movie screens. Like THE THING and THEY LIVE — other Carpenter films that were unfairly ignored at the time of their original release — BIG TROUBLE has, over the years, evolved into one of the director’s most popular films.

And rightly so. An imaginative adventure film packed with funny lines, amusing performances, and colorful visual effects supervised by Richard Edlund (STAR WARS), BIG TROUBLE is seen through the eyes of Everyman Jack Burton, a somewhat dullwitted truck driver who somehow falls into battle with a 2000-year-old Chinese godfather with magical powers played by James Hong (NINJA III: THE DOMINATION). The screenplay by Gary Goldman (TOTAL RECALL), David Z. Weinstein, and W.D. Richter (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) is clever and involved, but never too complicated.

Basically, Burton and his friend Wang Chi (MIDNIGHT CALLER regular Dennis Dun) enter the mysterious underground of San Francisco’s Chinatown to rescue Wang’s fiancee Miao Yen (Suzee Pai) from bandits with super-human powers and martial arts skills. Accompanied by attorney Gracie Law (SEX AND THE CITY’s Kim Cattrall), wizard Egg Shen (Victor Wong), and other friends, Wang and Burton discover that evil Lo Pan (Hong) needs to marry the green-eyed Miao in order to release himself from a curse and become mortal again.

Not that anything is basic about BIG TROUBLE, which plays like a true American original, despite its cribbing from Asian culture. Carpenter packs the film with sensational action and martial arts sequences with 1970s Hong Kong movie star Carter Wong nearly stealing the picture as Lo Pan’s impressively intense right hand. However, nobody can truly steal BIG TROUBLE from Kurt Russell, performing without ego as a swaggering wannabe tough guy who’s seen too many John Wayne movies and can’t quite keep up with his boasting mouth. A fish out of water in a strange society where sorcery and ancient myths are real, Burton is the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on. The joy in Russell’s performance, however, is that Burton also pretends that he does. Russell isn’t quite parodying action heroes, but it’s close and it’s a delight.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what the film would have been like with a different cast: Fred Ward as Jack Burton, John Lone as Wang Chi, Jimmy Wang Yu as Rain, Sonny Chiba as Thunder and Hwang Jang Lee as Lightning. Jimmy Wang Yu could have also been the action director.

Pork Chop Sandwich said...

"You will come out no more!"

"WHAT?? What will come out no more???"

Still one of my favorite movies of all time. And I did see it in the theater.