Big Trouble in Little China (1986) 20th Century Fox/Action-Comedy-Fantasy RT: 99 minutes Rated PG-13 (language, action/fantasy violence, some sexual content) Director: John Carpenter Screenplay: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein and W.D. Richter Music: John Carpenter and Alan Howarth Cinematography: Dean Cundey Release date: July 2, 1986 (US) Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Donald Li, Suzee Pai, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Chao Li Chi. Box Office: $11.1 million
WOW! Big Trouble in LIttle China is definitely a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience .... it's an action/adventure/supernatural/martial-arts/fantasy/comedy, how often does something like that come along? Directed by John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape from New York), it bombed at the summer box office ($11.1 million against a $25 million budget) and might have been forgotten completely had it not been for the magic of home video. It gave this movie the second chance it deserved and it became a cult favorite as more people watched it on the recommendation of their friends. I saw Big Trouble in Little China after work on a dull Saturday evening (July 5, 1986) and thoroughly enjoyed this original and crazy mash-up of genres. It was certainly different from the other movies currently playing in theaters- Top Gun, The Karate Kid Part II, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, About Last Night, Running Scared, etc.- and I'm never one to pass up the opportunity to see a movie that doesn't conform to a specific formula. To this day, there hasn't been a movie quite like and that's actually a good thing, why should another filmmaker attempt any kind of re-do? It's not like they'll successfully recapture the spirit of the original. I don't think that anybody could duplicate what Carpenter did with one of his most overlooked and underappreciated movies.
Now for the big questions ...... what should I tell you and what should I not tell you about the movie? I've thought long and hard about this and I decided to rely on the old saying about less being more. In other words, I'm just going to give you a taste. During a stopover in San Francisco's Chinatown, truck driver Jack Burton (Russell, Escape from New York) finds himself in over his head while attempting to collect a gambling debt from his friend Wang Chi (Dun, Prince of Darkness). Jack accompanies Wang to the airport to pick up his fiancee Miao Yin (Pai, Sharky's Machine). Members of a Chinese street gang snatch Miao Yin and the guys follow them to the back alleys of Chinatown where they get caught up in a battle between the Chang Sing and the Wing Kong (two ancient societies). Suddenly, three powerful magicians- Thunder (Wong), Rain (Kwong) and Lightning (Pax)- appear and completely wipe out the Chang Sing. That's when the powerful sorcerer Lo Pan (Hong, Missing in Action) enters the picture. While trying to get away, Jack runs over him with his truck (the Pork Chop Express) and can't believe his eyes when he sees that he's completely unharmed. At this point, Big Trouble in Little China kicks into full action/adventure mode as Jack leads a mission to rescue Miao Yin from the clutches of Lo Pan. I won't tell you anymore about the movie's plot except that it also involves a lawyer named Gracie Law (Cattrall, Police Academy). That's it, that's all you get, see the movie if you want to now what happens next!
Where do I begin? There's so much right with Big Trouble in Little China that maybe it would be easier to point out its flaws, but nothing like that really comes to mind. Kurt Russell, doing an awesome imitation of John Wayne, turns in another excellent performance. His character narrates the whole movie and it's a chance for Russell to display his great sense of humor. He gets off some classic lines like, "I'm a reasonable guy, but I've just experienced some very unreasonable things." Or, summing up philosophy of life, "Ol' Jack always says .... what the hell!" Or my personal favorite, "When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: 'Have ya paid your dues, Jack?' 'Yessir, the check is in the mail.'" Honestly, I don't think Russell has ever turned in a bad performance, even in lackluster movies like Winter People, Captain Ron, Soldier and Poseidon. He's one of those actors that's impossible to dislike, he can do it all- action (Escape from New York), comedy (Used Cars), horror (The Thing), drama (Backdraft) and whatever you want to call Big Trouble in Little China.
The screenplay is co-written by W.D. Richter, one of the minds behind the 1984 cult hit The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Between these two flicks, Richter obviously has one hell of an imagination. It's a very inventive story that keeps going off in unexpected directions, the script includes everything except the kitchen sink ..... ghosts, sorcerers, monsters, romance, magic, beautiful girls in distress and ancient Chinese secrets. With its tongue-in-cheek style, you can't help but enjoy this flick. The special effects are top notch, it's a real feast for the eyes. Carpenter and Alan Howarth provide a terrific score, but I'd expect nothing less from the man who created one of the most prominent horror movie themes of the 20th century, who doesn't know the Halloween music? Carpenter shows that he's absolutely capable of non-horror filmmaking, something that he initially proved with 1984's Starman. The whole cast looks like they're having a great times and there's no reason why that feeling shouldn't extend to the audience. Big Trouble in Little China is one of those movies that you can watch many times and always spot something new. On top of that, it's one of the funnier movies from summer '86 and that's a real feat when you remember the other great comedies from that time- Back to School, Ruthless People, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and One Crazy Summer. The bottom line .... it's 100% pure fun! If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for? If you've already seen it, what are you waiting for, watch it again!