Big Trouble in Little China
Review No. 379
The Bottom Line: John Carpenter’s silly, silly, silly, fun, fun, fun cult movie.
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: W.D. Richter
Based on: an early screenplay by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein
Jack Burton: Kurt Russell
Gracie Law: Kim Cattrall
Wang Chi: Dennis Dun
David Lo Pan: James Hong
Egg Shen: Victor Wong
Miao Yin: Suzee Pai
Also Starring: Al Leong, Carter Wong, Chao-Li Chi, Donald Li, James Pax, Kate Burton, Peter Kwong
Distributed by 20th Century Fox on July 2, 1986. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 99 minutes. Rated PG-13 by the MPAA (comic violence; language).
Big Trouble in Little China was watched on December 28, 2012.
“I’m a reasonable guy. But, I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things.” –Jack Burton (Kurt Russell)
Ask me not why Big Trouble in Little China is often recognized as John Carpenter’s work, sometimes even billed that way. Carpenter is known mainly for his work in the horror genre, with films like Halloween and The Thing. Big Trouble is a blend of the Chinese martial arts genre and American slapstick.
Knowing how absurdly this turns out, I wasn’t very appalled to find out that the story was originally set not in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the 1980s, but in the Old West, circa 1880s. Please note that the film’s tagline reads, “Jack Burton’s in for some serious trouble and you’re in for some serious fun,” and that “serious” is used to mean “absolute,” not “stern and straightforward.”
Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a truck driver who has picked up a hitchhiker named Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) and is driving him to San Francisco’s Chinatown. Wang Chi is constantly preoccupied by the thought of his fiancé, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), the only known Chinese woman with green eyes, and he has plans to marry her soon. But when she is abducted, their path brings them instead to the home of David Lo Pan (James Hong), a lonely, several-hundred-year-old sage with a spiritual belief in Chinese magic.
Is any of this sounding familiar? I began thinking it was something along the lines of The Gods Must Be Crazy 3. The same madcap, draw-an-idea-from-the-hat-every-ten-minutes-and-find-a-brilliantly-loopy-way-to-transition-into-it sort of humor was used to killer effect in the early 1980s by the first entry of that series, a South African comedy. Essentially, the only change here is what deus ex machina tactic just about falls from the sky to get the film going: ancient Chinese worship in lieu of Coke bottles.
Our story revolves, in part, around the importance of martial arts and inhuman magic in China’s spirituality. When this staple makes a flamboyant show of itself, it works with massively humorous results. When it’s forced just a “push over the cliff,” it falls flat on its face.
Big Trouble in Little China is two tons o’ fun. For a film that was rushed into production, with the directorial attachment of John Carpenter seeming about as random as golfball-sized hail during a blue moon, the results are no less than incredible. To any lesser extent, this is merely a whimsical, silly farce with equal parts cheese and class.
Oh wait, there is one huge surprise: Kurt Russell plays the impatient sidekick. We’re not used to him as the subservient Western man to the short, talkative Eastern man, but it’s the underlying source for the better half of the film’s comedy.
If you enjoy the classic comedy of the Three Stooges or Abbot and Costello, you’re guaranteed to enjoy this wildly chaotic and hysterical farce. Dare I say such individuals would be in “big trouble” having not seen it.