When my son Ben was little, we saw a movie called Big Trouble in Little China, (1986) and had our own copy of it which Ben would watch happily any amount of times. We knew the script by heart I’m sure. I have such fond memories of that time that I bought the 2 disc special DVD which came out in 2001, but until Saturday night hadn’t watched it. When Michel and Cain discussed it’s merits on the Raistlin blog I thought I’d do a rewatch for my fun Saturday night movie.
The film is directed by John Carpenter and stars Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, a truck driver who gets involved in helping his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) rescue his fiancée from a Chinese street gang ~ The Lords of Death who intend to sell her as a sex slave. The fiancée, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) has green eyes, and ends up being kidnapped by The Three Storms, on behalf of their boss Lo Pan (James Hong) who needs the blood of a green eyed girl to make him corporeal and break an ancient curse. It should be pointed out that The Three Storms are magical beings, all of whomst are sporting gigantic straw hats, 🤷♀️. Carter Wong as Thunder, an elemental master who can expand his body, Peter Kwong as Rain, an elemental master and expert martial artist with a sword James Pax as Lightning, an elemental master who can shoot out bolts of lightning.
Well, I’ll leave the plot there, because it’s all just bonkers. Kim Cattrall plays a lawyer, Gracie who also has green eyes and gets captured by Lo Pan whilst she’s helping rescue the other one. Victor Wong plays Egg Shen, a sorcerer and old enemy of Lo Pan who also drives a tour bus, and helps in the final rescue.
There are special FX which are hokey to say the least, and wierd monsters which are even more hokey. The martial arts are well done, and there’s a lot of ‘flying through the air’ fighting towards the end. All the actors are hamming it up as bigly as they can, Russell does really well at playing Jack as a hero that is arrogant, but in way over his head. Cattrall is particularly awful though she said she enjoyed playing a feisty, smart woman that didn’t have to scream her way through a movie. Dennis Dun is an amazing martial artist, who saves the day and is the real hero of the film.
Poor Phil, never have I had to say ‘sorry about this’ so often during a movie. I should have left it as it was, a memory of a fun movie shared with my kid. We both couldn’t help thinking ‘what was Carpenter thinking???’ It’s got a cult following now and I don’t begrudge that. The 2nd disc of the DVD has everything a cultist needs, deleted scenes, extended ending, articles from American Cinematography and Cinefax, and interviews with Russell and Carpenter, where he possibly tells you what he was thinking.
A few critics liked it, with most of those assuming Carpenter is affectionately distilling and subverting King Fu B movies, but a lot didn’t rate it very highly and with it being released in the midst of all the hype about James Cameron’s Aliens, which landed in cinemas 2 weeks later, it didn’t do well at the box office either. The double whammy of critical and commercial failure prompted Carpenter to become an independant movie maker, “The experience [of Big Trouble] was the reason I stopped making movies for the Hollywood studios. I won’t work for them again. I think Big Trouble is a wonderful film, and I’m very proud of it. But the reception it received, and the reasons for that reception, were too much for me to deal with. I’m too old for that sort of bullshit”.
In fairness the film reversed typical roles, and was the first-ever presentation of a US wuxia (a genre of Chinese fiction or cinema featuring itinerant warriors of ancient China, often depicted as capable of superhuman feats of martial arts) with a huge Asian cast and a big Hollywood budget. Dennis Dun who really was the leading man in this had hoped that his career would take off after ~ “Maybe I’ll keep getting more interesting roles that are beyond the stereotypes of Asians. But it didn’t happen.” No, things just reverted to how they’d been before.
Fraggle Rating: Wierd and Wild and Happily Bonkers.