Big Trouble in Little China (1986) / Action-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, language and some scary images
Running Time: 99 min.

Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Suzee Pai
Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter

 

 

Campy trash?  Cult schlock? Guilty pleasure?  It's "yes" to all three questions in John Carpenter's crazy kung fu action vehicle, Big Trouble in Little China.  It's not really a film one would call good in any kind of traditional sense, but there's no denying that it is the type of movie that one would definitely call fun.  Although it isn't really a comedy by definition, it's still an amusing film, simply because the creators refuse to take anything seriously.  Much of the enjoyment comes in seeing how bizarre director John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) is willing to go and still maintain a sense of cohesion to the story.  If he succeeds, he does so by the barest of margins, in this "shake-your-head-at-how-silly-it-is" action/adventure/fantasy/horror/martial arts/romance/comedy (*WHEW*).

Kurt Russell (Stargate, Tombstone) stars as truck driver Jack Burton, who finds himself in the middle of an ancient war when a good friend's fiancée is kidnapped before his eyes.  The strange thing about it is that the men who took her aren't men exactly, but ghosts looking for a return of the evil sorcerer Lo Pan  to mortality through the marriage and sacrifice of a certain green-eyed woman.  With assistance of a crew of men from San Francisco's Chinatown district, Jack now enters the world of the supernatural to rescue the girl and defeat Lo Pan's evil scourge once and for all.

Big Trouble in Little China marks the fourth collaboration between director John Carpenter (Starman, They Live) and actor Kurt Russell, who first joined forces in the 1979 made for TV movie, Elvis.  Two years later, Russell would be the main star in the successful Carpenter vehicle, Escape from New York, followed by the cult classic sci fi/horror flick, The Thing, both of which set the tone for Carpenter's mix of macho loner bravado, camp humor, and cheesy horror elements. 

Big Trouble is as much a mish-mash of Carpenter staples as it is a cross-breeding of many genres, and for the most part, the sheer craziness of the mixture provides most of the fuel to the fire of the film's success in being interesting.  However, at the time of its release, the future video cult classic didn't fare so well with the critics or the box office.  Admittedly, it is a weird, quirky film, and definitely of appeal mostly to lovers of B-grade schlock -- the kind of people who spend most of their video rental dollars on every kung fu, sci fi and horror film that is collecting dust on the shelves. 

You may be enthralled or thoroughly confused, but in either case, Big Trouble in Little China has an immediate visceral impact that can't be denied.  Cheese-ball fun for those who love junk food cinema.

©2004 Vince Leo