In any conversation about films of the 1980s, slap into discussion the movie about the wisecracking,overly-cocky bumbling hero who has to take on supernatural forces, often with humorous results, and chances are your co-discussers will think you are talking about Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2. Good as that movie is, there is another film, which is undeniabley due a place in film history, but sadly only gets cult status, is director John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China.
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Billed on posters as "A Mystical, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Kung Fu, Monster, Ghost Story!", the movie follows trucker Jack Burton(Kurt Russell - The Thing), Jack is visiting his friend Wang(Dennis Dun - Prince of Darkness) in San Francisco's Chinatown, where Wang loses a bet with Jack, but before he can pay up he needs to go and collect his fiancee from the airport, so Jack tags along. When his fiancee Miao Yin(Suzee Pai - First Blood) arrives, she is kidnapped by a group of Asian gang-members, while Jack is trying his best to chat up lawyer Gracie Law(Kim Cattrall - Revenant), but ends up helping Wang pursue the thugs, and a chase back to Chinatown ensues with Jack and Wang in 'the Porkchop Express', Jack's truck.
When they reach Chinatown, they find themselves in the midst of a funeral for a member of the local martial arts temple Chang Sing. The funeral is interrupted by members of the rival Wing Chun, and all hell breaks loose in the street. Things get even stranger when three warriors come down from the sky, named Lightning(James Pax - Shootfighter),Thunder(Carter Wong - The 18 Bronzemen) and Rain(Peter Kwong - The Golden Child), these warriors seem to control the elements they take their names from.
Jack and Wang will have to team up with Gracie, and also local old man in the know Egg Shen(Victor Wong - Tremors) as they discover that Miao Yin was not kidnapped at random, and it's her green eyes that make here the object of desire for ancient demon David Lo Pan(James Hong - G2:Mortal Conquest), who needs to marry her and sacrifice her to become human once again. As they go on a quest that will take them all over the undergrounds of Chinatown, Jack's about to learn that there is more to the place than Chinese restaurants.
First of all, the plot of this film may sound very silly, and it is pretty silly. Intentionally. Big Trouble succeeds where a lot of movies that try to cross genre's fail, in that it manages to succeed in being both an exciting action/martial arts movie, but also a highly amusing comedy. The character of Jack should really be regarded as cinema legend, if only for the one liners, which absolutely destroy the one liners from any other movie character, and yes that includes Ash, in terms of being witty and generally pleasing for those who want comedy. When there is a heated discussion on various Chinese traditions, he interups with "hey guys,Im starting to feel like a bit of an outsider here." Basically every word he says is gold, and he truly is a masterstroke of a character. In general the writing of the characters is superb. While Lo Pan is slightly cliched, he is written in such a way he has to be liked, and Wang is a unique sidekick in that he is actually more of a hero than Jack.
On the Commentary, Carpenter comments that this lead to problems for them at the time, because the distributors just didn't get it, they didn't realise it was part of the comedy, but personally I think it's touches like this that elevate the movie above the average adventure.
But the characters would only be half as great if it wasn't for the wonderful cast fleshing them out. All of the main players get what is happening wonderfully,and put in wonderful performances. I already quite liked Kurt Russell, but after this the man is a legend in my book. It also made me sigh and shake my head when I caught James Hong in a rubbish B-Movie, because on warrant of this film alone he deserves so much better.
What makes things even better is the fact that the cast just 'clicks' with one another in the most wonderful of ways.
Something that fans of Martial Arts B-Movies will also take interest in is the awesome supporting cast,including the likes of James Lew(Best of the Best),George Cheung(Death Ring),Al Leong(Death Warrant),Gerald Okamura(Firepower),Eric Lee(Ring of Fire),Brian Imada(Army of One)Vernon Rieta(Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor) and the legendary Dan Inosanto(Game of Death) amongst others.
The music in the movie really is spot on, from the cheesy rock of the credits to the oriental twanged music later on, they have got it spot on in terms of enhancing the already well established fun mood of the picture via it's music.
Special Effects, well some of them have aged a little, but not to the point they look embarassing. The lightning effects and light from Lo Pan and such aren't spectacular by today's standards, but they certainly do their job and look decent.
The action in the movie, which never seems to let up, is spectacular, shoot-outs,kung fu, it's all here, all done well and in a manner that never fails to excite, no matter how many viewings this movie gets from me.
On the whole, Big Trouble in Little China is basically one of the most entertaining,funny and generally best movies I have ever seen. It makes no attempts to be big or clever, just to be one hell of a rollercoaster ride, something which it doesn't just succeed in doing, but does so with flying colours.
I would recommend the movie to anyone who is looking for a movie that is just damn good fun on all counts, and really doesn't have any major flaws, in my eyes anyway.
Big Trouble in Little China is a mostly overlooked gem from the 80s that never diminishes in entertainment value, no matter how many times it gets watched. I couldn't think of any film better to mark my 300th review here.
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