Running Time: 99 minutes.
Tag-line: "Adventure doesn't come any bigger!"
Notable Cast or Crew: Written by Gary Goldman (TOTAL RECALL, NAVY SEALS) & David Z. Weinstein, and transformed and adapted by W.D. Richter (HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS '78). Starring Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun (YEAR OF THE DRAGON, THE LAST EMPEROR), James Hong (BLADE RUNNER, CHINATOWN), Victor Wong (TREMORS, 3 NINJAS), Kate Burton (THE ICE STORM, UNFAITHFUL), Donald Li (ONE CRAZY SUMMER, MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN), Carter Wong (HARDCASE AND FIST, COUNTDOWN TO KUNG FU), Peter Kwong (GLEAMING THE CUBE, BRAIN SMASHER- A LOVE STORY), James Pax (INVASION U.S.A., KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS), Al Leong (the ubiquitous henchman from everything). Cinematography by Dean Cundey (THE THING, BACK TO THE FUTURE, JURASSIC PARK, D.C. CAB).
Best one-liner: "This is gonna take crackerjack timing, Wang."
"Son of a bitch must pay!" John Carpenter was on a serious hot streak in the 1980's- his output (THE THING, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THEY LIVE, et al.), in my opinion, stands tall alongside a decade's worth of work from any comparable director. I've no idea why, but very few post-1970 filmmakers saw it fit to take up the mantle of Howard Hawks- delivering action-packed, immaculately constructed character-driven films for men's men (and where the ladies pulled no punches, either)... but John Carpenter was one of 'em (Walter Hill being a notable other), and, consequently, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is a goddamned blast. It's all about sliding down a fireman's pole and ending up in the ancient Chinese underworld:
It's about that brief, ecstatic feeling of invulnerability after swigging the contents of the six-demon bag:
It's about roaring down the highway in the Freightliner called the Pork Chop Express, delivering lovably pompous CB radio monologues to no one in particular, and chomping from a ham sammy that’s bigger’n yer head.
It's about THIS:
But, in the end, it's mostly about this:
In short, it’s about the exhilaration of being ALIVE in a world of unfathomable mystery. “Have ya paid your dues, Jack?– Yessir, the check is in the mail.” Unfortunately, the studio didn't know how to market this kooky hodgepodge of kung fu, sorcery, cockiness, and rapid-fire banter, and it resulted in commercial failure (and Carpenter wishing to abandon the world of high pressure and even higher budgets). Lucky for us all, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA received a new lease on life on videocassette, and, for the initiated, remains a beloved cult hit.
It succeeds for me because it never feels the need to go "wink and nod," to establish itself as 'above' its material. Clearly Carpy loves this shit, full-tilt: kung fu, Hawks, John Wayne, all of it. And in transmitting the spirit of films past, he never loses the boyish excitement which drew him to them in the first place. Who has any use for a kung fu 'spoof' in a world where BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA exists? The fun Carpenter is having is genuine, and it is infectious. I may even go as far as to say that it may be the greatest "beer, pizza, and friends" film ever made. [Carpenter even goes further in showing the hell of a time he's having by having the Coupe de Villes (a band comprised of he and his filmmaking buddies Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle) jam over the end credits with the balls-to-the-wall musical brilliance that is "Big Trouble (in Little China)," which may very well be the subject of a forthcoming music review.]
With a sleek, sharp, and funny script courtesy of eclectic screenwriting maestro W.D. Richter (adapted and updated from the screenplay to a Western by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein) and lighthearted, old Hollywood-style direction from Carpy, Kurt Russell is free to step in and create a larger-than-life character (Jack Burton) who’s as ineffectual as he is badass; as impotent as he is lovable.
He’s John Wayne for an era where posturing and pretense mean everything, but when it comes to ACTION, – um, uh...what? Watch Russell as his faux-macho persona comes to grips with his initial inability to work a gun- and the subtle glimmer of panic in his eyes as he blasts his first henchman.
He's a runaway train of swagger, guts, and bluster who generally serves as a massive distraction while his "sidekick" (Dennis Dun's Wang Chi) actually gets shit done. Many have posited that though he's the main character, Jack Burton is actually Wang Chi's sidekick, which isn't a stretch of the imagination by any means. But you never tire of Russell's manically youthful cackle, or his proclivity toward moaning "Awwwwww, CHRIST!"
I love this movie. I love 80’s lightning effects.
I love the fact that the millennia-old Lo Pan’s demonic lair is totally decked out in neon and escalators.
I love the walleyed, hunchback'd, limpin', Chewbacca-lookin' creature who kidnaps Kim Cattrall.
I love the gangs who have apparently escaped from the set of a Golan-Globus flick.
I love the likably off-kilter performance of Victor Wong, who maintains dignity and authority in the midst of laser beams, slapstick, and rubbery varmints.
I love Jack Burton's ill-conceived act of subterfuge which allows us one final glimpse of Russell's charlatan, "Rudy Russo" from USED CARS.
I love the inventive, pre-CGI monsters
and the man who gets so pissed off, he literally explodes.
But ultimately, it’s the bonds of friendship, tempered by experience (“We really shook the pillars of heaven, didn’t we, Wang?”), that are the measure of the human experience.
I know Hawks would be proud.
6. BLIND FURY (1989, Philip Noyce)
7. HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951, John Farrow)
8. HIGH SCHOOL U.S.A. (1983, Rod Amateau)
9. DR. JEKYLL AND MS. HYDE (1995, David Price)
10. MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (1997, Clint Eastwood)
11. 1990: BRONX WARRIORS (1982, Enzo G. Castellari)
12. FALLING DOWN (1993, Joel Schumacher)
13. TOURIST TRAP (1979, David Schmoeller)
14. THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973, Richard Lester)
15. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986, John Carpenter)