Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Music Review: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986, The Coupe de Villes)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 3 minutes, 22 seconds.
Best line: "Take us away.... Take us away.... Take us awayyyyyyyyy......"

John Carpenter- Vocals, Bass guitar. No introduction necessary.

Nick Castle- Vocals, Keyboards. Donned the mask of Michael Myers, aka The Shape, in HALLOWEEN. Co-wrote ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and HOOK. Directed THE LAST STARFIGHTER, THE BOY WHO COULD FLY, and um, MR. WRONG. Wrote and directed TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME, a precursor to GOTCHA!

Tommy Lee Wallace- Guitar. Converted the $1.98 William Shatner mask into the Michael Myers mask fans know and love, and briefly wore it in the final scenes of the original HALLOWEEN. Edited HALLOWEEN and THE FOG. Directed HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2, and STEPHEN KING'S IT.

Together: these men are the Coupe de Villes. One of the most rockingest bands of the 1980's, or any other decade. I'm serious. And the music video for their little ditty, "Big Trouble (in Little China)"- a song which played over the closing credits of the film of the same name- gives us an unprecedented glimpse into Carpenter's creative process.

Set in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA's editing room, this music video blurs the lines of reality and fiction as Carpenter, Castle, and Wallace encounter all manner of villains, creatures, and 80's lightning as they simultaneously cut the film and bring down they house with this absolutely kickin' tune:

Alright- I hear you jag-offs sniggering in the back row. Sure, they don't exactly look like rock stars. But may I remind you: this predated the bland, airbrushed perfections of today's repulsive music scene. This was the 80's.

Dire Straits was hot shit:

Yello enjoyed moderate success:

Why not the Coup de Villes? Maybe it has something to do with the fact John Carpenter was too busy making the best films of the 80's to focus on properly marketing his band?

Regardless- onto the song:

"You can feel the wind is risin', baby, now the truth is near..."

Whoa- who is that? Is that Jim Morrison, back from the grave? John Carpenter's voice is really that sonorous? That resonant?

"Outta the dark they're comin, baby, all the things you fear..."

Could that enthusiastic, high-pitched inflection really be the voice of 'The Shape' himself?

"MmmmMMM....we'd better run...."

Listen to that infectious bass line! I challenge you to name me a better bass line from '86. And that little 'Eastern' pitch-bendy thing they're doing? I wanna hear some more of that.

"Runnin' through the mystic until they take us away...take us away ...TAKE US AWAYYYYY! Big trouble...IN little CHYYYY-na!

You can feel the thunder movin', baby, like an evil dream...

"And there's no one in the world to save us, baby, nothin's as it seems..."

"MmmmMMM....we'd better run.... Runnin' through the mystic until they take us away...take us away ...TAKE US AWAYYYYY! Big trouble...IN little CHYYYY-na! We got big trouble... HERE IN LITTLE CHi-na-nuh.... We better run...Mmmmm-running through the mystic night- runnin' through the rolling fire... Runnin' through the burning blades... runnin' through to call it's name... Runnin' through the midnight pain... runnin' till they take us away, Take us away.... Take us away.... Take us awayyyyyyyyy...... Big little china...We got big trouble.... in little China...We got big trouble... in little China..."
And here's a picture of Tommy Lee Wallace rocking out, because I don't want to feel like I'm neglecting him:

Now, lyrically and musically, it remains relatively uncomplex, but that only works to its advantage. My only complaint, perhaps, is the use of a drum machine where a live drummer could have brought some serious character: what other Carpenter cronies could have done the job? I don't know, does Larry J. Franco play the drums? Donald Pleasence? Hey, why not go with the sexy female drummer vibe and get Jamie Lee Curtis up there? PERFECT revealed her to possess certain sense of rhythm. But, whatever- I'm not going to criticize. When a song has got as irresistable a bass line as this one, it can pretty much do whatever the fuck it wants. Plus it ends with an explosion, which, personally, I think is pretty goddamned great.

Anyway, there's a lot more going on here than just the song, which doesn't quite lend itself to an in-depth, scholarly analysis- it's about what it says it is: "big trouble in little China." Let's look at the visuals:

It seems that the post-production process of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA brought with it some unexpected hazards– like Lo Pan's eye-zapping energy escaping the screen and imbuing a shocked and traumatized John Carpenter's bass guitar (which is actually a 1962 Hofner Violin Bass, the same as Paul McCartney used in his prime) with the power of 80's lightning and the ability to thrive on persuasive riffs:

And when John finishes cutting the sequence, Nick Castle has to grab the next reel from the shelf... which happens to contain an escaped beastie from the film! It's a good thing Nick didn't take a big sip of water right before he opened this reel, or else we'd have a major spit-take on our hands:

John's behavior becomes increasingly erratic, and his personality appears to become fused with that of Lo Pan himself.

Nobody seems to care much because he starts rocking out harder than ever.

'Thunder' (from the film) appears behind John's shoulder, puffs up, and explodes– just as a knife slices the picture in two and ends the music video (and the resultant psychogenic fugue state between John Carpenter/Lo Pan), freeing Lo Pan's evil spirit to roam elsewhere.

This is what it's all about, ladies and gentlemen. Stay tuned to this station for perhaps more Coup de Villes coverage in the future....

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Hah! awesome. I do dig this song and I love that they included the video on the Special Edition DVD of this film. Also, they released an awesome deluxe edition, 2-CD set of the soundtrack awhile back that is definitely worth tracking down. (nah, I'm not obsessed with this film at all)

Sean Gill said...

Ha- no judgment here- I've got that same 2 CD set, as well!

Jillaine said...


GuyR said...

Fun fact : in French slang, "coupe" means "haircut". Makes sense...

And it seems like Carpenter has always been a precursor to everything : he even had the Kanye West sunglasses before they became sickeningly fashionable!

Sean Gill said...


Glad you enjoyed.


Truly Carpenter is one of the few who can be forgiven for his schweet Shutter Shades. At least he had the good sense to keep them out of THEY LIVE- ha!

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or is that dude SPOT-ON for Adam Sandler?


Sean Gill said...


Some have posited that Nick Castle looks a lot like Adam Sandler; but I say it's the other way 'round– Adam Sandler bears a certain resemblance to Nick Castle!

Reginald McFarlane said...

Absolutely perfect review of a perfect music video to a perfect movie!

Reginald McFarlane said...

Absolutely perfect review of a perfect music video to a perfect movie!

Reginald McFarlane said...

Absolutely perfect review of a perfect music video to a perfect movie!

Sean Gill said...


Thanks, glad you enjoyed!