Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Catrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong
If you’ve never seen Big Trouble in Little China then you need to deal with that or you’ll always feel like something is missing in your life. There’s nothing else like it and it was my personal favourite childhood movie. Directed by the legendary John Carpenter and starring his muse Kurt Russell it’s a classic that still leaves you pondering how the hell it was ever made.
BTILC is Carpenter at his most over the top and ridiculous. There’s none of the creeping dread of The Thing and none of the subtlety of Halloween. And that’s exactly what makes it a lost classic.
The plot is suitably crazy with Kurt Russell having the time of his life as Jack Burton, a macho, smart-assed truck driver out of his depth in a world of magic, mysticism, and Chinese mythology. An ancient Chinese demon king needs to marry a girl with green eyes to make him immortal. It just happens he lives in modern day i.e 1986 San Francisco as a reclusive business man. After Jack’s buddy Wang’s new girlfriend (who has green eyes and bad acting) gets kidnapped by triads, Jack and a motley crew of a reporter, a sorcerer, a chubby restaurant owner, and others go to rescue her.
If you don’t think that sounds like the greatest story ever told then you have my pity friend. No one takes these kind of risks with films anymore. To mash together fantasy, comedy, action, and horror and make it great is nearly impossible but Carpenter succeeds. It’s Kurt Russell who holds the whole thing together representing the audience with his bewilderment and constant questions about what the hell is going on. Jack Burton is the prime example of a lovable asshole. He’s a borderline idiot, but a hugely resourceful one who is amazing at throwing a knife.
The script is perfect, it’s tongue in cheek and Jack’s idiocy always undermines the gravity of any situation. Example:
Jack Burton: Okay. You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we’re not back by dawn… call the president.
The movie is full of lines like that and more with everyone getting a chance to say something memorable.
The bad guy Lo Pan is truly evil in that classic campy Hammer Horror way, while his three super powered bodyguards are extremely cool. One fires lightning from his hands, one is really fast, and the other one is er, able to make himself bigger for some reason that’s never fully made clear. Once all of the characters clash at the end you’ll be fully behind Jack and the gang.
A fantastic script, a hot young Kim Catrall, martial arts battles in downtown San Francisco, and Kurt Russell’s greatest ever character make Big Trouble in Little China the Citizen Kane of silly, 80s, action comedies. As old Jack Burton used to say ‘Everybody relax, I’m here’.
This Screenkicker classic is also an entry in The Movie Waffler’s 1001 overlooked movies. Check it out here and see some of the other entries.