Big Trouble In Little China * * * *

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

Director John Carpenter made some excellent films during the 70’s & 80’s – “Halloween“, “Assault on Precinct 13“, “The Thing“, “Escape from New York” and “Prince of Darkness“. Some of these are considered classics bit all take on a serious and/or horrific tone. However, Carpenter has also dabbled in comedy with his debut “Dark Star” in 1974 and “Memoirs of An Invisible Man” in 1992. Here, he combines his talents of horror and comedy and delivers, arguably, the most accessible and enjoyable film in his canon.

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a loud-mouth, wise-cracking truck driver, who, while helping his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) find his kidnapped girlfriend, is drawn into a world of centuries old Chinese mythology. Not before long, he’s battling evil spirits and two thousand year old sorcerer David Lo Pan (James Hong) intent on lifting an ancient curse and ruling the universe.

When released in 1986, Big Trouble In Little China received a very poor reception amongst cinema goers. It was a box-office bomb which greatly harmed the reputation of Carpenter (he went back to making independent films after this) and, to some extent, it’s star Russell. The fault of this doesn’t lie at their feet, though, but actually at the feet of the studio who simply didn’t know how to market it. In some ways, this is understandable as the film refuses to be pigeonholed. In the same breath, it can classed as a Kung Fu movie, a Western, a Fantasy, a Horror and a Romance. In essence, it’s all of these things and it’s also not without moments of Comedy. Carpenter delivers an unashamed homage to B-movie filmmaking and incorporates everything he possibly can. This may not work for some but over the years, this has gained a strong cult following, of which, I’m proud to say I’m a member. It has it’s tongue stuck firmly in it’s cheek and it’s aided immeasurably by Kurt Russell’s riotously entertaining surrogate of John Wayne. His performances have rarely been pitched better or his lines as endlessly quotable. Russell’s embodiment of Jack Burton has to be one of the most enjoyable and buffoonish characters that cinema has to offer and had the studio had their way, it would have been Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson in the role. Thankfully though, it wasn’t, as Russell absolutely nails it – in a style not unlike both of the aforementioned actors – and he and Carpenter skilfully orchestrate their gags on the cultural differences between the East and the West. Burton is very much like Indiana Jones (minus the intellect), as he battles his way through an underworld of the fantastical and the magical where he crosses paths with demonic and monstrous adversaries. If the film sounds over-the-top, that’s because it is, but it’s also a highly imaginative and energetic crowd pleaser.

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Wonderfully witty and adventurous, and one that sees Carpenter at his most gleefully entertaining. He crafts just the right balance of humour and action and his abilities to turn on the horror aren’t amiss either.

Mark Walker

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50 Responses to “Big Trouble In Little China * * * *”

  1. So much damn fun! Love this Carpenter/Russell flick, Mark.

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    • Absolutely Michael. It’s funny, man. When I posted this I was wondering who would comment first. I was between you and Eric from The Ipc. You just got in there first and he followed straight after you. I knew you both liked this move. It’s brilliant fun!

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  2. God Damn I love this movie!!! GREATNESS, Mucker!!

    Boat Drinks!!

    Now look, I’m a reasonable guy but I just experienced some very unreasonable things!

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  3. Victor De Leon Says:

    Carpenter and Russell! What’s not to like? I totally LOVE this movie on so many levels. One of the few movies I own on every video format from VHS to Laserdisc and so on. BTILC was quite ahead of it’s time, too.

    It was a shame it did not get it’s due until so much later. That is the pattern with so many JC films, anyway. They age like a fine wine. Good job, Mark and awesome review.

    “China is here, Mr Burton”

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    • What’s not to like indeed, Vic. This is a film that truly deserves its cult status. It is a shame that it didn’t do well on release but, like you say, it was ahead of its time. This was a real staple of childhood. I used to watch this film about 4 times a week.

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      • Victor De Leon Says:

        I did the same! Whenever it was on Cable I would catch it and I remember HBO and either TBS or TNT would air it frequently, too. I recall going to the theaters to see it upon it’s release and shaking my head at how empty the seats were. I thought: “Oh boy. another dud for poor ole Carpenter.” Oh well, at least I loved it! It was their loss, lol.

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      • Yeah, What’s with cinema audiences and Carpenter? Mistakes have been made. He was delivering consistently good material yet no-one was turning up. Like you say, it was their loss. Carpenter is just pure class, man.

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      • Victor De Leon Says:

        It was a trend that started with “The Thing,” unfortunately. Afterwards audiences became very fickle with his movies. He had modest turn outs with Christine, Starman and even Prince of Darkness. Vampires actually did well the first opening weekend but nosedived afterwards. It’s strange but JC took it all in stride. His stuff still rocks.

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      • His stuff does still rock, Vic. I always enjoy his movies. Even the likes Vampires and Ghosts of Mars had there moments. I haven’t seen The Ward yet but I own it, so I’ll have to make some time for that.

        Yeah, imagine The Thing not doing well either? That is an absolute classic of the Sci-Fi and horror genre. One of my favourite movies.

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      • Victor De Leon Says:

        I was one of the very few that actually liked The Ward. It was a nice throwback of sorts for Carpenter. It wasn’t perfect in any way and the material had been done already in other movies. It’s short and sweet and full of the classic Carpenter style and atmosphere.

        Also, I recall years back, The Thing crept up ever so slowly on so many Critic’s, Cable TV and fan made lists alike of top horror/sci fi flicks. For me it eventually replaced Halloween as my fave JC film.

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      • I’m actually watching The Ward right this very second Vic. Decided to finally bite the bullet on it.

        As for The Thing, I personally think it’s Carpenter’s masterpiece. It also has been in my eyes.

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      • Victor De Leon Says:

        Enjoy “The Ward” Mark. Looking forward to your thoughts, man!

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      • So far, so good, Vic. I have to say that I’m missing Carpenter’s electronic score, though.

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      • Victor De Leon Says:

        Oh yeah, but I love the intro track. Not too shabby. But nothing ever compares to JC doing the score himself. Sometimes he gets his son, Cody to help out, too. I picked up the score for “The Ward” off of iTunes. Glad you like it so far!

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      • Not bad, Vic but it was a far cry from Carpenter’s best work. I seen the twist coming a mile away as it’s been played out in at least another couple of films. Still, he seems to be on more solid ground.

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      • Victor De Leon Says:

        Yes, the ending and the entire story pretty much had been done before in Shutter Island and other films. So, it did take away a bit from the originality and expectations. I felt that this movie was akin to JC flexing those old and tired muscles hence that solid ground you mentioned. Totally agree, there. Still, I would take average Carpenter over no Carpenter any day. Glad to hear that you didn’t hate it at least, lol.

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      • Yeah, I didn’t hate it Lol. It was actually okay and if it wasn’t Carpenter behind the wheel, it’s a film I’d have ignored all together. Decent little horror flick that passed the time. Shutter Island and Angel Heart were the two films I had in mind.

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      • Victor De Leon Says:

        Yes, Angel Heart as well! Man, I haven’t seen that one in a very long time.

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      • Same here! I absolutely love it. It used to be my favourite movie many moons ago. Definitely one for the re-watch.

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  4. Such a silly movie, however, one of Carpenter’s most fun movies to date. If only him and Russell tagged-team together more. Movies would never be boring. Good review Mark.

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    • Cheers Dan. Boring is not a word that seems to come into vocabulary of Carpenter and Russell. This is the real highlight (in terms of sheer adulterated entertainment) from their collaborations. It’s just brilliant!

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  5. Great post, makes me want to see it again as I remember enjoying it many years ago.

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  6. Ahah, Kurt Russell & Kim Cattrall, this is gonna be quite nostalgic viewing! I haven’t seen this one Mark but definitely sounds like fun.

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    • It’s brilliant fun, Ruth. It’s become a cult classic and for very good reason. It has a little bit of everything and very hard to resist.

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      • I was actually looking for this in Netflix this weekend Mark but they don’t have it. I’ll see if iTunes has it. I quite like Russell. I think I might’ve mentioned that I saw a double feature of Tango & Cash and Showdown in Little Tokyo one New Year’s Eve w/ my late mom & brother. Yeah, that was one of my fave movie-going experiences! šŸ˜€

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      • Tango & Cash was a childhood favourite of mine, Ruth, and Showdown in Little Tokyo I’d a blast from the past too. I had completely forgotten about that film. It’s funny how movie viewing experiences shape your memories isn’t it? Very much like music that way.

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      • Yeah, those are fun action flicks. I think I enjoyed it more because it’s rare for me to go to the movies w/ my late mom. She’s the one who introduced me to classic films like Gone With the Wind, Ben Hur, etc. but she also didn’t mind action flicks, I mean how many ppl went to see movies like that w/ their mom, ahah. So yeah, it was great nostalgia, I might rewatch ‘Little Tokyo’ as I love Brandon Lee!

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      • That’s partly the reason why I love the Coen’s (and John Carpenter) so much, Ruth. I shared many great film experiences with my late dad through these director’s.

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  7. I remember you left a comment in my review that this was a hard film for you to review and I think you couldnt have reviewed it any better. This film is pure fun and it will always be one of my favorite films of all time. Great review.

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    • Thanks Issy. Now that you mention that, I do remember saying that. I’m glad to finally give the review a go and I have to say, I’m very happy I did. Such a great little movie, who’s cult status pleases me no end.

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  8. Ha ha. What a classic. Haven’t seem this in donkeys years. Great review.

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  9. One of those that has so far escaped me but looks a heck of a lot of fun. Nicely done mate.

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  10. Great review, Mark, capturing what’s brilliant about the movie without spoiling anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it. And to those who haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for? šŸ˜€

    It’s endlessly quotable. I wish more modern blockbusters were as witty as this film.

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    • Thanks Monkey. Such a a good film isn’t it? I couldn’t agree more on that advice for those that haven’t seen it… Get out there and grab yourselves a copy at once! They really don’t make films as much as this anymore.

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  11. This is one of the misses, favorite films so I have watched this one just a few time. My favorite film about a truck driver after Stallone’s Over the Top of course.

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    • Your Missus has very fine taste, Adam. šŸ™‚ This was one of my favourite movies when I was younger and after all these years, it hasn’t lost any of its appeal.

      Over The Top? Man, I haven’t seen that since I was about 10 years old. That’s a blast from the past.

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  12. Hi, Mark:

    What could possibly be wrong with Kurt Russell channeling his best John Wayne in a Sci~Fi, Spiritual, often surreal Chop Sockey flick with John Carpenter at the helm?

    Come for the beer and open gambling. Stay for the over the top bad guy and his evil henchmen!

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    • Hi Jack

      Absolutely nothing went wrong with Russell channeling of John Wayne. It’s quite possibly my favourite performance of his and definitely the most enjoyable of his and Carpenter’s collaborations. The Thing and Prince of Darkness are my two favourite films of JC’s but this is definitely the most fun.

      Thanks for stopping by, man. šŸ™‚

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  13. Nicely done Mr Walker. What a crazy good movie. Been a long time since I watched it, due a rewatch now! šŸ™‚

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    • Thank you kindly Mr. Carter. It is a total riot of a film and has a bit of everything that’s hard not to take to it. A revisit would be a very good idea, man. I doubt you’ll regret it.

      Like

  14. I re-watched this film recently and loved it. It’s campy in just the right way. šŸ™‚

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