Of course it helps being a child of the 80s, but there is certainly no denying it that that with the leap in special effects and the baby boomers getting to play with really big toys, it resulted in some of the most fondly remembered genre movies ever, including the likes of Back to the Future, Gremlins, The Goonies and Ghostbusters. Another in that league, but unlike the aforementioned got somewhat lost at the box office, is Big Trouble in Little China.
Directed by John Carpenter and featuring his leading man of choice, Kurt Russell, the film is part chop-socky action, action pastiche meets Indiana Jones, but unfortunately is something, perhaps owing to the mish mash, that audiences didn’t initially get.
At one point Russell’s character remarks, “Ol’ Jack always says… what the hell?” And that is the best frame of mind to view this film, that stood next to it makes even Star Wars and Indiana Jones seem the dull and retiring types.
The plot, as it is, sees trucker Jack Burton getting embroiled in a kidnapping that goes wrong and then finds himself smack bang in the middle of a turf war with rival Chinese gangs and mystical gods and emperors that sees him having to enter the lion’s den to free the kidnapped, get the girl and save the day. As Burton states early on: “I’m a reasonable guy. But, I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things.” By this point, both he and the audience haven’t seen anything yet.
In many ways it was light-years ahead of its time, with Russell, in his cocky John Wayne-esque best not taking himself very seriously and having a blast in the same way that Brendan Fraser did years later in The Mummy and also pre-empting Hollywood’s love of kung fu and things with a hint of China, which covers everything from Crouching Tiger to The One and even The Mummy 3
Kurt Russell is a hoot as the more than slightly dumb macho hero…even complete with lipstick at one point. It features cartoon violence minus the gore, humorous special effects, evil magicians, green eyed damsels in distress and even a monster or two, who could want more from 99 minutes of film?.
Kim Cattrall, post Police Academy but prior to Mannequin and screwing half of New York in Sex and the City, also gives the likes of Kathleen Turner (Romancing the Stone) and Kate Capshaw (Temple of Doom) a run for their money in the feisty female stakes.
Some of the effects haven’t dated that well, such as the blue lightning effects, but then they were no better in the same era’s Biggles, Highlander and Hellraiser, so does still retain some charm. And certainly some of the monster outfits probably didn’t even look that good then and nor were they probably meant to, but that is really missing the point as Big Trouble is big on fun and on action and has some wondrously delivered dialogue by Russell.
It’s a real shame that this wasn’t a bigger hit on its initial outing, it certainly regularly crops up as a favourite in conversations I have with people. As we’ve seen a recent wave of Carpenter hits be remade, that didn’t really need remaking, such as Halloween, The Fog, Assault of Precinct 13 and those yet to come, such as Escape From New York and The Thing, why not give the guy a chance at a belated sequel. Russell’s recent pairing with Tarantino in Death Proof shows that he has still got it and who wouldn’t want to hitch another ride on the Pork Chop Express for Even Bigger Trouble in Little China, go on admit it, it does have a certain ring about it. If not that then at least give us the video game!
You can’t help but watch Big Trouble with a big cheesy smile on your face and it was certainly way ahead of its time. It has a frenetic pace, even today, which again was probably something that took a 1986 audience by surprise as it doesn’t so much hang around as in hardly pauses for breath…ever. Carpenter and Kurt really shouldn’t get away with much of what happens in the film but it is done with such gusto and aplomb that you are just happy to be along on the ride with them. A film that popcorn was invented for and like the potion the good guys take in the film, it too kind of makes the film invincible against the odds.
The Bluray has been out for a little while in the States now, no release over here, but fear not as the US version plays perfectly well over here on my PS3 and ports the Carpenter and Russell commentary from the previous special edition DVD release, along with some deleted scenes and a slightly extended ending. The lovely added feature is that you have the option of listening to the isolated Carpenter and Alan Howarth score. So if you like it, order it and as the as ever quotable Jack Burton says: “Yessir, the check is in the mail.”