Film A Week 47: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

There are one thing I love in from cinema that I am not ashamed of loving: Imaginative cult films. Luckily, we have the 80’s to thank for practically churning films like that from the get-go. From fare like The Last Starfighter taking the odd concept of an arcade game that randomly selects a great player from the universe to help defend an alien race to The Goonies making a simple treasure hunt film into a big grand adventure with pirate ships and bank robbers and borderline insanity. Luckily, their is another that takes the crown and that is John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.


This slice of 80’s gold features Jack Burton, played by Kurt Russell, stuck in Chinatown with his friend Wang Chi, played by Dennis Dun, after looking for the kidnappers of Wang Chi’s green-eyed gal Miao Yin, played by Suzee Pai, from the airport. Burton and Chi, along with feisty reporter Gracie Glam, played by Kim Catrall, taking on the Wing Kong society, the Three Storms in the form of superpowered humans Lighting, Rain and Thunder, and having to deal with the ancient Chinese evil that is Lo Pan, played by James Hong, after Burton unwlling runs him over with his truck. Sounds ridiculous? Good because it is and it is pure awesome as well.

Big Trouble in Little China provides a nice change of pace all around from the typical action films of the 80’s era by making a bizarre martial arts fantasy film without making Jack Burton the typical leading man. Burton is clueless, naive and can be defined as a bumbling idiot, but that’s what makes him so damn cool. There is even one scene as he is about to head into the climatic battle and shoots up in the air in celebration of storming in, only for a piece of the ceiling above to crash down on him and knock him out for a majority of the fight. He obiviously has never done this before as being a truck driver, Burton does not experience action. Yet again, this is Kurt Russell we are talking about and no one messes with Kurt Russell.

Seriously, no one. (Animated Illustration by Jeff Victor)

With that said, John Carpenter with Kurt Russell is always magic because of the tight knit relationship between the two. Carpenter has an eye for unique concepts and the mind to take ideas that no one else would see fit and make them work. From making the dystopian prison of New York in Escape from New York to making paranoia a true enemy in The Thing, Carpenter cast Russell as the unlikely hero in all three of these films, but Russell subverts the tropes with humor and having fun while doing it.

The other characters are just as good with Dun’s Wang Chi being the ‘true hero’ of the film and doing a great job, as does Catrall’s Gracie Glam being Burton’s possible love interest and being surprisingly ground in reality underneath the chaos. Other notable characters are Donald Li’s Eddie who seems to be the plucky comic relief who happens to know the art of kung fu and Egg Shen, played by Victor Wong, a magician that can take on Lo Pan’s magic head on. These two are quite dynamic and help balance out the anti-hero nature of Russell’s Burton.

The ones that steal the show here are the villains with Lo Pan and his deadly three storms igniting the screen every time they are on. James Hong as Lo Pan seems like the cliched Chinese sorcerer, but Hong takes it seriously and puts a nice dynamic to it. He gives Lo Pan’s backstory of being whole again and the curse behind it weight and sympathy begins to be felt him as he grows weak in age (this is before you realize “Oh fuck, he is an all powerful sorcerer and kind of a dick”). Hong has been in a variety of other features since, but this is arguably his best role.

The Three Storms Rain, Thunder and Lightning, played respectively by Peter Kwon, Carter Wong and James Pax, kick ass by showing off their powers, skills and dominance against Burton and friends. The fights they hold and the style comes across well as these men are trained martial artist and could probably summon powers of ancient evil, if given the chance.

One hilarious in hindsight moment (Thanks TVTropes for this one) is how Lightning has the same features as Raiden from Mortal Kombat. Maybe Ed Boon was inspired by Carpenter to create this character for the game and the resemblance is uncanny.

The only downside being that Christopher Lambert and his wicked long hair are not in this film as well.

Thunder, played by Carter Wong, is the ultimate dick of the dragons to Lo Pan’s master role by breaking Burton’s gun, kidnapping Wang and Burton and using his powers to engage in a DragonBall Z style fight mid air without having to wait four damn episodes for it. The odd moment for Thunder and Wong’s performance is the self-destructive demise of Thunder by inflating himself like Mr. Big from Live or Let Die in order to explode and get all the chunks everywhere.

Now in beautiful .gif form!

Carpenter’s direction is superb by constantly keeping a steady pace and never letting go. Carpenter always wanted to direct a martial arts film beforehand, so when given the chance, of course Carpenter jumped on board to direct. The giddiness and excitement he had is captured on film with love and dedication. Never for a minute does the film dull as it is just fun to watch the insanity going on.

To be completely honest with you all, this was a hard one to review for reason and that one reason is that I can sum up my review in a single sentence which I will use to end this review properly…

Big Trouble in Little China is fuckin’ awesome.

This Saturday, the final month of Film A Week is finally here with only five films left with the first of the five films here. One film that has been on the FAW list has been moved back and forth time and time again until now. The fantasy world as only Neil Gaiman could bring us is brought to life in the film adaptation of his novel Stardust, the final fantasy feature we are covering and director Matthew Vaughn’s sophomore directing effort. Tristan, played Charlie Cox, tries to retrieve a fallen star that has a gorgeous woman named Yvaine, played by Claire Danes, in it, but must send it back to his love, only for three witches to get wind of it as well.

The Final Month of Film A Week
Film A Week 48: Stardust (2007)

Saturday, December 7th


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