[Bea’s Reviews] Big Trouble In Little China [1986]


Dir.: John Carpenter

Starring: Dennis Dun, Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, James Hong and Victor Wong

My first foray into the world of John Carpenter was a strange yet pleasant one. Combining a satire of Western American action cinema with the mysteries of Chinese mysticism and the occult, Carpenter’s action adventure story takes one look at the established tropes of the American action movie, shakes his head and dumps it on its head while conjuring up his own unique vision. Is the story refreshing? Not particularly; Jack Burton is a trash-talking, over-confident wiseguy whose perpetually boring existence on the road takes an unexpected supernatural shake up when his best friend Wangs’ fiancee is kidnapped. Speeding to the rescue, Jack literally finds himself beneath the shady quarter of San Francisco’s Chinatown, with an abyss-like underworld infested by countless denizens of Chinese folklore ruled by Lo Pan, a 2000-year-old sorcerer who has designs of becoming flesh and blood by marrying a woman with eyes of jade to bring upon his ascension… Miao Yin, Wang’s betrothed. Dodging a gauntlet full of demented demons and facing baffling horrors at every turn, Jack bravely battles his way through Lo Pan’s dark domain in a full-throttle, action-riddled ride to rescue the girl.

Well, actually Old Jack ain’t the hero, hell he doesn’t even get the girl- his friend, Wang Chi, is the one who ultimately saves the day.

Can you imagine what Fox said when they saw the treatment of this film? They flipped out, crossed their arms like little snots who didn’t get their train-set for Christmas and found it prudent to basically boss Carpenter around throughout the entire schedule to ensure their insecure white American status quo wasn’t questioned nor their ‘honor’ insulted. What resulted was a tremendously negative experience for Carpenter that he never quite recovered from and it influenced his point of view when it came to big Hollywood productions. Big Trouble In Big Hollywood For Little China indeed.

Thankfully for the film the cult cinema phenomenon has been in its corner and it has now been recognised as a movie that was sadly made before its time but maintained big ideas that went beyond simple audience entertainment. It was making a statement about the heavy, unflinching bias American cinema has toward itself and how self-defeating it is.

What Carpenter did, taking into account his personal feelings about Eastern culture was that he set out to expose this harmful point of view all the while electing to do something diametrically different. Big Trouble In Little China is as much an Eastern martial arts film as it is a shoot-’em-up spectacle that passes the traditional American hero trope over for the competent Asian hero Wang who is constantly on the ball whereas Jack is constantly falling off it while not even realising how air-headed and self-entitled he is… much like the Reagan sycophants Carpenter had no patience for.

Casting political aspersions aside, Big Trouble In Little China is still an immensely entertaining and intriguing film that is high on thrills and adventure. While possessing a run time that does tend to meander in places, several jokes which sadly fall flat through either delivery or writing and visual effects that in 2016 are pleasantly rudimentary at best, for the time is was a daredevil of a film that employed several visual techniques which were in their infancy in an era where nothing of their like had been seen or done before. Carpenter and the rest of the collective on this movie were willing to take a massive chance and you really need to put your hands together because that is what art should be- taking risks. John Carpenter took the punches, paid his dues, but thanks to the balm of time and further audience exposure, 20th Century Fox are now the ones feeling the mighty wrath of Lo Pan.

This is just amazing.


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