Big Trouble in Little China Review
by Bret Dorman
This is Bret Dorman in the Midnight Movie Express and I’m writing to whoever is reading out there. Its like I told my last girlfriend, I says ‘Honey I never watch a movie faster than I can see, besides that… Its all in the reflexes.’
(Takes big handful of popcorn and shoves it into mouth)
The Story: Kurt Russell is an all American truck driving cocky wannabe badass. One fateful day he gets caught up in a weird adventure in Little China and meets Kim Cattrall, a Chinese woman with Green eyes, rival Chinese gangs, Ancient Chinese warriors who can manipulate lightning, a Chinese Warlord bent on Universal Domination, and a whole bunch of |Chinese Black Magic. Also, the Grandpa from 3 Ninjas.
When watching Big Trouble in Little China, its easy to see how the first version of the script was thrown out and a second one was written, although rushed into production and made on a decent budget. Just about everything in this movie could of been polished up a little bit more. The upside to this is if everything had been touched up, most of the charm of the movie would be lost. This is a movie that excels in it flaws just as much as its good parts are good.
Its also easy to see why audiences weren’t exactly flocking to see it when it came out in 1986. The movie is essientially two genres, A Serious Chinese Martial Arts Mysticism Film and a Goofy Comedy. But never at the same time. Where as movies like True Lies are spoofs that also take itself seriously, Big Trouble never really spoofs its own plot. Its wacky and absurd and it knows it, but it tends to go the straight route and play it off as serious as it can. This works for the movie’s advantage in two ways.
One, the more serious the movie treats the Chinese Mysticism element, the more weight the plot has. With already thin caricatures, having everyone know what’s going on and a bunch of back story explained very heavily through dialogue, even if it makes no sense to the viewer or in the grander scheme of things, does oddly work. The viewer is placed in the shoes of Jack Burton, who has no idea what’s going on, but everyone else around him takes this stuff seriously and their reactions to certain things or people’s names forcibly drive the strange plot forward into the realm of absurd. The second thing is the more seriously everyone takes things, the funnier it is when a character, mostly Jack Burton, does something genuinely funny.
In fact one could argue that despite not spoofing the ridiculous Chinese Mysticism elements of the movie, it does spoof its own Hero, who is way more smooth in his own mind’s eye than anyone else’s. The great thing about Jack, is no matter how many times he gets rejected by a lady, makes himself look like a fool, or gets his ass kicked in a fight, he always is willing to come back for more. Not one moment in this movie does he ever doubt himself. He doesn’t need the almost mandatory ‘get off your ass and go out there and prove yourself’ speech that every hero gets when they are down and out because he’s just too much of a doof to every know he’s out of his league. But he doesn’t need to be charming or good at kung fu, because if there’s one thing he’s learned in his many travels is that it’s all in the reflexes.
It doesn’t get more fun than Kurt Russell’s performance. I hate to use the phrase ‘he makes the movie work’ because I think without him it still could have worked. But he definitely makes the movie rewatchable. Everyone else in the cast does a great job with what they’re given and its fun to see an actually pretty decent cast all have fun playing up their roles.
What John Carpenter brings to this movie that most probably wouldn’t is just a general love of movies and overall acceptance of the martial arts genre. He isn’t afraid to have 5-10 minute action scenes. The movie boasts of some pretty great set design and back lots and practical effects, as well as visual effects, which goofy as they may be, fits into, if not adds, to the tone of the movie.
They call these cult movies for a reason. Certain audiences not only forgive the flaws, but embrace them. I can see why people might be turned off by this movie but honestly, if you’ve never seen it, its worth at least one viewing, especially in a crowd full of people that will consist of a majority that have already seen it, just to watch Kurt Russell on the big screen as Jack Burton.
Why You Must See It At Midnight: (Takes a swig of Sprite) You just keep readin’ the ol Midnight Movie Express and take his advice on a dark and stormy night when the lightning is crashing and the thunder is rollin’ and the rain is comin’ down in sheets thick as lead… Just remember what ol Bret Dorman does when the lights in the theater dim down and the applause rumbles through the theater like an earthquake and the pillars of the theater shake… Yeah Bret Dorman just looks at that silver screen right in the center and says “Gimme your best shot pal, I can take it.”