Big Trouble in Little China [retro review]

“Son of a bitch must PAY!”

The Scoop: 1986 PG-13, directed John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, and Dennis Dun.

Tagline: A Mystical, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Kung Fu, Monster, Ghost Story!

Summary Capsule: Your girlfriend gets kidnapped? Your local truck driver to the rescue!

Kyle’s Rating: Everybody wants to rule the world, but we don’t want anyone else to do it before us. Also, I want a girlfriend with green eyes! Who has lots of money! And buys me comic books! Yeah!

Kyle’s Review: John Carpenter, without putting too fine a point on it, is the Man. He has stumbled in recent years (thought he has some Mars movie on the way; could be good) but his films of the 70’s and 80’s are incredibly memorable stuff. Halloween is one of the greatest horror movies ever, and other Carpenter films like The Fog, The Thing, and They Live aren’t too shabby either. But in terms of pure ass-kicking-wok-soky-ness, you can’t beat his film Big Trouble in Little China. Chinese mysticism and good old California ultra-violence collide to form one of the most unique and memorable films you will ever see.

There are evil monsters, endless wisecracks, and magic glowing weaponry. The evil mastermind Lo Pan is one of the most engaging villains you’ll ever see on screen, and his three memorable henchmen are foreboding and intimidating whether they’re in their big straw hat costumes or just flying around in sword fights. And Kurt Russell turns in one of his finest performances as Jack Burton, a wisecracking action hero that wouldn’t be out-of-place drinking at the same table as Martin Riggs and John McClane. What Jack lacks in finesse, strength and fighting skills he more than makes up for with bluster and pure testosterone. BTLC won’t be on any AFI lists anytime soon, but you aren’t going to see the likes of this one again.

The plot is actually pretty complex. There’s this main bad guy Lo Pan who is trying to be reborn into flesh, and he needs to marry a girl with green eyes. One such girl fits the bill, but she happens to be the fiancée of Jack’s friend and doesn’t exactly want to marry some thousands-year-old evil madman. So she gets kidnapped, and now it’s up to Jack and his Chinese mystic friends to storm the bad guy’s lair and free as many kidnapped girls as they can. Along the way there is plenty of property damage to “ooh” and “ahh” at and more than a few fight scenes to emulate with your younger siblings. If you have lots of free time on your hands, you too may want to work on your sudden reflex knife-throwing skills, just in case you find yourself in a position like Jack does (you’ll see). Just try to finish your food before a certain character pays his final respects by inflating like a balloon and exploding into green goo, especially if you’re eating nachos or something equally gooey.

Who cares about all these period movies where you see huge opposing armies running at each other to meet and clash on a big grassy battlefield. Carpenter uses the back allies and warehouses of Chinatown to stage elaborate rumbles and shootouts, and that beats some stupid revolution movie any day. Yes, believe me: Big Trouble in Little China is big fun times for you, so go see it now! Now! And then have some Chinese food! It’s good!

Justin’s Rating: WHOA.

Justin’s Review: I always like amusement park horror rides. For one thing, you got to sit down for a while and relax in a nice dark, cool environment while things that were supposed to scare you kept popping out of the walls. They did not scare me, but I liked to admire the attempt. It was always interesting to see how other people’s conception of “scary” would be manifested. In Big Trouble In Little China, I strapped in for a two hour ride through someone’s twisted vision of a trippy Chinese hell. And it was… cool.

Big Trouble reads like someone’s bad idea of Movie Mad Libs. You have this (job) TRUCK DRIVER who has to foil a (crime) KIDNAPPING by infiltrating a (place) CHINESE HORROR FORTRESS and fighting (proper plural nouns) SEVERAL CHINESE GODS. It makes no sense, but the pace is fast and the cover charge is a willingness to have fun.

Jack (Kurt Russell) is a rather loudmouthed, nutty little truck driver. His friend owes him money. On the way to collect, said friend’s girlfriend gets kidnapped by a gang. They find the gang to discover that there are two warring gang factions. And then that’s when the sky opens up for the Chinese gods to come kick some butt. Jack is cool with all of this. Jack adapts, Jack quips, Jack is a sped-up version of every movie hero from the eighties. He’s got a big gun, a bigger attitude, and his shots never, ever miss.

Big Trouble has some of the funniest lines I’ve heard in a long time, and what makes them more snigger-worthy is that they’re delivered in an unnatural rapid fire. It’s like they had to speed through the ridiculousness to keep the audience in on the joke. Like every time Jack has to deal with a major plot twist that (naturally) everyone else is in on, he goes through the typical disbelief/questions/acceptance dialogue about three times faster than you’ve seen elsewhere: “There are actually dragons? No way. Well, okay, let’s go fight it.” He’s so out of his element, but it never phases him. And I kept keeling over in laughter every time they pulled out another “Chinese Hell” that got more outrageous than the one before it.

If your taste falls to the dark corners of Bizarro World, then Big Trouble has your much needed fix. You probably won’t understand a lot of what’s going on, but it’s a helluva ride. It’s The Goonies on fumes, a land where truck drivers rule and bad guys puff out their chest to frighten the weak-willed. Big Trouble. Little China. Justin Done.

DnaError’s Rating: Sweet and Sour Fun

DnaError’s Review: I have a long history with trying to watch this movie. I heard about it before when I was a wee one from a friend, who told me it was the coolest movie ever. At the time, I was sure nothing could beat Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I was eager to see it. But he moved before he could lend me the tape. Bastard. Couple years go by, I read the reviews posted by the fellow Mutants, all gushing with praise, and I resolve to see it. That plan fails once I forget when it’s on HBO and only catch the end of it. Finally I wake up one morning and turn on HBO and lo and behold, Big Trouble in Little China is just started. It must be fate, or redundant programming schedules.

All the other reviews for BTILC have been glowing and I’m no exception. This is a great movie. It has all the hallmarks of a cult film. It seems to take place in the Bizarro Universe, has a gruff, one-liner spouting hero, and doesn’t take itself very seriously. Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton is one part John Wayne, one part Ash, and one part Snake Pinskin as he punches away the villians with the big Pier One hats. BTILC is probably one of the funniest Horror/Action/Fantasy movies you’ll ever see. It’s clever one liners, high speed dialogue, physical comedy and ever increasing levels of sheer weirdness make it howlingly funny while being breakneck fast and violent.

You could compare this to other John Carpenter movies. Like the Escape from… movies, both of which had Kurt Russell and dangerous levels of coolness mixed with humor. But I think BTILC most resembles a video game. He goes up levels, each level has a different “boss,” and he has to have get to the top to save a kidnapped girl while fighting the boss and his henchmen. Doesn’t that sound like the concept behind any of the thousands of RE clones? Anyway, getting off my tangent, BTILC has 3 mutants singing it’s praises, you should too.

Sweaty manly men. Small elevator. Tight with tension.

Intermission!

  • Some of the lightning forms a Chinese symbol as it disappears. The symbol translates as “carpenter” (after the director)
  • What is it with those green eyes?
  • Jack is playing a Chinese domino game called Fan Tan at the beginning of the movie
  • Jack hauling pigs
  • The five Chinese hells mentioned are: The Hell of Being Cut to Pieces, The Hell of Boiling Oil, The Hell of the Upside Down Sinners, The Hell Where People are Skinned Alive, The Hell of the Oily Dragon
  • W.D. Richter, the director of Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, had originally penned a script for the oft-wondered about but unfilmed sequel, “Buckaroo Banzai Against The World Crime League.” When that project fell through due to production conflicts the script was retooled for John Carpenter and Kurt Russell and became “Big Trouble in Little China.”

Groovy Quotes

Jack: Son of a bitch must PAY!

Jack: Hey, I’m a reasonable guy. But I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things.

Jack: I feel good, and I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… kind of invincible… Is it getting hot in here, or is it just me?

Jack: You know what Jack Burton always says… what the hell?

Jack: Everybody relax, I’m here.

Jack: Would you just stop rubbing your body up against mine, because I can’t concentrate when you do that.

Wang Chi: Here’s to the Army and Navy and the battles they have won; here’s to America’s colors, the colors that never run.
Jack: May the wings of liberty never lose a feather.

Jack: Great. Walls are probably three feet thick, welded shut from the outside, and covered with brick by now!
Wang Chi: Don’t give up, Jack!
Jack: OK, I won’t, Wang! Let’s just CHEW our way out of here.

Jack: Next time some eight-foot-tall, wild-eyed maniac taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall and asks you if you’ve paid your dues, well, you just do what ole Jack Burton always does at a time like that. You stare that sucker right back in the eye. “Have you paid your dues, Jack?” “Yes, sir, the check is in the mail.”

Jack: What’s in the flask, Egg? Magic potion?
Egg: Yeah.
Jack: Thought so, good. What do we do, drink it?
Egg: Yeah!
Jack: Good, thought so.

Jack: You could go off and rule the universe from beyond the grave.
Lo Pan: Indeed!
Jack: Or check into a psycho ward, whichever comes first, huh?

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6 Comments

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