Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy Birthday, Kurt Russell: Big Trouble in Little China

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 7 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux


John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Running time: 99 minutes (1 hour, 39 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13
DIRECTOR: John Carpenter
WRITERS: Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein; adaptation by W. D. Richter
PRODUCERS: Larry J. Franco
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dean Cundey
EDITORS: Steve Mirkovich, Mark Warner, and Edward A. Warschilka
COMPOSERS: John Carpenter and Alan Howarth

ACTION/ADVENTURE/FANTASY with elements of comedy

Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, and Donald Li

Big Trouble in Little China is a 1986 fantasy and martial arts film from director John Carpenter (Halloween) and starring Kurt Russell. The comic adventure film follows a truck driver who plunges into a mysterious underworld beneath Chinatown where he takes on a powerful ancient sorcerer.

Big Trouble in Little China may well be John Carpenter’s most entertaining film with its heady mish mash of kung fu, eastern mysticism, action movies, fantasy, and camp. It’s a celebration of how a dumb movie can actually be outrageous, inventive, silly, and kinda smart, after all.

The story revolves around big-talking, wisecracking trucker Jack Burton, played by Kurt Russell as a kind of John Wayne beset by bad luck and pratfalls. Determined to get money owed to him, Burton follows Wang Chi (Dennis Dunn), a business associate, to the airport to pick up his fiancĂ©e, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). When gang members kidnap her, Jack and Wang follow them into a wild adventure that tests the limits of Jack’s endurance and disbelief. Lo Pan (James Hong), a 2,000-year-old sorcerer who rules an underground empire in Chinatown, needs Miao to extend his life and power. A busybody lawyer (Kim Cattrall) further complicates Jack’s life when she tags along for the ride through Lo Pan’s terror filled labyrinth.

Carpenter directs the film at a break neck pace. Virtually every scene is packed with something strange and wondrous, so much so that the viewer never has time to really pay attention to the holes in the film. But it’s all played for fun: wild and lunatic martial arts fights, bizarre and ugly monsters, colorful costumes, imaginative sets, sparkling special effects, off-kilter shootouts and chases. It’s a great time at the movies, and that it maintains its charm without its SFX seeming dated is a testament to Carpenter’s skill, an under appreciated cinematic genius.

As usual, the team-up of Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell, who have worked together on three films and a television movie, results in a good movie. Russell, known as an action star, is actually an excellent comic actor. I don’t think this movie would really work without him, and it is certainly worth watching again because of him.

8 of 10
A

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