Thursday, 25 August 2016

Retro Review: Big Trouble In Little China (1986)

Big Trouble in Little China
1986
Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong  
Genre: Fantasy Action 
Worldwide Lifetime Gross: $11, 100, 100

Plot: A hard-boiled truck driver, Jack Burton gets caught in a bizarre conflict within & underneath, San Francisco's Chinatown. An ancient Chinese prince and & Chinatown crime lord has kidnapped a beautiful green-eyed woman, who is the fiancee to Jack's best friend, Wang. Jack must help Wang rescue the girl before the evil Lo Pan uses her to break the ancient curse that keeps him a flesh-less & immortal spirit







'Affectionate Parody Of Chinese Martial Arts Films Done Right'

1986 saw the releases of Chinese-based action comedy movies in The Golden Child with Eddie Murphy and Big Trouble in Little China and both movies shared some similarities: ridiculous plots, dated special effects, Chinese protagonists and antagonists and mythical Chinese powers. Oh, and both movies starred Victor Wong and James Hong, respectively, who both square off as Egg Shen and Lo Pan in this John Carpenter Classic. 

Appropriately set in San Francisco's Chinatown - San Francisco, California known for having the largest Chinese community outside of China and Hong Kong in the world - Big Trouble in Little China is beset with ancient Chinese mythology, sorcery and kung fu mixed with comedy, some elements of parody, as well as acrobatic flips and special effects. 

The dialogue is snappy and witty in places too, though some of Jack's lines do feel a tad corny & make you want to go 'd'oh!'. The film feels more like one of those C-grade American martial arts movies from the 1980s and 1990s. Jack Burton is the bumbling, would-be macho hero: cocky, stubborn and accident-prone but still a bad-ass (of some sorts) and lead protagonist, who gets upstaged by Wang and is played for laughs. Yet he is thoroughly persistent and tough still. Kurt Russell shows his comical side in this role who goes about it, as if he is John Wayne and has some amusing one-liners, along with that John McClane of Die Hard - vest and that he ultimately tries so hard to be heroic. I think making Jack the bumbling hero made the film fun to watch throughout

Big Trouble in Little China succeeds as an action comedy film because it relies on fantasy and sorcery and fun, instead of being a typical, chop-socky, martial arts B - movie. It parodies and contradicts martial arts films, as well as action movies which are dominated by the White guy saving the world, whilst the Asian sidekick just tags along for the ride. Speaking of which, this reminds me of the Green Hornet and Kato, but here in Big Trouble, that role is reversed. 

Notably, there are some plot holes: for instance when the guards start shooting at the left side of the bus and it starts speeding away, it appears undamaged and when they shoot at the other gang members with guns, there doesn't seem to be any blood. 

Kim Cattrall puts in an effective performance as Jack Burton's love interest, Gracie Law, who doesn't want to be rescued, and yet ends up being rescued and she has some good lines. Dennis Dun is brilliant as the unlikely hero-to-be, who has a cool, calm demeanour in contrast to the John Wayne-ish, and vain, Jack. Eddie, Wang's friend works at the restaurant, and Margo acts as Gracie's friend. Victor Wong plays the Mr Miyagi role and helps Jack, Gracie and Wang who succeed against Lo Pan. & lastly, one of the greats of Asian- American cinema, James Hong (Wayne's World, Kung Fu Panda, Seinfeld) gives a memorable performance as villain, Lo- Pan whose deed is to marry a girl with Green eyes, in order to make him immortal and more powerful. 

The special effects are pretty good, the visual effects are impressive and the action is terrific. John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) really excelled in capturing the feel of Hong Kong martial arts movies and his old-school and traditional approach to film-making is so creative and unique, it really energises the film and helped reignited the martial arts genre. Because of this, I'm glad that Carpenter infused the horror aspect into this film, as it works wonders. One example of this is the eyeball monster thingy, who is very grotesque looking. 
The film is very stylish looking and evolves as it progresses.

The performances all-round are just spot-on: everyone in this movie is great especially the supporting cast, the characterisations are well portrayed and each one is different in their own ways; that and John Carpenter's direction gave this film its own identity & its own style that other movies of this type have tried and unsuccessfully mimicked.  

It is the type of film that doesn't make you want to go 'wow' and makes your jaws drop - and yet it is an Asian-style, action fantasy fest that pays homage to traditional kung fu movies and movies, which deals with ancient Chinese mythology & spirituality, but is also very tongue-in'-cheek. There is also that adventure and teamwork element of Indiana Jones where the protagonists have to work together to achieve a common goal, which in this movie, is to rescue Wang's fiance. Big Trouble in Little China should also be acknowledged for being one of the earlier Hollywood mainstream movies to feature Asian-Americans, or more specifically, in this case, Chinese Americans, in predominant roles. I have to also give credit to this film for the inclusion of Chinese Cantonese - which was a staple dialect in many Chinese-based movies, both in Hong Kong and in Hollywood cinema featuring Chinese-American characters during the 1980s and 1990s, which is a rarity nowadays, as it is being subsequently replaced by Mandarin. 

As they'd say, ''It's all going down in China town'', or something along the lines of that. 




Final Verdict:

Big Trouble in Little China is not Die-Hard in Chinatown, and just by looking at the cover alone, those assuming that this is the type of action film they are going to expect from it, are clearly misled. Unlike Die Hard, this is an action comedy and has humour in small doses and is very well-written. People will complain that this film is too '80s and too dated- but this was made in the 1980s and in honesty, not a lot of Big Trouble has aged. 

This is tongue-in-cheek, yet at times silly take on martial arts movies, that also doubles up as a Chinese fantasy and mythological film; and alas, is one of the best ever fusions of action, comedy and horror. 

Great performances, along with great direction supplemented by over-the-top thrills by John Carpenter, this is a worthy addition to not only Asian American film, but also technically speaking, Asian cinema as a whole. Big Trouble in Little China is truly one of the most underrated movies of the 1980s that - regardless of any remake- rightly deserves its plaudits as a one-of-a-kind, cult classic for many, many years to come.



Overall:




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