Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Title: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Wong, Victor Wong


You guys ever seen The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984)? That’s the one in which Peter Weller discovers a way to go to other dimensions by traveling through solid matter? Well, anyways, at the ending of that film, a sequel entitled: Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League was promised. Unfortunately, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai didn’t make much money at the box office, so that sequel never came to be. But there’s this myth amongst hard core Buckaroo fans that says that Big Trouble in Little China is actually the unofficial sequel to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. How did this rumor come about? Well, I didn’t know this until the other day when I reviewed The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and one of my readers pointed this fact out to me, but W.D. Richter, the guy who wrote The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai also wrote Big Trouble in Little China. That’s right my friends, these two nutty, misunderstood films come from the same brilliant mind. Kind of makes sense don’t it?

 For those not in the know, Big Trouble in Little China is a ghost story about Lo Pan, an ancient Chinese emperor who died centuries ago but is now looking for a way to become flesh again. Problem is he has to marry a girl with green eyes in order to do so. Enter Wang Chi and Jack Burton, two buddies who are on their way to the airport to pick up Wang’s girlfriend ‘Miao Yin’, a Chinese girl who’s coming from China to reunite with Wang, her fiancé. Unfortunately, before Wang and Miao Yin can reunite she is kidnapped by a group of thugs who work for Lo Pan, the ghost who wants to be a man. Apparently Miao Yin is the girl who can fit his bill. She does have green eyes after all! Will Wang and Jack have what it takes to infiltrate Lo Pan’s temple and rescue Miao Yin before she marries Lo Pan? Will Jack ever get his truck back?  

All he wants is his truck back

I started my review for Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai by comparing both of these films, and I didn’t even know they were related in this way! My brain somehow connected both of these films in the same review, which I think is really weird. So anyhow, in my review for Buckaroo I compared the two because both of these films are so offbeat and bizarre that the studios that produced them just didn’t know how to market them to the masses. These movies are what are known in the film industry as a “tough sell” something that Hollywood doesn’t like at all, they like their films to be easily marketable, with an easily identifiable target audience. Who do you sell a movie like Big Trouble in Little China to? If you ask me I would’ve just sold it as a modern day Kung Fu flick, which it essentially is, but apparently the marketing department at 20th Century Fox didn’t know what the hell to do with this movie, so they invested very little into promoting it. Another film lost millions because studios couldn’t make heads or tails of the film. Strange how easily a studio can get cold feet with a production because they think it’s too weird and it won’t make any money. But time always proves all these silly producers wrong, and so Big Trouble in Little China has become a solid cult favorite. The people who love this movie, really love this movie. This proves once again that studio heads know jack, they’ll market the hell out of Transformers 2, a terrible film in my opinion, but won’t market Big Trouble in Little China, which was very obviously a good movie.

Truth is, Big Trouble in Little China is an easy movie to love. I’m a huge fan so excuse me if I gush about it for the next few paragraphs.  It has so many fun characters, they can’t seem to ever stop yapping, and the stuff they talk about is just hilarious. I mean, seriously, how many of you folks out there agree that Big Trouble in Little China is one of the most quotable films ever? I know right? In the dvd commentary for this film Carpenter and Russell call Jack Burton’s dialog ‘Burtonisms’ which are basically little golden nuggets of wisdom that the character of Jack Burton spews throughout the whole movie. I’m talking about thought provoking stuff like:  “It’s all in the reflexes” and “You’d have to be some kind of a fool to think we’re all alone in this universe!” Trust me, there’s more where those came from, and if I’m not back in ten minutes “call the president!”  So yeah folks, what we have here is one of those extremely quotable films. I haven’t been quoting this movie all my life for nothing!

Going back to the whole thing about Big Trouble in Little China being an unofficial sequel to Buckaroo Banzai, the real dirt on the story is this:  the film had originally been written as a western by two guys: Gary Goldman (this is one of the guys who wrote the script for Total Recall (1989)) and David Z. Weinstein.  Apparently this version of the film was going to prove to be too expensive! In that script they didn’t steal Jacks truck, they stole his horse! So anyhow, thing is the studio thought it was going to be a tough movie to produce so they brought in W. D. Richter to rewrite the thing, they wanted him to set the story in a contemporary setting, so that audiences could identify better with it; funny how they still managed to produce a film that didn’t connect with audiences! But anyways, W. D. Richter took the opportunity to inject elements into the Big Trouble in Little China script that were meant for the unproduced Buckaroo Banzai sequel! Knowing  this takes my enjoyment of the film to a whole different level! Now I’m always going to see Burton as the truck driving version of Buckaroo Banzai! 

Aside from all these Buckaroo Banzai connections, Big Trouble in Little China is an extremely entertaining movie on its own. What I personally enjoy about it is how crazy it gets. We’re talking about a Chinese ghost that wants to be flesh again so he can rule the universe from beyond the grave, or check into a psycho ward, whichever comes first! We’re talking about a movie where characters can have sword battles in mid air and ancient sorcerers have huge magic battles! This is a film in which we can see flying eye monsters that have telepathic abilities! A film with characters that can manipulate lightning and air! I mean, here’s a film with a ten foot tall ghost who shoots light out his eyes for crying out loud! This my friends, was John Carpenter’s version of a Shaw Bros. Fantasy/ Kung Fu movie and I loved every second of it. There’s no denying it’s an offbeat film, but that’s what I love about it. Even Russell himself was afraid of making it because he was afraid it’d be too weird. You see, Kurt Russell had done a series of box office bombs before Big Trouble in Little China (for example Carpenter’s own The Thing (1982)) and he didn’t want to make another one. Yet, he committed to the film anyways because Carpenter and Russell are not just co-workers, these guys are friends, they’ve been making films since Escape from New York (1981)! Russell and Carpenter understand each other, it’s something that’s quite obvious when you hear the dvd commentary for Big Trouble In Little China. According to both Russell and Carpenter’s commentary, the film was getting great results with tests audiences, so much so that they both thought it was going to be a hit! Unfortunately, thanks to 20th Century Fox’s botched marketing techniques, no one knew about the film when it was released and so kaput, it died.

But a movie flopping in theaters does not equal a bad film, in rare occasions it’s quite the opposite, the film simply slipped by the public’s consciousness. It’s not our fault that the studio didn’t sell it to us properly, something that’s supposed to be their forte. So anyways, even though Big Trouble in Little China was a huge money looser for the studio, I The Film Connoisseur, guarantee you’ll have a good time with it. Think about this: in what other film are you going to see a underground Chinese temple with glowing neon nights? Or people who become Kung Fu Masters by drinking out of a seven demon bag? Nowhere but in Big Trouble in Little China that’s where! This is a film that openly embraces its fantasy roots and asks no questions about it. We have monsters, magic, and Kung Fu in this movie, what’s not to like? James Wong is great as Lo Pan; a brilliant performance in what in my opinion is the best role of his life. Russell, Cattrall, both of the Wongs and Dunn, they all make for a Motley Crue of crazy, funny, people who all act like they are high on coke, they reminded me of Buckaroo’s group of sidekicks, “ The Hong Kong Cavaliers”, aha! If you ask me, this is one of Carpenter’s best films; production values, visual effects and script wise, this movie is top notch every step of the way. At the very least it’s on my list of top five John Carpenter films.  It shouldn’t have bombed the way it did. But it’s all cool; we now have it on dvd and Blue Ray and it’s legions of fans grow every day. Oh and there’s a possible remake on the horizon! If it doesn’t work, just remember what Jack Burton always says at a time like this. Old Jack always says: “What the hell!”  

Rating:  5 out of 5  


Elwood Jones said...

Like yourself I am a huge fan of this movie and long for a sequel, which lets face it isn't going to happen anytime soon.

I think it was only when I reviewed it that I realized that the whole film is shot from the sidekicks view point. For as much as we see Jack as the lead, he is essentially the bumbling sidekick to Wang Chi's hero, especially highlighted by the fact that he knocks himself out during the big showdown.

There are just so many moments that I love in this movie and one that I frequently refer to when justifying the genius of Carpenter, along with The Thing which for my money is along with "Psycho" and "Halloween" one of the scariest movies ever made.

Franco Macabro said...

@Elwood: True, I don't think we'll ever see a sequel, but there's been talks of a remake if you can believe it. I wonder how that would turn out, but so much of this movie worked because of Carpenter, Russell and W.D. Richter that I doubt it would have the same flavor.

Agree about Wang being the hero of the film, Jack is always making mistakes, like that scene where he shoots the gun at the ceiling, or when the guard falls on him. It would have been a cool idea if Jack Burton would have become a Kung Fu master by drinking from that magic potion, but nope. He still manages to save the day though. By using his reflexes!

Yeah, its a high point in his career I agree. For a moment there, mostly during the 80's, Carpenter made a solid string of films, I mean really solid. Escape from New York, Starman, Christine, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China. It was during the 90's that quality began to slow down with films like Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Ghost of Mars...and a couple of others that while watchable never reached the level of coolness that his films from the 80's reached.

Agree on The Thing, I saw that movie when I was about ten years old...and it scared the shit out of me! I mean it was one of the few films that really scared the living daylights out of me! Along with The Amytiville Horror, the original one.

Kaijinu said...

I always respected this Carpenter film as one of his works that deserved all the laughs that it's coming for it.

All them strangeness is definitely this movie's winning point!

Franco Macabro said...

Agree Kaijinu, the funny and the weird make this one special!

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Kim Cattrall (as the bird was in 1974 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

teddy crescendo said...

Big Trouble In Little China is still the single most entertaining film i`ve ever seen.

Jay Shatzer said...

Love this film with a passion. So entertaining on so many levels and Kurt Russell just nails the part! John Carpenter at his finest.

Franco Macabro said...

@Jervaise: Agree, Kim Cattrall is a beauty on this film. I've always had a crush no her since Mannequin!

@Jay: Yeah, another BTLC fan!

Many people agree, this is John Carpenter at his best. For me I think it goes like this: The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Escape from New York, Halloween and Starman. Those are my top five Carpenter films.

Jack Thursby said...

Such a great film. Tempted to call it Carpenter's masterpiece. Moves at a terrific pace and Russell's performance is laugh out loud funny. A complete 180 from Snake Plissken.

One of the many reasons I love the film is Carpenter's catchy song that he produced with his band The Coupe De Villes. Can you imagine any director in this day and age recording a theme song for their own movie! Madness.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, the theme song is awesome, it was made by three movie producer/directors which makes it even freaking cooler, and the song actually kicks ass, the dvd includes this really cheap ass 80's music video that stars Carpenter, Nick Castle (The director of The Wraith) and Tommy Lee Wallace (the director Fright Night 2!).

Katarina Minola said...

Awesome! I found this website, because I was looking to see if there ever was a sequel made to this movie. I saw this movie when it came out, and to this day, as a way to state to people, " oh boy, looks like we are about to have a situation", you will here me simply exclaim, oh no, looks like we got Big Trouble in Little China!" LOVE LOVE LOVE!

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah! Another raging Big Trouble in LIttle China fan, I quote this one all the time...sometimes Ill say "what the hell" or "theres my truck...MY TRUCK!"


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