Sunday, July 26, 2015

MR John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China

When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that.

"Have ya paid your dues, Jack?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail".

Movie: John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China
Directed by John Carpenter
Release date 1986
Genre Action/Adventure/Comedy/Martial Arts B-Movie Tribute
Country USA

What exactly is John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China?

It's really difficult to define or summarize this film while doing it proper honor.

Possibly a very fun and random experiment from master of horror himself John Carpenter. A loving tribute to all the films he loved growing up. The most un-Hollywood film he produced in his career. And a fun deconstruction of the traditional action movie genre at a time it started overshadowing all the other filmic genres back in the 1980s (much to the detriment of Carpenter's own horror films).

Big Trouble in Little China was released in 1986, exactly a year after his science-fiction fantasy film Starman failed to make much of its budget back despite pretty good reviews and reception. Sort of like Carpenter giving up on Hollywood (which he always blamed for the issues he had making Escape From New York later on), and saying, screw it, here's a fun unmarketable film only fans will possibly understand and enjoy.

Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and says "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it." 

The film was based on an original screenplay from Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein. The story was originally supposed to be a Western tale set in the 1880s. But Carpenter and screenwriter W. D. Richter - who directed a pretty similar comedy/deconstruction take on the science-fiction genre with the equally randomly titled The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension - would completely rewrite the script. They kept much of the heart of the original project intact but they simply modernized and transposed the story to make it a tribute to martial arts films instead. 20th Century Fox hired Carpenter when he proved he could manage to rush the production and wrap it up pretty fast in order to release it before a sort of similar comedy take on the genre (the Eddie Murphy film The Golden Child, released around the same time).

John Carpenter immediately accepted since he always dreamed to make a martial arts film.

The film stars a regular Carpenter actor Kurt Russell, alongside Victor Wong, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun and James Hong.

Mortaaaaaaaaaal Koooombaaaaaaat!!

The story follows this All-American trucker named Jack Burton (Kurt Russell). Jack Burton's as American as they go. The film first presents him as your fairly typical action movie star. He's a rugged dude who's known a few scraps in his life, always on the road and getting himself into trouble because he ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time like your countless other John McClanes, Rambos and others John Matrix.

Jack takes the occasion to check on his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), a restaurant owner. They go pick his fiancée that just arrived from China at the airport... only to witness her being adducted by some gang members! Jack also meets this other girl. Jack and Wang chases them through downtown Chinatown's back alleys. A street fight between these different triad gangs breaks loose! What kinda trouble did they get into? Suddenly these "Three Storms" arrive on the scene - Thunder, Rain and Lightning (which I guess where the inspiration behind much of the original Mortal Kombat video games and lore). They try to make way and end up running over this evil bad guy, David Lo Pan! A powerful evil sorcerer who's really behind this entire criminal underworld!

After escaping back to the restaurant, they decide to fight back and rescue Wang's fiancée. Jack goes to infiltrate the brothel that is really a front for Lo Pan's operation. He gets captured. The duo finds out how Lo Pan need a "green-eyed girl" to break this ancient curse that has destroyed most of his real physical body (what they've seen until now was mostly an astral body projection). They're able to escape once more with the help from this old guy Egg Shen (who is the film's narrator as seen in the opening of the movie). They free women. A huge fight breaks up, taking use of this big confusion they try to get to the girls. Jack misses most of the finale having knocked himself out! Wang sword fights in mid-air. They run around corridors and escape from ugly monsters.

Soon you notice it is not Jack Burton that was motivated to try save his fiancée from the evil bad guy, nor does he know how to fight or even what he's doing. Does he even defeat a single foe in the entire film? Waitaminute... is he the comic relief sidekick??
I can't imagine someone like John McClane going through with this.

Big Trouble in Little China is... unlike any else you'll ever see.

As far as story goes, this is actually a pretty straightforward cheesy B-movie tribute to classic martial arts films.

Kurt Russell makes a great Jack Burton, in my eyes this is easily the best role in his entire career.

Jack is not your typical hero.. at least, he thinks he is but this is not his story.

Jack keeps getting knocked out. Even John Carpenter himself went on saying Jack Burton is not really the hero. He's the sidekicks who thinks he's the hero. That's why he's not the one that ends up with his love interest at the end. Wang and Egg Shen are the real heroes. Jack Burton just happens to be bumbling along for the ride.

It's a fun subversive take on your typical 80s action films all the studios wanted to make back then. And Kurt Russell does great with the role. At the time Fox wanted to have Jack Burton played as a straight action hero, that's probably why Carpenter ended up adding later the opening scene with Egg Shen's interrogation telling how "Jack Burton saved us all".

Wang's the true hero, an everyman martial artist protagonist that has to fight to saves the girl and defeat Lo Pan.

Speaking off, Lo Pan is such a fun over-the-top villain! Sure, our good ol' Jack Burton ends up killing him pretty easy at the end, but only thanks to his great reflexes that serve as a final punchling - "It's all in the reflexes!" (Although he didn't seem that great catching bottles and clumsily threw his knife a couple of times first...)

The film can sort of be seen similarly to Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones, afterall both take form from similar influences.

I'm still surprise the studios accepted to make the film in the first place. The story is deeply rooted in Chinese legends and lore, and real life Chinatown. Keeping a pretty small cast of non-Asian actors for a change. Carpenter was able to cast a lot of great Asian actors for the occasion including one of his favorite, Dennis Dun.

The film is pretty good, even the cheesy special effects work great in the film's favor, much on purpose.

Several films of Carpenter from that era where actually genre tributes, such as The Thing acting as tribute to old 1950s alien invasion serials and being a remake of his very own favorite film of all time. With Big Trouble in Little China being his own homage to all the old classic B-grade martial arts movies.

"Everybody relax, I'm here."

Kurt Russell plays Jack Burton like a pastiche of traditional heroes such as John Wayne characters, etc.

It is obvious once you think about it or on repeat viewings that Jack's never truly supposed to be the hero of the story. Wang is the one leading our duo into this quest, rescuing his loved one. Jack's just along for the ride. Although Jack does get the final kill, killing off the bad guy in end (in a sort of similar humorous was Casey Joney did the final blow on Shredder back in the original TMNT film).

So much happen in so little time during this film. They save damsels in distress, they get tied to a wheelchair, absurd monsters fly around, fun explosions blow up all around in all kinds of colors, ugly monsters roam in the basement.

The film features some pretty good well choreographed fight scenes. Wang doing most of the heavy lifting, sword-fighting in mid-air.

Yet... it all just works!

Big Trouble in Little China is probably one of the most 1980s films you'll ever see.

A really fun fast-paced adventure film containing a lot of nods to classic cheesy kung fu films from the 1970s. Featuring several notable actors from the genre.

It has a great sense of fun. A lot of memorable special effects from the same company that worked on the original Ghostbusters.

On music you have John Carpenter as usual along Alan Howarth. Carpenter made such a great soundtrack for the film. Playing off the zany frantic rhythm of the film, and avoiding the usual Hollywood clichées whenever you have Chinese protagonists in films usually. Keeping much of his trademark fast-paced rock and use of the synthesizer for his musical score.

Sadly at time, very few people were able to understand or get the film. It was a complete commercial failure and went way under budget. Which is one of the main reasons that made Carpenter completely ditch Hollywood for his later projects and instead opt to finance his films indenpendently, free from studios mandates and interferences to do as he please. It's kind of normal, this was such a though sale despite being such an entertaining film! (Plus you also have to take into account it was basically released around the same time as James Cameron's Aliens, which didn't help it..) Thankfully it has since become a huge cult classic over the decades, as it should rightfully be.

Overall, John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China is a fantastic cult classic film! Highly Recommended for anyone in need of a good classic film unlike any other out there. Martial arts, monsters, magic, this film has it all! And barely no time to reflect upon any of this or ask yourself any questions.

It's such a fun enjoyable thrill ride!

Even if it's completely different from any of John Carpenter's previous films, it does keep much of his trademark eye for great shots and tense pacing. It's far from any of his classic more frightening horror films, but it's such a fun random movie mix! It never takes its absurd premise to seriously and it's a load of fun!

At some point, a possible sequel was announced way back when, but it was quickly scrapped or forgotten. It would have continued from the cliffhanger with Jack Burton and the creature on his truck at the end.

Around the release of the film, Big Trouble received a few video game tie-ins on the Commodore 64, the Amstrad CPC and the ZX Spectrum. They're nothing to write home about, really. And last year, after all this time BOOM! Studios finally gave us the sequel we never received in the form of a comic book series written by Eric Powell and John Carpenter himself, with art from Brian Churilla. The comic basically acts as a follow-up to the original 1986 film.

Finally, to end on a much less positive note, Hollywood being, well, Hollywood, there's been an announcement of an unnecessary and probably awful remake. "Movie star" Dwayne Johnson has gone on to say he wants to produce a Big Trouble in Little China remake he would star in as Jack Burton (huh... didn't he get the original film? And he call himself a fan? Jack's supposed to be the fun incompetent hero.. And I doubt he would play the character this way... Why not make The Rock the friend of the actual hero?). On the positive side, he did say he wanted Carpenter involved in the remake one way or another, but do we really need this film? Finance a new original Carpenter film and star in it instead! What BOOM! has made with the comic is a lot better than any idea the new writers will come up with for this movie remake or sequel..

I give it:
3 / 3 RebBrowns!

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