Big Trouble in Little China Reviews
Love it, will watch it again for sure!
I was late to the party with this little 80s b-movie gem.
Big Trouble in Little China is John Carpenter's most genre-bending film. The man has always had a talent for combining genres, but Big Trouble in Little China is his most ambitious example of the skill throughout his entire career. The film plays out like an Indiana Jones movie set in a fantasy setting. The concept of a stray protagonist dragged into a war between gangs is clearly one influenced by Akira Kurosawa's iconic jidaigeki film Yojimbo (1961) while the use of a masculine American protagonist and various shootouts gives it a western touch. With the subversive mix of eastern and western elements alongside fantasy adventure elements, Big Trouble in Little China is almost like John Carpenter's 80's equivalent of Star Wars (1977) in the form of a self-aware B-movie with a rich atmosphere of humour. The film succeeds in its multi-genre ambitions and uses them to bring out a new extent of creativity in the director. It is an experience like none other, and it is a distinctively John Carpenter fare.
Big Trouble in Little China obsesses so heavily on being a style-oriented guilty pleasure that it lacks the character development or social commentary of many of John Carpenter's more intellectual features. This means the dialogue in the film isn't particularly interesting and so the dialogue-oriented sequences aren't necessary all that engaging. Oddly enough even though the director has a love of horror there isn't that much exploration of mythology in the narrative as it predominantly serves as the medium for an action film. It's the moments that boast the production values of Big Trouble in Little China that really support it, and luckily enough there is a barrage of colourful imagery in an extremely versatile form to compensate for this. Though he has proven his mastery of low-budget filmmaking, Big Trouble in Little China has one of the biggest budgets John Carpenter has ever worked with. To start the film off, audiences get to experience the on-location scenery of the film which provides a dark underside to contemporary society where gang violence is a prominent feature. Soon enough, characters dressed in formal Asian clothing enter fray. This formality turns fantastical soon enough when the sorcery element of the story begins and the full ambition of the costume deparment is seen in top form. Given that the work of the costume deparment was a key influence on the design of Raiden from the Mortal Kombat video game series (1992-present), the influence of the film is clear. And the occasional use of prosthetic effects adds further creative imagery to the film while the visual effects are colourful while spread out across the story. All this combined with remarkable detail in the production design provides a perfectly convincing setting for the film with its distinctive eastern design.
And like I said, action is the dominant focus of Big Trouble in Little China. John Carpenter had long desired to make a kung-fu film, and Big Trouble in Little China is exactly his chance to do that. There is a sizable collection of well-choreographed fight sequences which bring an impressive series of moves out of the very talented cast. A large array of martial arts performers are brought into Big Trouble in Little China to empower the film with their natural talents, and they show off a remarkable range of versatile skills in the endless barrage of action that the film hurls at viewers. The fight scenes benefit from the aforementioned visual effects and the help of some wires, but the natural talents of the performers is impossible to disregard. An on top of all the fight scenes is the presence of John Carpenter's distinctive brand of westernized shootouts which are bolstered by strong cinematography and editing. Big Trouble in Little China delivers very well on the action front, and the hyperactive energy that it presents to the film gains a lot of support from the power of the musical score. Once again, John Carpenter proves his brilliance as a composer in a collaboation with Alan Howarth where the two build a traditionally eastern musical theme with an 80's coat of paint to it.
And since the script requires the cast members to bring their natural charms to the film without worrying too much about characterization, the natural talents of the actors flourish on their own terms.
Kurt Russell's leading performance once again proves that John Carpenter brings out the best in him. As a contrast to the hyper-intensity of the characters he portrayed in Escape from New York (1981) and The Thing (1982), Kurt Russell flexes his comedic muscles in Big Trouble in Little China. Jack Burton is a great character because he is a badass action hero and a parody of one at the same time; Rather than resisting the social structure of the world around him as Snake Plissken did, Jack Burton is genuinely confused and angered by it. It works to the film's comic benefit as he is a fish out of water whose western idiociy makes him prone to deadpan slapstick gags that are hilarious without detracting from the serious aspects of the story. While making viewers laugh, Kurt Russell continues to kick ass in Big Trouble in Little China with his muscular stature and hard-edged nature supporting his dramatic virtues. With his pretentious egotism and single-toned line delivery, Kurt Russell manages to capture a imitation of John Wayne without coming off as a try-hard. This adds to his credibility as a comic actor yet the fact that he plays it with such legitimate dedication is a testament to his versatility, reinforcing his status as a legendary action hero of the 1980's.
Dennis Dun also contributes a strong supporting effort. Though he is largely a repetitive background character, Wang Chi gains a lot of benefit from having Dennis Dun in the role. He starts out as simply a friend to the protagonist, but due to his own relevance to the narrative we see him grow more intense as the story develops. Dennis Dun keeps up with this development and gives his character a progressive aspiration of confidence. This plays out more prominently throughout the many action scenes, and as the story goes on we see him engaging with the battle more. This is where he shows off his swift speed, fighting skills and flexibility. He proves to kick some major ass and keep a strong chemistry with Kurt Russell, ensuring that they make a befitting pair of heroes. Dennis Dun brings his own set of skills to Big Trouble in Little China and stands out as a memorable martial artist.
James Hong is also an awesome presence. As perhaps the most active Chinese Hollywood actor of the past many decades, James Hong takes on one of his most distinctive roles in Big Trouble in Little China. He uses his iconic voice perfectly by laying the accent on thick with a cartoonish evil nature about him while his facial expressions project a really intimidating sense of sadistic passion. Jack Burton is a hero and a parody of one, and David Lo Pan is his villainous equivalent. James Hong's line delivery is perfect in Big Trouble in Little China, and his balance between legitimate villainy and cheesiness encapsulates the mood of the film perfectly.
Kim Cattrall is also a likable presence, particularly considering that the contrast between her character's intelligence and her airheaded line delivery makes for an effective combination of B-movie female archetypes.
Big Trouble in Little China doesn't have much engaging dialogue, but John Carpenter's genre-bending love-letter to eastern and western cinema benefits from brilliant production values, impressively versatile action scenes and Kurt Russell's heroic charisma.