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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 29.76%
Average: 7.14%
Pretty Bad: 1.19%
Total Crap: 4.76%

4 reviews, 60 user ratings

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Big Trouble in Little China
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by Mel Valentin

"Hands (or pants) down John Carpenter's most entertaining film."
5 stars

John Carpenter’s genre-bending (and genre-blending) action/adventure/fantasy/martial arts/comedy, "Big Trouble in Little China," was released in 1986 to mixed, if overall positive, reviews, but failed to bring in audiences in sufficient numbers to cover the mid-range budget (Carpenter's largest at that point in his career), despite a wry, ironic, subversive lead performance by Kurt Russell as an ineffectual action hero who’s (mostly) all talk and no action. The passage of time, however, has been more than kind to "Big Trouble in Little China." Like 1982's "The Thing," a box-office disappointment turned cult classic, "Big Trouble in Little China" has developed a small, devoted fan base. "Big Trouble in Little China" may just be John Carpenter’s most entertaining film, repaying multiple viewings with an over-abundance of narrative and visual pleasures.

As Big Trouble in Little China opens, Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), an everyman truck-driver (and the ostensible hero/protagonist) arrives in San Francisco to drop off cargo in Chinatown. At the conclusion of a celebratory evening (and morning) of drinking and gambling where Jack wins big, the other men leave, broke and none too happy with their losses, Jack’s stays behind with his longtime friend, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), a local restaurant owner (as we soon learn, Wang Chi’s a man of many talents). Wang Chi makes Jack an odd wager, a double or nothing bet Wang loses. Jack, eager to collect his winnings and uncomfortable with letting Wang out of his sight, is convinced to accompany Wang to the airport, where Wang's fiancée, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), is about to arrive from China. Miao Yin is the rarest of Chinese women. She has emerald green eyes.

At the airport, Jack encounters Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), an immigration attorney (and part-time troublemaker). Gracie rebuffs Jack's one-liner. In the next beat, a Chinese gang, the Lords of Death, brush roughly past the slightly perturbed Jack. Jack confronts them, only to find himself overmatched and in need of Wang's superior martial arts skills. In the mayhem, the Lords of Death grab Miao Yin, sending Jack and Wang back to Chinatown, where the first of many supernatural events upend Jack's worldview. Stuck in a tight alleyway, Jack and Wang watch rival gangs, the Chang Sing and the Wing Kong, engage in a battle. Enter Thunder (Carter Wong), Rain (Peter Kwong), Lightning (James Pax), three mystical warriors with extraordinary powers. Thunder, Rain, and Lightning serve David Lo Pan (James Hong), a godfather-like figure with a double nature. In their hasty retreat, Jack loses his most important possession, his truck, to the Lords of Death.

Jack, of course, wants his truck back and help Wang Chi recover Miao Yin, but his pride also needs mending. To repair his ego, Jack goes into action-hero mode, despite a distinct shortage of martial arts skills, let alone any understanding of the supernatural forces arrayed against him and his friend. Jack's ignorance is to our benefit, as his constant head scratching and incredulous outbursts lead to cleverly delivered exposition by Wang Chi and a rumpled, slightly disheveled sorcerer/tour bus driver, Egg Shen (Victor Wong). Egg Shen delivers more than his share of witticisms, making him, like Jack, Wang Chi, and the peevish, frustrated David Lo Pan, the most memorable characters in Big Trouble in Little China and in Carpenter's oeuvre. Big Trouble in Little China turns on not one, not two, but three search-and-rescue missions, with the expected martial arts battle between warring groups rounding out the action. The performers fly on wires, jump on trampolines, and swordfight in mid-air, adding more than a touch of the absurd and the parodic to the fight scenes, but that's in keeping with Big Trouble in Little China's feather-light tone.

Big Trouble in Little China has much to recommend first and repeat viewings, beginning with the witty, irreverent dialogue, with a great deal of the humor coming at Jack Burton's expense. Jack's pretensions to action-hero machismo are often met with disbelief, laughter, or both. Jack is essentially the "sidekick" to Wang's hero, but he doesn't know it. He stumbles his way through the film, but Russell's blustery, pitch-perfect performance never crosses over into caricature (which would make him a buffoon). In less sure hands, the almost delirious mix of usually disparate genres, action/adventure, martial arts, fantasy, and comedy would almost surely fail, but thanks to a well-crafted script by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein (with an adaptation by W.D. "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" Richter) and typically assured, unobtrusive direction by John Carpenter, the end result is a nearly flawless mini-masterpiece that draws the audience into Jack's adventures and misadventures.

Ultimately, even fans of Carpenter’s work in the horror genre are forced to admit that "Big Trouble in Little China" may be Carpenter’s best film (with the possible exceptions of "The Thing" or "Halloween," but both of those films are firmly within the horror genre). After all, how many films in any director's work can sustain effervescent good cheer from the first frame to the last (book-ended by Jack's pontificating over a CB radio as he drives his pride and joy, the Pork Chop Express, out of San Francisco to parts unknown, moments after leaving his potential relationship with Gracie open-ended)? Alas, "Big Trouble in Little China’s" disappointing box-office returns means that Jack's adventures ended in 1986, without the likelihood of a sequel (other media, e.g., comic books or videogame adaptations, are presumably still possibilities).

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originally posted: 12/05/05 08:38:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2015 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/22/19 Blobbo Jobbo Much fun for Blobbo. 5 stars
11/16/16 RayB Brilliantly entertaining! Lo Pan is dark and cool... 5 stars
8/25/16 Cliff Bst send u of Kung fu and Westerns. My personal DVD's keep disappearing. 5 stars
7/19/16 Bamer4127 One of the most wonderfully hokey, deceptively hilarious romps in cinematic history! 5 stars
5/20/16 Jason 80's Kurt Russell + martial arts 5 stars
5/05/16 David Hollingsworth A campy and fun cult classic that is still entertaining, 5 stars
3/02/12 R.W. Welch Off-the-wall actioner, moderately entertaining. 3 stars
10/02/10 bored mom The Greatest American Action-Adventure-Comedy-Drama-Fantasy-Mystery-Thriller Classic Ever. 5 stars
7/17/08 DJ AKO Saw this when I was a young girl and is still my favorite movie of all time!!!! 5 stars
2/02/08 MP Bartley I'd take this over Kill Bill every day of the week and twice on Tuesdays. 5 stars
3/14/07 Grizzle Best. Movie. Ever. 5 stars
3/05/07 Mel Howard's Floating Head Great flick. Makes me all nostalgic. Plus, no one can defeat Kurt's mullet. Not even Tango. 5 stars
11/03/06 AJ Muller if you don't agree that this is one of the best flicks EVER, it's okay - you're just stupid 5 stars
10/04/06 K.Sear How senseless can one movie be? Plus, Lo-Pan is easily the most anticlimactic villain ever 1 stars
9/13/06 Booksworm Has pretty much everything I like in an action movie 5 stars
7/26/06 Quigley what is wrong with you people? this movie was downright awful! scum galore! 1 stars
12/14/05 deadfishrman this movie is great you must watch! 4 stars
10/07/05 Klondo Thunder is my favorite Storm. He looks like Van Damme. 5 stars
8/24/05 ES the pinnacle of the so bad its cool action movie genre- Jack is the man 5 stars
1/16/05 Jeff Anderson THIS FILM RULES, RULES, RULES!!! Arguably J. Carpenter's and K. Russell's greatest film. 5 stars
11/13/04 Samuel Its all in the reflexes 5 stars
9/15/04 John Stuwert it was the BOMB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
7/18/04 Stevo "Have you paid you're dues yet?" Who is a better hero than Burton? 4 stars
7/07/04 Lord Durvok 2 Great fun - a world of entertainment. 4 stars
4/11/04 American Slasher Goddess Enjoyable and hugely fun. 5 stars
2/09/04 Whatevr I don't care what the critis say. This movie rules! 5 stars
8/11/03 Kyle No Andrew, special effects DON'T make the movie. But Kurt Russel kicking ass does. 4 stars
5/07/03 Eeon A highly enjoyable movie. 5 stars
4/18/03 Vimmy mardousch a campy classic. not one for humourless wankers, though. 5 stars
4/14/03 Monkey Boy LO PAN RULES! Great action flick! 5 stars
4/11/03 kurt matthews one of the best movies in the world, rent or buy it! pure cheeze, its all in the reflexes 5 stars
3/20/03 Jack Sommersby Russell's outstanding, but the film is way too broad and grating. 2 stars
7/12/02 KMG Pretty good, pretty cool 4 stars
6/19/02 Charles Tatum Not Carpenter's strongest 3 stars
2/27/02 Alan Smithee The DVD is fantastic. My 2nd favorite John C. film (1st being The Thing). 5 stars
2/16/02 Martin Yates The best fantasy comedy martial arts action adventure sci-fi horror buddy movie of all time 5 stars
11/23/01 Andrew Carden Special Effects Don't Always Make The Movie. 1 stars
11/12/01 Gracy Lionheart One of the funkiest movies I have seen. I have loved this movie since I was a kid. 4 stars
10/27/01 faididi Cheesy fast paced action adventure with Cantonese humour. 4 stars
9/03/01 Butterbean Kurt Russel's best work in this delightfully cheezy flick. 5 stars
8/26/01 Gumshoe A classic in its own style 5 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk This is the pork chop express saying: if you don't like this movie, fuck yourself! 5 stars
7/08/01 Lo Ren One Fantastic Hunk of Cheese 5 stars
6/14/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) A genre-blender, and I LOVE those... 4 stars
5/28/01 chickpea one of, if not the best, classic BAD movie. Beautifully stupid. 5 stars
5/16/01 Rungekutta13 Amazing movie. Hell of a good time. Watch it. Now. 5 stars
4/20/01 Corbin Dallas a 80's fantasy classic with The Dark Crystal, Last Unicorn and Labyrinth 5 stars
2/26/01 Destruction Worker Awesomely awesome awesomeness. 5 stars
11/18/00 Skeets A movie to view on a "dark and stormy night" just for the fun of watching a movie. 4 stars
9/30/00 Jed An alright movie it is no clasic but it is better than J.C's "Vampires". 3 stars
7/19/00 Naushad Khanji A fine piece of entertainment. 4 stars
6/05/00 Adrian Byrne Now it is wonderful "kitsch"; then it was an unpretentious action. Who didn't love Jack?!?! 4 stars
4/18/00 Jed Better than some of the other crud carpenter made. 3 stars
2/16/00 RoNiN one of my favorite films 5 stars
1/25/00 Chris Whitney yah baby 5 stars
12/05/99 Eric S. Solidly entertaining and pretty humorous, but the action scenes are too sluggish 3 stars
11/26/99 the Grinch Hail yeah! 'Bout time this movie got some respect! 4 stars
7/07/99 Ben Leostein Rating: ** (out of ****) Category: "Average" 3 stars
5/09/99 The Bomb 69 gets better with age, must like campy humor though 5 stars
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  17-Jan-1986 (PG-13)


  17-Jan-1986 (M)

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