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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 Rob Gonsalves

"The One Stooge."
5 stars

If you want to enjoy "Big Trouble in Little China" the correct way, listen to its director, John Carpenter, and star, Kurt Russell, who will cheerfully tell you that the man you might assume is the hero — intrepid trucker Jack Burton (Russell) — is actually the film’s idiot sidekick.

The real hero is Jack’s friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), who has the movie’s true heroic arc. Wang’s fiancée Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) has been kidnapped, and he must rescue her. Jack kind of tags along because Wang owes him money and, later, because his truck is stolen and he wants it back. So while Wang goes forward and drives the plot, Jack muscles in and talks like John Wayne and occasionally manages not to shit the bed completely.

Big Trouble in Little China started out as a period Western with martial-arts flavor — something like the later Shanghai Noon, possibly — but was modernized by script doctor W.D. Richter (Buckaroo Banzai), and ended up as both an homage to and example of mystical chop-socky. Audiences in 1986 were simply not ready for it, and it tanked badly in theaters before gaining, like some of Carpenter’s other “failures,” an eager cult on home video. Today it’s generally viewed as a precursor to the cinema of actor-director Stephen Chow, fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, and everything else made possible in the wake of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The plot is basically an explosion in a clown factory. It needs near-constant exposition, as much to keep us up to speed as to get Jack’s head on straight — he almost never knows what’s going on. He’s the Dumb White Man at sea in Chinatown, where the local customs are bizarre and incomprehensible to him. The narrative is almost a parody of “Asian inscrutability.” The gist of it is that Miao Yin, along with another, possibly mixed-race woman named Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), have been captured so that they can be married off to the 2000-year-old sorcerer Lo Pan (James Hong), because the women both have green eyes and this is vital to lift the curse that keeps Lo Pan decrepit and/or an incorporeal spirit. You can kind of see why Jack says “Huh?” a lot.

Various superpowered minions of Lo Pan’s show up and do their elemental specialties. Monsters lurch into the frame, mostly unexplained. Yet Big Trouble in Little China is a comedy — a giggly, jostling adventure that sneers in the face of logic. I’m not sure why a reporter (Kate Burton) is around at all, other than to give Gracie someone to talk to and pass the Bechdel Test. Pretty much everyone in the movie is there to aid or frustrate Wang Chi’s goal; Jack frequently does one or the other, sometimes both at once. Carpenter and his favored cinematographer Dean Cundey (doing his fifth and final work for Carpenter) keep the action colorful and bright, even when rain pours down; a more poetic title for the movie might be Blue Lightning, Red Gowns, after the magic weapon of one villain and the dresses Gracie and Miao Yin wear during Lo Pan’s ceremony. This PG-13 film, despite its frequent shooting and bashing and swordplay, is also completely bloodless except for the blood-draw in the aforementioned ceremony.

The movie contains as well the single drop-dead funniest moment in all of Carpenter’s filmography, one that Kurt Russell can’t even get through talking about without guffawing. I won’t give it away. But watch not only for an ill-advised show of boisterous force but for a shot a few seconds later of “our hero” missing all the fun. Big Trouble in Little China was significantly before its time in more ways than one: it was a goofily meta satire in an era of mostly fearfully sincere action (think of Stallone and Schwarzenegger and Eastwood), razzing tropes that American audiences hadn’t yet been taught to question. Kurt Russell is front and center on the burnished Drew Struzan poster; I don’t think Dennis Dun is anywhere on there at all. But you know what they say about judging a book by its cover.

Snickering all the way, Carpenter and Russell suckered audiences into sitting down for a White Savior action picture but gave them a moron who only wins in the end because of “reflexes.”

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originally posted: 05/03/16 08:33:32
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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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