Back in the 1980’s, the team of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell made three wonderful movies together. The first was Escape from New York in 1981. Next came a remake of The Thing in 1982, one of the few times where the remake was better than the original. (The original in this case was The Thing from Another World, which was originally released in 1951.) Finally in 1986, they teamed together for the film that we are here to talk about today, Big Trouble in Little China.
Big Trouble in Little China is one of those wonderful movies that cannot be categorized. It is part action-adventure and part sci-fi fantasy with a heavy dose of comedy, Kung Fu, and monsters. It is the story of Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), an American truck driver and his buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) as they battle the evil Lo Pan, played by James Hong.
The story goes that Wang Chi’s fiance, Miao Yin, is kidnapped by Chinese gangsters along with another immigrant, Tara. Through a series of events, Jack Burton runs into Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), who was there to pick up Tara. Wang Chi and Jack team up with local tour bus driver and sorcerer Egg Shen (played by Victor Wong) to rescue Miao Yin, Tara, and eventually Gracie Law herself.
So why is this movie important?
It’s not important, but it is really good. Kurt Russell’s performance is one of his best in this film. It does not take long to realize that he is not the hero that we have been led to believe, but is actually the side-kick! He is the “hero” that thinks that he is more heroic than he is. Throughout the movie, his intentions are not noble and his actions are laughable for the most part. His “bark” is worse than his bite.
The movie also displayed a sense of humor that is largely missing in movies today. To call it self-deprecating humor would not be correct as it finds humor in who we have been led to believe is the stereotypical action hero. However, the film is not all humor as there are some wonderful action sequences, specifically in the climactic battle sequence.
The sad thing about this movie is that there was no sequel. The ending of the movie clues us right in that Jack Burton has more adventures ahead of him. Had the movie been a bigger hit back in 1986, we might have seen one. The problem for this movie then were the same problem it would have now. Audiences would not know what to do with it. (It did not help that Aliens also came out the summer of ’86. Game over, man.)
Big Trouble in Little China is currently available from Netflix and for purchase from Amazon. (I recommend the purchase as the commentary by John Carpenter and Kurt Russell on the DVD is fascinating.)