Movie of the Day – Big Trouble in Little China
July 16, 2011 Leave a comment
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.” – Jack Burton
Man I am excited to write this article for today’s post, mainly because I just received my Teefury shirt order that a little meta take on the film Big Trouble in Little China. In the realm of film lists and rankings that different critics or writers have, Big Trouble is in my Top Ten of all time. This is no joke as the movie has it all; action, horror, comedy, suspense, martial arts, Chinese mysticism, anti-hero, and grind house like film quality. Hands down my favorite John Carpenter film, well ahead of The Thing and Escape from New York and one of my favorite Kurt Russel film. The movie is this giant hodge podge of themes and action tropes that make re-watching this movie enjoyable every time. While it out-righted bombed at the box office, this has found it’s home with the cult film fanatics. Midnight showings, Mondo posters, meta t-shirts and overall acclaim for a movie that had unconventional film tropes and brought an entertaining film to life.
Jack Burton (Kurt Russel) is lone truck driver out on the open road, with his CB Radio he speaks the truth about life and his own ideas about how he handles life. On a stop he gets into a friendly game with restaurant owner Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) who now owes Jack a considerable amount of money. Jack takes Wang with him to go pick up his girlfriend and then to the restaurant for his payment. Wang’s girlfriend is kidnapped by a gang known as the Lord’s of Death. Jack and Wang head to China town in San Francisco to get her back, but they stumble upon a gang showdown between good guys Chang Sing and the evil Wing Kong. A battle ensues between the two factions and suddenly, the Three Storms appears to aid the Wing Kong. Jack is puzzled by all this shit and floors it out of there, inadvertently running over a ghostly looking man. Jack exits the truck and find the old man alive, not before the man known as Lo Pan (James Hong) blinds Jack and the two flee the scene. They flee to a friends restaurant and meet up with a local reporter, lawyer, and also magician Egg Shen (Victor Wong). Egg Shen reveals that Wang’s girlfriend being kidnapped is past of an evil plan by Lo Pan to become mortal and all powerful. It is up to Jack and Wang to band together to stop the Wing Kong’s and Lo Pan from fulfilling an ancient prophecy.
The interesting thing about this movie is the portrayal of the “lead” character Jack Burton. During the time that this movie came out, we have been swamped with action movies where the lead hero is this all around bad ass. A dude that can wipe out entire an army and defeat terrorists single handed. That is not the case with Jack Burton, as he is more of a bumbling sidekick than anything else. He plays the Joe Everybody character fairly well, sweating Eagle tears, being as American as he can be and having a high value of himself as a man. You think the way he talks about himself that he has been in gunfights before, killed people and in general, be a bad ass. That is a far from the truth as we see him fumble with guns, knock himself out before a big battle, and during one fight scene he spends almost the entire fight trying to beat one guy. Not your typical hero role, but that is what is enjoyable about the movie. It takes are conceptions about the modern movie hero and makes him human. He isn’t some muscle bound jock with guns, but a trucker with a cocky attitude. The real heroes of the movie are Wang and Egg Shen. Both have more at stake in the movie and are carrying Jack along for the ride. Jack only wants his truck back while Egg Shen wants to defeat Lo Pan and Wang wants his girlfriend back. They both kick ass in their respective scenes while Jack hangs back and watches his buddy dismantle some Wing Kong thugs.
By all accounts, this movie should have had mass appeal. We all love action movies, but I guess the it wasn’t the typical flavor that we all like. Kurt Russel was still a rising star, the movie had elements of Chinese mysticism and was a martial arts film. Not to say that the last thing was a deterrent, but we are used to seeing action movies with more guns and explosions. The film itself was full of other references to films and characters, making it a film lovers delight and a bit more enjoyable for multiple viewings. The martial arts in the movie is entertaining, but also inventive as we get a bit more directorial flair from John Carpenter. The Three Storms are all fueled with mystical powers and often times, ridiculous weapons (spinning forks?), but while it may seem campy that a guy can shoot lightning out of his hands and Lo Pan is this giant ghost with light coming out of his eyes, it all fits well in the context of the movie.
Carpenter did an amazing job creating a believable setting where two warring factions battle it out and there are floating eyeballs and underground monsters. But the thing that is lacking is the character development in the movie. Aside from Burton, who is the primary character focus, you don’t much of anything in terms of back story for all the other characters. They just take up space and can be a bit confusing understanding who is in trouble, why are they there, and what purpose does he or she serve. Carpenter can really do a great job on introducing a character, but there isn’t anything else that goes along with it.
While I could have used more character story, I can look past that and see a fucking awesome movie. It’s got everything you could want in a movie and more. Plus the film has some awesome Jack Burtonisms that you can quote and live your life by. This is a must for any film fan that loves a bit of campy, mythical action and is a fan of cult films.
Just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol’ storm right square in the eye and he says, “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.“ – Jack Durton