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BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: With its recent Shout! Factory reissue in a Blu-ray ‘Collector’s Edition’ with copious new bonus features, ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ — a real change of pace for director John Carpenter, of ‘Halloween’ and ‘The Thing’ fame — is worth looking back at again. My review was published in the Deseret News on July 4, 1986.

 

“Big Trouble In Little China” is very funny, in an oddball “Buckaroo Banzai” kind of way, with Kurt Russell and Dennis Dun as gambling buddies who team up to take on an evil ghost, the spirit of a 2,000-year-old sorcerer. That ghost is searching for a green-eyed woman to sacrifice so he can once again become flesh and bone.

 

Russell is truck driver Jack Burton who is drawn into the adventure by his friend Wang Chi (Dun). Initially all Burton wants is a gambling debt Chi owes him, but when his truck is stolen, and his livelihood along with it, Burton is forced to join in.

 

Burton and Dun trade quips and battle the bad guys together, but while Dun is revealed to be a full-fledged hero (in a deadpan spoof of Bruce Lee martial arts pictures), Burton is little more than a good-natured oaf.

 

       

 

Kim Cattrall, left, Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, Suzee Pai, 'Big Trouble in Little China' (1986)

 

The plot is complex and more than a little ridiculous, but director John Carpenter (who also did the music) keeps the pace moving so fast you won’t notice until it’s all over. And by then you probably won’t care.

 

W.D. Richter, who gave us “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” is credited here with “story adaptation,” and some of the dialogue has that “Buckaroo Banzai” ring to it. When the chief heroine, for example, is told the evil ghost’s victim is a woman with green eyes, she says with a straight face, “That’s like patent-leather bucket seats; it doubles the price.”

 

Probably the most interesting aspect of “Big Trouble in Little China” is that it appears to be the first flat-out spoof of “Rambo,” as well as an obvious Indiana Jones knock-off. With his John Wayne swagger and his Inspector Clouseau klutziness, Russell’s character is also something of a variation on Tom Selleck’s “Magnum, P.I.,” though more of a male chauvinist. Despite Russell’s macho, redneck attitudes, however, he gives Jack Burton a warmth that belies his outward facade.

 

       

 

Dennis Dun’s Wang Chi could have been little more than just another “sidekick” character but Carpenter and Dun have made him an equal partner to Jack Burton, in laughs and heroics — and in fact, he repeatedly surpasses Burton in the latter, beating up the bad guys while Burton bumbles along.

 

Kim Cattrall’s character, a hard-nosed attorney, is not very well developed but she does get a few laughs and provides Russell with some romance. Victor Wong (also in the current “Dim Sum”) fares much better as the good-guy sorcerer, who drives a Chinatown tour bus on the side. Wong is something of a Chinese Wilford Brimley, excellent in everything he does.

 

“Big Trouble in Little China” which is quite violent for its PG-13 rating, isn’t going to win any awards. But during a summer when there is no “Indiana Jones” movie, a pseudo-Indiana Jones will do.