Thursday, October 17, 2013

REVIEW: Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble in Little China
Director: John Carpenter
Year 1986

Big Trouble in Little China is a wild genre hybrid that is a whole hell of a lot of fun. Directed by the legendary horror filmmaker John Carpenter and starring the ridiculously charismatic Kurt Russell, this action adventure barrels headlong into cinematic bliss with an overabundance of character, wonder, and genuine laughs. Tremendously self-aware of its indulgent nature for Chinese mythology and the imaginative imagery that comes with it, Big Trouble in Little China sets the gold standard for all adventure romps, especially ones that put fun in the forefront.

The film follows truck driver Jack Burton, the self proclaimed badass, as he suddenly finds himself mixed up in a centuries-old supernatural war between good and evil. After the kidnapping of his friend Wang Chi's fiancee by the hands of Chinese slave traders, Jack agrees to track down the group responsible, but ends up running afoul of an ancient sorcerer named Lo Pan and his unsavory legions of mystical warriors and unsightly beasts, who have other ideas for Wang's beloved. With the odds against them, Jack and Wang along with the help of a rag tag group of unlikely friends, storm the underground labyrinths of Lo Pan's secret lair in hopes to save Wang's fiancee and bring down the apparently immortal sorcerer.

Kurt Russell takes on the iconic role of Jack Burton and like his portrayal of Snake Plissken in Escape from New York, he simply owns the character. Hot tempered, quick witted, and extremely scene stealing, Russell gives Jack Burton that added charismatic depth which propels this vividly portrayed character into instant classic status. A cult figure for the ages, Jack Burton is as brash as they come and Russell defines the actions of this loudmouth braggart to perfection. This film wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable as it is without the presence of Russell's expert timing and cool as hell personality. If there is anything that the world needs more of, it is Kurt Russell, and his performance in Big Trouble in Little China is one for the ages.

Supporting Russell's excellent performance is an equally enthralling display by an extremely gifted cast of character actors. Kim Cattrall takes on the role of Gracie Law, a nosey investigative reporter who finds herself way over her head when taking on Lo Pan and company. Cattrall is wonderfully sassy in the role and she's never looked better. Legendary character actor Victor Wong plays the role of Egg Shen, the elderly but fully capable wizard who has waged a life-long battle against the forces of evil. Wong is such an inspiration in this role as he chews the scenery up every time he appears on screen. His performance is so compelling and especially genuine. Another heavy hitter is James Hong as the infamous David Lo Pan, the centuries-old sorcerer with a penchant for girls with green eyes. Hong has a lot of heavy lifting to do in this duel role, for he plays both the old and young version of Lo Pan. Each iteration of the sorcerer is demanding in itself, and the makeup effects and character designs for his various looks are extremely vivid and outlandishly game-changing. Last but definitely not least is Dennis Dun as he takes on the memorable role of Wang Chi. I've always enjoyed Dun's work be it his scene-stealing performance in Prince of Darkness or his contributions to The Last Emperor, but in Big Trouble in Little China he over-shines both roles. He's a sadly under-appreciated actor, but in my eyes he's reached cult status and with good reason.

With a cast like that, how could you go wrong, and John Carpenter makes good use of their multiple talents. The action is fierce and the banter between characters is even more engaging, emphasizing greatly that this film is all about an abundance of fun. From the martial arts action to the over the top mythical and mystical elements of the script, Carpenter throws everything he has at his audience, all in the name of entertainment. The end result of all of this over-indulgence is a rip-roaring thrill ride that never worries about going off the rails, but rather delights in the unusual and unexpected. As Carpenter delves deeper into the otherworldly elements of Chinese lore, he ramps up the fun factor of the flick, introducing one wild character after another until we're knee deep in some of the most fascinating of ensemble casts.

The name of the game here is adventure, and Big Trouble in Little China has that in copious quantities. Elemental warriors, kung-fu soldiers, a wild beast-man, and a floating head with multiple eyeballs are just some of the weird and wild characters that you'll come across in this flick. Designed in unique and unorthodox ways, Carpenter has pulled from a large iconic pool of cult imagery throughout Asian cinema and has crafted something that is full-on fantasy with a Carpenter twist, and it gels to perfection. Combined with his impeccable anamorphic lens and distinct atmospheric soundtrack, Carpenter has crafted a genre mash-up for the ages. Its got action, comedy, adventure and a little bit of romance, but what really helps it all propel into classic status is the outstanding cast of character actors that truly bring it all to life.

Big Trouble in Little China is truly a classic film. Never shying away from its ridiculous premise, the production relishes in the absurd and otherworldly. Mythologies and ancient lore collide in a cornucopia of vividly portrayed characters and mythical beasts, making for a film that never truly stops entertaining until the credits finally begin to crawl. Told in the most expressive of ways, Carpenter relies on the validity of his actors and their outstanding performances to craft the genuine nature of the story. Kurt Russell is the epitome of cool in the iconic role of Jack Burton, while Dennis Dun, Kim Cattrall, Victor Wong, James Hong, and the rest of the cast come right in step to compliment the film's abundant style.

Without a doubt, it is the film's expertly balanced combination of eye catching imagery, astounding atmospheric locations, and tremendously executed effects that really take it over the top in quality and presentation. Topped off with John Carpenter's own original and typically engrossing score for the film and you've got yourself a recipe for a cult classic. Big Trouble in Little China wears its heart on its sleeve and it is a love letter to China's ancient lore and storied cinematic past. Extremely enjoyable and fun to the last, Big Trouble in Little China is a cut above the rest in almost every department. If you're searching for a film that truly takes you on an unexpected adventure, then you owe it to yourself to hunt down this most treasured flick. Big Trouble in Little China is.....

Quit showing off Egg.

These guys are just too cool for school.

The Three Amigos!

Come to Butthead.

Kurt Russell is a god!

Egg is even captivating when he eats.

You ok over there little buddy?

Kurt Russell can get a little too forceful with the piggy-back rides.

Hey! Your gun is bigger than mine!

That's no gun.... This is a GUN!

Lo Pan is a straight pimp.

What do you think Egg? There sure are a lot of ugly people in the audience today.


This dude just plain kicks ass!

Lo Pan is a Jedi? No way!

It was just then that Kurt realized he was deathly afraid of golden buddha statues.

It's time to blow this popsicle-stand.... Literally!

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