on July 23, 2013
Just remember what ol' Jerod Lytton says in a review like this...
"Professional" Critics are close minded lemmings that have been looking for depth and understanding of John Carpenters' works since he started making films... and music... and all the other things this visionary inventor of the Carpenterian Experience (that is what I call all of his stuff as a collective, and also what I plan to pitch as a ride in my theme park I am creating for them. Just kidding, it is gonna be my band name.) Anyways, this film is often discarded as "Classic 80's Fare" and looked over as a campy mish mosh of cliché action comedy with little in depth review of the pungent one-liners and fantastic character nuances. Also, this is one of the first movies of the era to break ground on a concept little seen since, that the main character is in fact, NOT the hero of the story. More on that in the Kurt Russell section.
One thing to note that gets little credit in this film is the both the genre and the screenplay. Ok, that's two things, but under one point. It has got to be hard to create a movie that is a compilation of Sci-Fi, Horror, Action, Comedy, Kung Fu, Anime-Style Wire-Fu Fighting scenes, Supernatural Thriller, Magic, Romance, and Fantasy while still fitting in character profiles that stand out to be made or broke by the actors that portray them. Gary Goldman and David Weinstein's script deserves mention on its own merit to hold up to everything going on, while Carpenter takes the actors on a journey, that in my mind, had to nail exactly what they aimed to see on screen in their writing, which is what makes this film work. This film has more one liners in it than Boondock Saints (another personal favorite), and after 25+ years, I am STILL quoting on a regular basis, if you have seen it, bets are you are too. Please check IMDB here [...] for a fine collection of them.
The movie presents itself, from the title (c'mon Big Trouble in Little China?!) to the credits, as a good hearted adventure, that asks you at the door to please understand you are about to enter a John Carpenter movie, please ensure your belongings are secured, and enjoy. The main score that keyboardingly bounces across your earlobes is provided by none other than Carpenter himself and his band. It is not only fitting, but catchy and charismatic to the point where whenever faced with something odd or observe a car wreck in my daily travels, I often find myself singing, "Biiiiiiig Trouble, IN LITTLE CHIIINA!!" (insert shrieky man voice on the end there.) much to the chagrin of my wife.
The sets, wardrobe, and lighting are also top notch. From the "Just dug this out of the laundry" look of Jack, to the ceremonial dresses, ancient Chinese martial arts attire, and 80's grungy street gangs all show the pinnacle of details for their respected space. Locales that involve the fights and magic are always clouded with fog and darkness, which is a tactic broadly used by Carpenter for two reasons. One, he was always used to having little budget. The use of this method is a cheap and effective way to block out anything around the shooting location. Second, it focuses the viewer to what is happening on screen, and not what is going on around it or in the background. This method is fitting for the film, and not overused to be gimmicky, all while making your eyes stick where he wants them.
When tackling this viewing experience, please make note of the small things, as I feel they are what really makes this film stand out. It shows the love everyone had when making this come to life, and really makes you notice what a movie looks like when it is not a money grabbing and unoriginal "blockbuster" that fills talent with CGI and asks you just look at the pretty lights. Some examples I enjoy are: Jack Burtons truck is called the Pork Chop Express, complete with hilarious Pig logo. Lo Pan and Egg Shen's battle, please notice the "thumb wiggles", Wang's "eyebrows" while fighting, Kurt Russell's attire when infiltrating the Exchange building is that of his little known gem called Used Cars, When Jack pulls his knife out in the truck (like it's going to help), the 6-Demon bag, the rotary phone they carry into the exchange, the cardboard cut outs of Jack and Wang that stand in for them when the Lords of Death are about to run them down in the parking garage, the Needle of Love, Jack shooting his hands out to slow himself down while zooming backwards in the wheelchair. The little actions and quirks the people put into the roles, environments, and situations are something that is sorely needed in many of todays films.
Kurt Russell nails his performance as everyday hero-in-his-own-mind, living in the moment (and seat of his pants), swaggered, big haired, ego rich, guy you want to have a drink with but not stay too long, Jack Burton. In this role as the protagonist of the story, is by far not the hero. While if you listened to Jack Burton tell it, he would have done this all one handed, on a beer buzz, went home with twins, and a million bucks cash. Anything Jack does, he seems to somehow bumble. He mostly hinders his friend in his pursuit to recover his fiancée, and more or less wanders through the entire adventure not understanding what is going on, just rolling with it, and hoping along the way to do nothing but get his truck back and help his buddy. He is so out of his scope of reality with the Chinese Black Magic, mysticism, and hardly "Burger and Fries" situation, he is clearly baffled to the point that you can tell he just decides to take it all on a whim and deal with whatever happens on a case to case basis. He applies "Jack Logic" to every obstacle, rarely checking for danger or consequence, and just swings for the bleachers. Overall, he succeeds strictly on the capabilities and understanding of his friend Wang (Dennis Dunn), the actual Hero of our tale.
Dennis Dunn was and still is a rather Hollywood Unknown. In his role as Wang, he offers a quirky but level headed hero that steers the adventure, and Jack, to his ultimate goal of getting his Green-Eyed Girl of his dreams back from the clutches of the evil Lo Pan. He is ready for action when needed, purposeful in his goal, and helps translate to Jack what is happening, pretty much babystepping him through Chinese history and culture, while jump kicking bad guys in the face. The dynamic and good natured screen presence he has reminded me a lot of an Asian Michael J. Fox. He is loveable and trusting, and you root for him throughout the tale to save them all, and pick Jack up off the floor on the way by.
Supporting roles are also cast perfectly, from the wise old sorcerer/bus driver Egg Shen, the Evil basket case on wheels Lo Pan, to Gracie Law even with the problems with her face. Kim, Victor, and James all deliver performances that bring it into a group/team movie, with each providing enough to the roles to make them indispensable to the tale. They become reasons for action, love interests, and solid foundations for the main characters to be held up on.
The plot is a fitting scenario for the goal of the film. It neither amazes or surprises, and overall kind of flat out tells you, "we are going here, and yeah you are going to see this." It takes you on a videogamesque (yeah made that up) stage system where when one thing is done, it adds a new stage with more danger, higher odds, and a bigger boss, leading to a crescendo epic battle of all parties involved hammering it out while the protagonists tackle the Final Boss.
All in all, this is a great, well written, brilliantly performed movie, that stands as a pinnacle of 80's era cliché and a fantastic entry into the master works of John Carpenter. So remember, the next time" 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." Now if you do not have a copy of this film in the mail to you now, may you visit the Hell of the Horny Dragon.
Boring Technical Data First for those that don't want to scroll all the way down the products page. (I know I hate scrolling too.)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, James Hong, Dennis Dunn, Victor Wong
Format: AC-3, Blu-ray, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, NTSC, Subtitled,Widescreen
Language: English (Stereo), French (Mono), Spanish (Mono)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Korean, Thai
Dubbed: French, Spanish
Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date: August 4, 2009
Run Time: 100 minutes (Or 1HR and 40MINS for those that hate Math. I feel you.)
Blu Ray Bonuses
Commentary by Director John Carpenter and Actor Kurt Russell
9 Deleted Scenes
Richard Edlund interview
Trailer A & B
6 TV Spots
Behind the Scenes Gallery
BD Live Ready Bootstrap