Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Gary Goldman & David Z. Weinstein
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong
Sometimes it’s just not your day when you have to contend with fighting elemental gods when you just care about your truck. I’m sure we’ve all been there. The confluence of all the madness occurring in Big Trouble in Little China makes it something quite confounding, but also incredibly hilarious, because of how silly the story becomes.
Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) wins a bet against his friend, Wang (Dennis Dun), and in the process of ensuring he collects his winnings, he enters a supernatural experience. Wang’s fiancée, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) gets taken by a Chinatown gang and in an effort to save her Jack and Wang run into an ancient battle of gangs and elemental warriors.
Watching a film like Big Trouble in Little China will give you whiplash when seeing the director at the helm and thinking of the other features they have made. Albeit limited, my experience with John Carpenter films hangs around his horror classics like Halloween and The Thing. At the time of this review, this film is the first sillier Carpenter movie and the departure was hilarious. The tone matches the ludicrousness of everything Jack confronts on his trip to Chinatown. Everything happens to be completely over the top, but it seemingly fits what this story seeks to accomplish. While the directorial choices by Carpenter make it lively and electric, the lead performance by Kurt Russell sells this adventure.
Serving as the typical white male perspective into this different culture, the presence of Jack Burton serves the story, as it creates a clash of western and eastern ideologies. Jack is a complete All-American dude, who sports a tank top and drives a large truck to get around. He could be someone plucked from anywhere in the country, and he needs to confront supernatural issues he’s never faced before. His ways of attack and how he attempts to get himself out of sticky situations display his western sensibilities. It makes Kurt Russell an interesting choice to portray Jack. He puts forth this everyman quality, while still having the charisma and looks of a Hollywood star. He becomes the perfect vessel for everyone to enter all of this madness.
The narrative follows a structure that reveals the mystical nature with each layer coming apart. It begins with just a gang of men that Jack is trepidatious take on, only to reveal that elemental warriors who can control lightning, rain, and thunder get involved. It only makes things worse, as Jack cannot match them with their powers and capability to withstand damage. The introduction of these warriors then reveals the big bad of them all, Lo Pan (James Hong). A truly dangerous person, who stands in the way of Wang saving his fiancée. He becomes the main adversary of the feature and does so in style.
The enjoyment taken from this film will reach its peak when understanding the film’s tone and how it refuses to take itself seriously. It plays on Asian stereotypes but does so in such a brazenly comedic way, therefore displaying the whole story to be a farce. Simply, there’s no way any of it can be taken seriously, especially when you have Jack Burton running around fighting off spirits that kick the snot out of him at every turn. The film does well to continually build the intrigue of this entire organization, how deep it runs, and how these god-like warriors somehow got involved.
Jack Burton finds himself in big trouble, as the film indicates, which becomes part of the fun this movie has to offer. Through the charm of Kurt Russell, we find ourselves in quite the predicament and the solutions to survive push our heroes to the limit. It’s all we can ask from an action/comedy movie and Big Trouble in Little China delivers on that front.