“It’s all in the reflexes.”
BQB here with a review of the action/comedy/martial arts fantasy, Big Trouble in Little China.
Like Escape from New York, this is another film I got through my 1980s childhood without seeing until now. Also like Escape, it features Kurt Russell being directed by John Carpenter. However, while Escape’s Snake Plissken was a gruff man of few words, Big Trouble’s Jack Burton is a boisterous big mouth, thus allowing Russell to show off his versatility.
Our story begins with Burton, an overly confident truck driver who refers to himself in the third person via a radio show of sorts that he performs on CB radio, pulling into the Chinatown section of San Francisco. After a long haul, he meets up with buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) for a night of rowdy drinking and gambling.
When Burton gives Wang a ride to the airport to pick up his fiancee who’s about to arrive from China, said fiancee is kidnapped by brutish kung fu thugs and the adventure is on. As Jack and Wang follow the trail, they end up in a world of martial arts, monsters, and magic, culminating in an epic battle royal with the vile sorcerer Lo Pan (James Hong aka the old Asian guy in practically every movie that requires an old Asian guy. Hell, he even voices the goose that adopted Po in Kung Fu Panda).
Along the way, Jack and Wang team up with good sorcerer Egg Shen (Victor Wong aka James’ Hong’s longtime rival for the part of old Asian guy in every film that requires one).
Jack even finds a love interest in Gracie Law, a lawyer who, I don’t know, is investigating the trouble in Little China. It’s not really explained that well. All I know is that it was nice to see a young, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Kim Cattrall in this movie, long before she became jaded, unapologetically slutty Samantha on Sex in the City.
And yes, the character’s name is “Gracie Law,” because the writers really wanted you to know that she is a lawyer, but “Briefcase McCourtOrder” would have been too obvious.
I had a buddy in elementary school who gave me rave reviews about this movie. He kept those reviews up long into adulthood, often telling me I needed to check this out.
I checked it out and…hmm…how to explain.
I don’t want to call it the worst movie I’ve ever seen, because it is far from it. In fact, I can picture a 1980s audience full of big haired, big shoulder padded people being blown away by this film. It has a lot of heart and there is a definite intent to entertain. Even some of the cheesier moments of the film can be laughed off by remembering this movie isn’t just an action film, but it’s also an action comedy.
My main criticism is with the overall story, or rather, the film’s storytelling abilities. Not much of an overall explanation is given about why this magic world of martial arts magic exists.
Instead, Jack, like the viewer, is thrust into the story face first, He, and you, the viewer, learn bits and pieces of what is happening along the way. Oddly enough, every Asian person in the film knows everything there is to know about this magical martial arts world, as if it has always been around and only dumb honkies like Jack are oblivious to it. Even Wang, a restauranteur by trade, displays some off the chain, bad ass kung fu moves, yet there isn’t really any explanation as to why this guy who cooks food by day knows how to fly through the air with a sword at night.
I’m very, very far from politically correct, but I suppose the modern day social justice warriors have brainwashed me into thinking, “Huh. This film seems to suggest all Asian people are kung fu masters. That doesn’t seem very woke.”
But then I just tamp down social justice vibe down deep and eat a cookie for fear I’ll become some kind of gluten sucking, fedora wearing hipster. Boo…hipsters.
Bottomline, it’s a fun romp and there some great scenes. I just wish a little more work had been done on the story. Then again, someone wiser than me might say that throwing Jack headfirst into the action and letting him catch up is a great storytelling device all on its own.
After all, how many times in your life has anyone really sat you down and told you everything you ever needed to know about a given situation? That rarely happens, if ever. Like Jack, we rush in, put on a brave front full of false machismo, and hold onto our butts, all the while hoping we’ll figure it all out before it’s too late.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Watch it on Netflix.