- Rated PG-13
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All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ith all the actors who’ve appeared on James Lipton’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” you’d think that Kurt Russell would be among them. His absence certainly isn’t for a lack of talking points, because although Russell has never been considered a great actor, he’s brought to life some of the most memorable cinematic characters of the last 30 years. You couldn’t even have a discussion about him without mentioning his frequent partnership with director John Carpenter, and though “Escape from New York” and “The Thing” will forever be remembered as the duo’s most famous collaborations, you’d be selling them short if you left out “Big Trouble in Little China.”
An East-meets-West action-fantasy story done up in the style of a B-movie grindhouse flick, “Big Trouble in Little China” stars Russell as Jack Burton, a chauvinistic truck driver who gets caught up in a mystical adventure when he accompanies his friend, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), on a routine trip to pick up his fiancée at the airport. When she’s kidnapped by the local Chinese gang, Jack and Wang follow after them, only to discover that she’s been chosen by a mysterious wizard named Lo Pan (James Hong) to serve as his very own Fountain of Youth. Desperate to get her back, Jack and Wang recruit a ragtag group of friends (including Kim Cattrall, Victor Wong, Donald Li and Kate Burton) to sneak into Lo Pan’s underground lair and rescue Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) before the 2,000-year-old sorcerer can successfully return to his human body and, of course, take over the world.
Granted, that summary makes it sound more complicated than it really is, but you probably already knew that. “Big Trouble in Little China” is one of those movies that everyone has seen at least once in their lives (heck, I first watched it when I was a little kid), and chances are, you’ve revisited it several times since then. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the movie (the script is only as good as your typical Carpenter production and the special effects are right on par with the films of that era), but there’s a real charm to the film that makes it irresistible. Perhaps it’s because everyone involved embraced the idea of making this crazy B-movie, or maybe it’s that the B-movie they made happens to be one of the best of its kind. The two actually go hand in hand, as the performances are ultimately the reason it's such a blast to watch.
Kurt Russell is at his absolute best as the unlikely hero – an arrogant cynic who’s more likely to spit out a funny one-liner than jump into action and save the day. You might even say he’s a poor man’s Indiana Jones if it weren’t for the fact that he relied a little too much on luck and the help of friends like Wang Chi, one of the more entertaining (and valuable) sidekicks in movie history. Dennis Dun’s acting career may not have amounted to much, but he can be proud to know that he’ll be immortalized by movie geeks everywhere for his part in this film. The same goes for veteran character actors Raymond Wong and James Hong, the latter of which has secured a place in the movie villain hall of fame for his portrayal of the slightly feminine and totally creepy Lo Pan.
And to think that I still haven’t mentioned the Three Storms, the magical henchmen that serve the Chinese wizard. Their roles in the film may vary (Thunder, played by martial arts legend Carter Wong, gets considerable more screen time than his co-stars), but they’ve quickly become one of the most identifiable components of Carpenter’s chopsocky adventure. Still, for as many great characters that are packed into the story, the movie’s best quality is its pacing. There’s a real kinetic energy behind it so that once it gets going, it never slows down, and that proves to be a bigger help than you might imagine. “Big Trouble in Little China” isn’t Carpenter's best film, but what it lacks in quality it more than makes up for with limitless charm. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
By far one of the best looking Blu-rays of the year, Fox breathes new life into the cult classic with a video transfer that makes the most of the film’s vibrant color palate. The studio has also included the bonus material from the two-disc special edition DVD featuring the much talked about audio commentary with director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell. From telling behind-the-scenes stories to complaining about the incompetence of the film’s theatrical marketing team, this is one commentary that simply can’t be missed. There are also a handful of deleted scenes (including an extended ending), a vintage EPK featurette, an interview with visual effects producer Richard Edlund, trailers and a photo gallery. And for those in need of a good laugh, be sure to check out the included music video starring Carpenter's band, the Coupe de Villes. It might just be the most unintentionally funny piece of film to survive the 1980s.