RogerBW's Blog

Big Trouble in Little China 24 October 2023

1986 martial arts fantasy, dir. John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall: IMDb / allmovie. Jack Burton doesn't care about immortal sorcerers and demon kings, he just wants his truck back.

So the basic point, which seems very obvious now but I didn't spot it when the film was new (and neither did the studio): Jack Burton isn't the hero. He's the scrappy comedy ethnic-minority sidekick to the actual hero, Dennis Dun's Wang Chi. And apart from the leads and Kate Burton as Margo the reporter, that's it for Anglo casting: this is a film about the people of Chinatown solving their own problems, and these white folks are the viewer's entrée into the story rather than the important people in it.

But production was troubled, first because the original script was set in 1880s San Francisco and the script doctor W. D. Richter (also director of Buckaroo Banzai) was brought in to do a complet rewrite, and later because The Golden Child was being made at the same time—indeed, Carpenter was approached to direct that—and the studio pushed for an early release for this one to avoid direct competition. (Victor Wong and James Hong, two actors who tended to be the go-to guys when a casting director was willing to employ an actual Chinese-looking person to play a Chinese character, are both in that film too.) The film was released during the marketing campaign for Aliens, was a box-office failure, and led to Carpenter leaving Hollywood.

And yet… I really can't see why. It's a great film! Perhaps the characters aren't developed as fully as they might be, but this is a fantasy action adventure. The martial arts are excellent. The special effects are solid, but for me at least they never distract from the basic human stories: A wants X, B wants Y, they can't both have what they want.

Also I do highly recommend Lo Pan Style.

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 09:02am on 25 October 2023

    Like a lot of Carpenter movies this has gained cult status. We recently got the Blu ray (DVDs no longer hold up on our large screen) and rewatched it. Russell's impersonation of John Wayne was a delight too.

  2. Posted by DrBob at 02:33pm on 25 October 2023

    Thank you for Lo Pan Style - that made my day. I must rewatch the movie. But I suspect I only have it on VHS...

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