Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble in Little China ★★★★ Film #4: A John Carpenter Film/A Film Featuring a Glorious Mullet

Ol' Jack Burton is one of my favorite protagonists in all of film. Why? Because he's a brash, overconfident jackass with an overabundance of swagger and no real plan of action. He's the sidekick, but he thinks he's the hero. He's completely in over his head and hopelessly underqualified for the adventure he finds himself a part of. But he's got heart and he's got bravado, plus he's one of the few guys dumb enough to get involved in this situation.

Kurt Russell is phenomenal here. This is probably my favorite of all of his performances. He's got some amazing dialogue and he sells every syllable of it. Seriously, this is one of the most quotable films I've ever seen. I giggle at virtually everything that comes out of Russell's mouth here, and his bewildered, incredulous reactions to everything as the situation around him gets more and more ridiculous are sheer perfection. I love how Carpenter crafted a ludicrous Asian tall tale, a wuxia film of all things, and then put a semi-driving cowboy who thinks he's John Wayne (Russell channels the Duke to marvelous effect here) smack dab in the center of it. Oh, and that mullet really is a thing of beauty.

The movie has an overdose of mythology and exposition, but that's part of its charm. It knows its own ridiculousness and owns it, turning that ridiculousness into an asset. It's pulpy in the best possible way. It's a big, cheesy yarn meant to put a big, dopey smile on your face...and that's exactly what it does to me, each and every time I watch it. This is one of the funnest movies ever made. It's just delightful from beginning to end. And that's not all due to Kurt Russell, or W.D. Richter's wonderfully goofy script or John Carpenter's perfectly pitched direction or Carpenter's great-as-usual synth score. All of those things contribute, indeed, but without James Hong's awesome performance as David Lo Pan, the ultimate evil spirit, and Victor Wong's lovably rumpled bus-driving wizard this movie wouldn't be half as much fun. Sometimes I miss the days when character actors were allowed to just hijack a movie and make it their own.

"Big Trouble in Little China" isn't perfect, it really does overdo it with the exposition and some moments are a bit too clunky, but its one of those movies whose issues become more endearing with every viewing and actually become part of the film's unique flavor, part of what makes it so damned winning. And it's such a rollicking, one of a kind treat that, unless you're a complete ogre, repeat viewings are virtually assured.

"We really shook the pillars of Heaven last night, didn't we, Wang?"
"No horseshit, Jack."

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