🍿 popcorn murderer 🔪’s review published on Letterboxd:
the mysticism. the set design. the imagination. the Cantonese language. the fiercely loyal sentiment of brotherhood. the campy 80s element. the hero’s journey into the unknown. the booby-traps and over-the-top decorations.
in short, I love this movie so much.
in long though, I have so many thoughts to express!!
I was initially wary to put this movie on because 1) it was made in the 80s and 2) it was about Chinese culture and Chinese myths. I was hesitant to watch it in case it came along with some outdated cultural insensitivity. however, it were precisely these two elements that made me fall in love with the movie!! I found its practical effects super endearing and I have so much respect for how elaborate and varied the set was.
at first glance, it reminded me of the Indiana Jones and Tintin stories I grew up on. even though these stories were centred around a white protagonist going through life-changing journeys in exotic or foreign places, Big Trouble in Little China differed because the side characters had their own arc too. for example most of the plot was around Wang, who had to rescue his wife. and it wasn’t a one-dimensional, cliché romantic relationship either - Wang had his share of expectations, thoughts and disappointments from his complex relationship with Miao Yin - he barely got to know his own wife when she was kidnapped. another example is the character of Egg Shen. although he didn’t play a large role until the second half of the film, his personality was already so distinct, from his scruffy makeshift sightseeing car to his friendly, down-to-earth disposition. he reminded me of one of my great uncles. Egg was also this really cool combination of friendly neighbourhood uncle and wizard with a mission, kind of like an undercover underdog vigilante, a trope that never fails for me (a notable example is from Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle).
I really like the structure of the story. although it took me some time to get used to, I appreciated the frequent back-and-forth narrative which showed what was happening with both Jack Burton and Lo Pan. it created a theatrical sense of dramatic irony and suspense that would’ve absolutely KILLED ME if I watched this as a kid. the variation in the lavish set design also balanced out the relatively simple, straightforward plot.
oh my god the set design!! I loved the secrecy and the mazelike layout of the villain’s headquarters. it really showed the splendour and glamour of Lo Pan, and every room had its own design and colour scheme, which kept me sooooo entranced throughout the film. and then the TRAPS. not only were the rooms beautiful and lushly decorated, they were also unpredictable because the traps were everywhere (I am a BIG sucker for hidden 機關 in rooms). you have to see the set for itself. I can’t really describe each room in detail but they were so well-made that their presence was visible. you could really see the unnaturally ‘perfect’ beauty in Lo Pan’s rooms, symbolising his cursed immortality. it was like being in an over-the-top theme park.
the Chinese decor was also really impressive. it was clear that the creators did their homework; there were culturally accurate symbols and motifs all over the rooms. I was so fascinated with how creatively the set designers worked with traditional Chinese elements. even the set design on the ground level was worth appreciating. it showed Chinatown as a messy, chaotic place without dismissing it as somewhere ‘dirty’. on the other hand, the designers managed to turn the scruffiness into a lovable, familiar sense of shabby chic. given the fact that many of the Chinatown residents were fighters and magicians, the creators managed to infuse the day-to-day setting with a persistent mystical charm. halfway through the movie, when the characters were back on the ground, I was already beginning to question a lot of the setting, trying hard to find the magic in the ordinary.
I know I would’ve been obsessed with this film if I had watched it 10 years earlier. the lightly informative introduction to Chinese culture combined with the imaginative fantasy twist reminded me of the stories I read from Magic Treehouse. I know I would’ve felt so connected, seen and represented from the characters’ frequent switch to Cantonese. the actors never broke character so I know I would’ve LIVED for the bilingual dialogue. I haven’t felt this strongly after watching a movie in a long time. I felt a little homesick, curious but most of all, inspired. I am so, so in awe of the crazy, daring yet respectful choices the creators have made.
overall, Big Trouble in Little China reminded me of why I love cinema. it’s very much its own mix of cultures, characters and magic that stands out proudly and unapologetically. everyone should witness it once in their lifetime.
on a different note, I couldn’t help but compare the scenes of the movie to what’s have been happening in real life, to the Asian population living abroad.
it’s time for us to recognise that racism, xenophobia and oppression are in fact real and deeply ingrained in our society. it is tangible, rampant and fatal. at the same time, it is hidden, elusive and often goes undetected. we have to do much more than respond to the visible outbursts of hate and direct our attention at equally harmful media portrayals, discriminatory laws and outdated values. especially on a platform such as Letterboxd, we have to be vigilant. please take some time to evaluate the representation you are exposed to as well as the opinions you spread.
everyone has the ability and the duty to learn. I may have ignored a questionable part of the film myself, so please feel welcomed to discuss it in the comments below.
lastly, thank you for reading and have a great day.