Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble in Little China ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

"It's all in the reflexes"


Jack Burton (Kurt Russel) is a John Wayne-jive-talking (“Savvy English?!”) action hero who gets involved in a fracas between a Chinese black-magic sorcerer and a white-magic magician.
John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China is, in a lot of ways, a comedy, and its central joke, its only joke, really was that Burton thinks he's a swaggering hero, when in reality, he's a sidekick at best and a well-meaning liability at worst. His friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) is the movie's real hero, and everyone but Burton seems to realize it. Burton slips, pratfalls, opens the wrong doors, drives into blind alleys, hits on Kim Cattrall at the worst possible moments. is confused about what's happening often, and is constantly asking "What?! Who?! Why?" at the nonsense he is enduring. I especially love how confused he is by a butterfly knife: "Where'd you get that?!" After he shoots someone, a fellow hero asks if that's his first killshot, and he acts all insulted and says, "Of course not," even though it obviously is. Before one climactic battle, he pointlessly fires his gun at the ceiling, dislodges some debris, and then gets knocked out when stuff falls on him. 
I love how in this film things happen that are in no way explained. Thunder gets angry and inflates, he explodes and nobody has a problem with it.

"Would you stop rubbing your body up against mine, because I can't concentrate when you do that."

The main reason the whole thing works is Russell, who gamely mugs his way through it, willing to look like an absolute ass, because his idiocy is the engine that powers the whole thing. A few years earlier, in Carpenter's Escape From New York, Russell had played one of the all-time icy badass motherfuckers in film history. But here he is so dense that he can't keep up in most conversations and is useless in a fight.

"All I know is, this Lo Pan character comes out of thin air in the middle of a goddamn alley while his buddies are flying around on wires cutting everybody to shreds, and he just stands there waiting for me to drive my truck straight through him? With light coming out of his mouth?!"

Carpenter always wanted to make a kung-fu movie, a Hollywood take on the grand, transcendent silliness that Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers studio cranked out throughout the '70s. Big Trouble in little China is a prime example of high-'80s cocaine logic at work.
This is a movie that rests largely on Carpenter’s unimpeachable film-making instincts, his fully-developed directorial muscle or chops.  The action sequences, particularly an early one set in a Chinatown alley; represent a visual tour de force. The final battle in the film takes place in the wedding chapel within Lo Pans ancient crypt, and it's naturally got all-neon decor. It's one of the most over-the-top, visually-dynamic set-pieces put to celluloid in the 1980s, and a high point for the fantasy/action genre.

"Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal ... I can take it."

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