When myself and Barry first came up with the idea of doing this strand – defending movies that we like that others, well, probably don’t –there was one film that jumped to the top of the list and that was John Carpenter’s cult classic Big Trouble in Little China. Now, it has to be said that I’m an unabashed Carpenter fan-boy, I love his sense of framing, particularly his Hitchcock-like approach to widescreen material as seen in (arguably his best film) The Thing. But it’s this curious little film that I keep coming back to. Big Trouble tanked at the box office when it originally came out in 1986, though it quickly found an audience in the burgeoning home video market. And that’s where I first discovered it. I have fond memories of watching that old VHS to the point where it had warped beyond the point of watch-ability when I was a kid.
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Big Trouble tells the tale of a centuries-old war between two Chinese gangs on the streets of San Francisco. Things come to a head when the villainous Wing-Kong and their leader, the undying sorcerer Lo-Pan, kidnap the fiancé of a young Chinese man in order to break an ancient curse visited upon their ancient magician. And all-American hero of the day Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is stuck right-smack in the middle of it all. Cue some Chinese black magic, a demi-god with the ability to blow himself up like a balloon, a floating head-monster with an eye for a tongue and an awful lot of talk about the power of green-eyed women. The story - as I’m sure you can guess by now - is pure unadulterated pulp. And gloriously so.
Big Trouble sees Carpenter reunite with his favourite leading man, Kurt Russell. Though Kurt’s most memorable role will always be monocular badass Snake Plisskin in Escape from New York (another favourite of course), for my money the knife wielding, smart–ass trucker Jack Burton is a damn close second. Russell delivers his frequently ridiculous lines with confidence, charisma and humour; his own brand of cocky charm fits the part perfectly. A mention must also be made of the memorable performance from veteran actor James Hong who plays sorcerer Lo Pan. It’s a brilliantly over the top performance that has cemented Lo-Pan as one the all time great cinematic villains. The film is joyously silly, revelling in the pure schlock of the 1920s serials it takes its inspiration from. It has all the elements of a Boys Own adventure story - a reluctant hero, magic & mysticism, a feisty reporter in over her head (played by a typically wooden Kim Catrall) and a healthy dosage of Kung-Fu. It’s the best B-movie you’ve never seen. The fight scenes and monster effects are memorable, the dialogue is (for the most part) just the right mix of cheesy and quotable, and to top it all off Carpenter’s synth heavy score is pure 80s gold.
If you’re a fan of the ridiculous and the pleasantly cheesy, chances are I’m preaching to the choir and you already have the deluxe 2 disc box set and the limited edition lunch-box - if not, and if what I’ve said to you sounds like your cup of tea, then I Implore you to check it out post-haste.
I’ll leave you now with the one thing that I really can’t defend about this film, and that’s the truly, truly awful title song. It’s performed by Carpenter’s band (yes, really) The Coup de Villes. FYI, the keyboardist played Michael ‘The Shape’ Myers in Halloween. Um, so enjoy I guess. If anyone can actually track down an album of theirs, please let us know…