For this month’s Genre Grandeur – 80’s action finale, here’s a review by Kieron of What About the Twinkie? of Big Trouble in Little China (1986).
This month, we had 7 reviews for Genre Grandeur and I also reviewed 6 movies for my companion series Genre Guesstimation. Unfortunately, this month I didn’t manage to uncover any new favorites in the Genre, but I will keep at it in the months to come.
A huge thanks to everyone who participated this month!
If you missed any of the reviews this month, here’s a recap:
1. Commando (1985) – Tim
2. Project A (1983) – Kim
3. Die Hard (1988) – Justine
4. The Running Man (1987) -MovieRob
5. Red Dawn (1984) – MovieRob
6. Die Hard (1988) – MovieRob
7. Big Trouble in Little China (1986) – Kieron
1. First Blood (1982)
2. Gymkata (1985)
3. Escape From New York (1981)
4. Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)
5. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)
6. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Next month’s Genre chosen by me will be Holiday movies (it can be any film about any holiday). To participate, just send me your review of your favorite holiday themed movie by 23rd of December to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post it!
Take it away Kieron…..
Director: John Carpenter Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall & Dennis Dun Synopsis: An All-American trucker gets dragged into a centuries-old mystical battle in Chinatown. Rating: 15 Runtime: 99 minutes
Upon the film’s initial release, Big Trouble in Little China was considered a flop. It made as little as $11 million at the US box office, and was beaten by heavy hitters such as Aliens and The Golden Child. Aliens was of course the hugely popular sequel to Alien, while The Golden Child featured Eddie Murphy in his prime and was similar in many ways to Big Trouble in Little China. What Big Trouble lacked was a marketing team who knew what to do with the it, leading the film to subsequently find its audience on VHS and home video.
Therein lies my own experience with the film. I never saw it as a child, Big Trouble in Little China was made in 1986, so I was two at the time, and I never saw it as a teenager. In fact, it was a film I knew very little about. I knew it starred Kurt Russell, I knew it was directed by John Carpenter and I knew it looked about as ludicrous as most other high concept films of that era did. It was also a shame that I never got round to watching it sooner, as it’s really quite enjoyable.
The plot centres around all American knucklehead Jack Burton (Russell), who gets in over his head when he escorts his friend Wang Chi, (Dennis Dun) to the airport so Chi can pick up his fiancée Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). While at the airport, Burton attempts to hit on another woman, Kim Cattrall’s Gracie Law, and the quartet suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of a Chinese gang, the Lords of Death, who have kidnapped Miao Yin. It is only later on, after a failed attempt to rescue Yin from the brothel that the Lords of Death have taken her to, do things become truly surreal.
In Jack and Wang’s attempts to rescue Yin, they become even more tangled in a mix of made up Chinese sorcery involving ancient Gods, grumpy emperors, rival gangs and an old sorcerer who must be wed to and then sacrifice a girl with green eyes in order to break his curse of “no flesh.” I told you it was ludicrous didn’t I?
Fortunately, Big Trouble is played predominantly for laughs, and is a highly enjoyable film if you are of the era. By that I mean, 80’s and even 90’s children, who are now in their late 20’s and early 30’s will find much to admire here, while it is perhaps understandable that younger audiences will wonder what the hell is going on. Big Trouble has an 80’s vibe running throughout, and it creates a sense of fun that a lot of modern films find hard to create.
Everything about the film screams 80’s at you. From Kurt Russell’s bonehead, all American oorah alpha male, to the films synthesized score (a typical Carpenter trademark), to the practical and special effects which, despite showing their age, have a charm about them that modern cgi simply wouldn’t capture.
Perhaps it’s easy to see why Big Trouble in Little China failed upon its original release. It was up against the aforementioned heavy hitters Aliens and The Golden Child, and according to my research (thanks Wikipedia) it was released only sixteen days before James Cameron’s Aliens, which was receiving much of the hype at the time. Couple this with a marketing department who had no idea of how to sell the film and it was always likely to fail.
Part of the reason that 20th Century Fox struggled with the promotion of the film was because the all American hero Kurt Russell was playing, wasn’t really much of a hero. In fact he was really the sidekick to Dennis Dun’s Wang Chi. Jack Burton bumbled his way through most of the film, and is largely perceived as an idiot, and if he does manage to do something right, it is usually on accident. Having a Western action film, with an Eastern hero, which played upon the stories of the old west was arguably always going to struggle at the box office, but with the invention of VHS and DVD and so on, Big Trouble in Little China has finally received the audience it deserved. An audience of 80’s children who, perhaps, missed the film upon its first release but who can still look back fondly on the film as a piece of nostalgia worth revisiting again.
In summary: A film that was cruelly neglected in the 80’s, Big Trouble in Little China has since found fame as a cult classic. And for children of the 80’s, or fans of that era in general, it serves as a reminder of much fun films used to be.
Thanks again to Kieron for choosing this genre and for this great finale!