Like Burton and Depp, Scorsese and De Niro, Woody Allen and himself the combination of a great director with an equally inventive actor can produce cinematic gold and one pairing that more than achieved this is John Carpenter and Kurt Russell.
Across three very different movies (and one so so sequel!) this duo delivered three spectacular films creating standout iconic characters starting with Snake Plissken in the dystopian Sci-Fi action epic Escape From New York followed by one of the best monster movies ever made The Thing and finishing with comedy adventure that mashed up martial arts, horror, humor and romance, Big Trouble in Little China.
Of their three films Big Trouble in Little China is possibly the least respected and most misunderstood especially at the time of its creation where the studios practically shelved it because it didn’t conform to the Indian Jones prototype they expected, leading to a lack luster marketing campaign and extremely poor reviews and ticket sales.
Luckily however VHS gave this madly entertaining movie a second life as a cult classic gaining fans over the years and leading right up to the awesome Blu-ray release Arrow has delivered to us today packed with exceptional extras including brand new interviews with all the key people involved including Russell and Carpenter.
So what is it about Big Trouble in Little China that is so innovative and experimental that it caused the idiotic and blinkered Hollywood execs to see it as a failure? The key is Kurt Russell’s character, truck driver Jack Burton a man convinced that he is the hero of the film when in actual fact he is simply the comedic stooge and side kick.
Burton blunders into a world of ancient magic and supernatural mystery completely by mistake while hanging out in San Francisco’s Chinatown with his friend and the true hero of the story Wang Chi (Prince of Darkness and Last Emperor star Dennis Dun).
The pair end up in the middle of a mass brawl between two warring Chinese clans one good and one evil which ends in the arrival of malicious magical warriors The Three Storms and their master the all-powerful evil sorcerer Lo Pan (played by The Vineyard legend James Hong).
It transpires that Lo Pan has kidnapped Wang’s finance so with the help of his friends including fast talking lawyer Gracie Law (Sex in the City’s Kim Cattrall) the team try to infiltrate the wicked wizard’s lair. What ensues is an awesome quest filled with Kung Fu combat, grotesque monsters, magic, mayhem and plenty of laughs all at Burton’s expense.
In creating Big Trouble in Little China, Carpenter and Russell where both on exactly the same page, determined to make a big budget adventure movie full of spectacle, special effects and all out action but also poking fun at the genre conventions at the same time something they achieved brilliantly with Jack Burton.
As mentioned Burton is a lovable looser all mouth and no nunchucks who truly believes he is the center of the story when in fact all he really does is get in the way while Wang does all the work. This flip reversal is not only refreshing but extremely daring with the disrespect dealt out to the central white male character being what put the Hollywood bosses on edge.
What they missed was how funny and original the idea was with Russell pitching the character perfectly talking like John Wayne and suffering more pratfalls than Jackie Chan all the while unaware of his on ignorance and insignificant role in the unfolding adventure.
A great fan of 70’s martial arts movies Carpenter perfectly blends high paced fights with folklore and magic keeping the action and comedy coming in equal measure throughout while also throwing in some weird and surreal moments, a love story and a healthy dose of horror too.
Packed with extravagant sets and sensational set pieces Big Trouble in Little China is pure entertainment from start to finish while also serving up a wonderful twist on the action hero archetype proving that Carpenter and Russell where right all along knowing exactly how to bring an audience big fun in one little movie.