Thursday, May 24, 2007

My Favorite Oriental Dish: Big Trouble in Little China


Kurt Russell is the man.

Seriously, his gritty and one-eyed persona Snake Plissken in "Escape from New York" created the blueprints for the videogame legend Solid Snake.

He rocked Antarctica in "The Thing" and even showed a little emotion in "Breakdown."

So when I was a lad (a measurement equal to ten or eleven years of age) I was enthralled with a movie that had no name.

I mean this literally. We had a VHS tape with no title that played an amazing film. I realize, looking back, that some bootlegging went on in my household (one of many reasons for the anonimity of this blog) but I won't spend this post revealing the nefarious criminal enterprise of my family.

The film in question was John Carpenter's sleeper/cult film "Big Trouble in Little China." If the length of the title throws you for a loop, just give it a minute. The film is full of 80's glory and macho attitude. Quite honestly, this is one of my favorite films.

It all starts with big-rig driver Jack Burton (Russell) coming into China Town, San Fransisco. He meets up with an old friend Wang (Dennis Dun from a few episodes of "JAG") and wins a bundle of cash. Wang can't front the bill, so Jack insists on taking him to wherever he keeps his cash.

But first, a trip to the airport.

Wang's girlfriend/fiance is arriving from China. Before he can sweep her up in a beautiful kodak way, three crazed Chinese gang members kidnap her and flee the scene. Jack and Wang give chase, only to end up in the middle of a huge brawl between rival Chinese gangs.

In the middle of a very finely choreographed ballet of death, three mystical figures appear from clouds of smoke. They are the "Three Storms," gods of Old China.

Why they've come to San Fransisco is another story.

Jack and Wang try to flee the scene, but another demon, Lo Pan, stops them in their tracks. They manage to escape, but lose the truck.

That's basically the crux of the story. First they steal a girl, then Jack's truck.

And you don't mess with Jack's truck.

Now plunged into a world of Chinese mysticism and magic, Jack has to lead a group of ridiculous Americans and a few capable Chinamen to take on a terrifying mob of demons and monsters.

Intrigued yet?

What makes this film stand out from among other 80's fantasy titles is the level of character development, namely zip.

Jack Burton doesn't need to change, from beginning to end. He is a BAMF and lives the lifestyle. At no point in the film does he act in any way distressed that his system of beliefs have gone out the window. Even when he's fighting an animated suit of armor, he soldiers on with American stubborness.

His cohorts in the movie act in the same manner. Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall from "Sex and the City") is kidnapped by a monster and has the same reaction as though an uncle were behaving crudely at dinner.

In fact, the only character who seems to realize the stakes is Lo Pan (James Hong from "Waynes World II"). His mortality is at stake, even if he is the villain of the movie. Egg Shen (Victor Wong from "3 Ninjas") also seems to realize the gravity of the whole affair, though he is more worried about his thriving tourist-trap business.

A lot of the film follows no real direction. Jack goes from place to place, trying to find Wang's girlfriend and never really questioning the tactics his friend's employ. Wang, for his part, is willing to beat the ever-loving hell out of men, women and animals to find his Miao Yin (You don't know her, just let it go).

Granted, none of this matters. The plot is solid enough to carry over until the action arrives, and Kurt Russell has the ability to make any action sequence a religious experience.

You honestly can't not like this movie.

It's cinematic gold. It's Carpenter's unicorn to the world. It's the best thing to come out of the 80's since Aha.

If I had to pick a seminal scene, one which really captures the feel of the flick, it's when Jack and a group of good ninja soldiers, led by Egg, traverse a deadly marsh underneath the city. When they round a corner, a crazy dragon worm thing jumps out and eats one of the disposables. Egg tosses something into the worm's hole and it explodes.

"It shall come out no more!" Egg shouts to absolutely no one.

"What?" Burton cries back. "What will come out no more?"

And no one answers. They just continue on, because no one really knew that guy's name, so no one has to mourn. In fact, no one liked that guy anyway. He wore his ninja costume wrong.

I can't say enough good about this film. And I don't have to. Just go watch it for yourself.

Thank me later.

I give this film ten floating heads-full-of-eyes out of ten.

Watch carefully.

1 comment:

the bootleggin sister said...

Goddam this movie is awesome. I love it forever, even if I was nervous about being kidnapped by mystical chinese gods because I had green eyes.

and you know...i never realized that we were bootleggers. but we totally were. ah well. we own enough dvds now to make up for it.