Sunday 2 August 2015

Movie Review: Big Trouble In Little China (1986)

A lively adventure set deep within San Francisco's Chinatown, Big Trouble In Little China provides lightweight entertainment without ever threatening to overachieve.

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a long-haul truck driver proud of his speed demon reputation and his quick reactions. Otherwise, Jack does not lay claim to being the smartest kid in town. After completing a delivery to San Francisco's Chinatown, Jack successfully engages in a bit of gambling with the locals, To make sure that he collects on a debt, Jack accompanies his friend Wang (Dennis Dun) to the airport, where Wang intends to pick up his fiancée Miao (Suzee Pai), a green-eyed beauty. At the airport Jack meets Gracie (Kim Cattrall), also waiting to meet a girl arriving from China. Soon a Chinese gang causes mayhem at the arrival lounge and Miao is abducted.

In trying to help Wang, Jack finds himself unwittingly involved in a grand battle between rival Chinese forces deep in Chinatown. Gracie, who also boasts beautiful green eyes, is attempting to crack a slavery ring, Wang wants to rescue Miao, and the seemingly humble tour bus operator Egg Shen (Victor Wong) wants to help track down the reclusive evil lord Lo Pan (James Hong). Jack loses his truck, providing him with motivation to delve deeper into ancient rivalries involving underground hideouts, magic forces, heinous curses, dreaded monsters, and rituals that require the sacrifice of green-eyed women.

The intentions of Big Trouble In Little China are clear: a wild adventure in an exotic locale laced with humour, riffing on the vibe popularized by Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Romancing The Stone. Director John Carpenter does bring most of the right ingredients to the table, and finds an original setting deep in the heart of San Francisco's Chinatown, specifically the clustered buildings and hidden narrow alleys where tourists never tread. But while Big Trouble entertains, its ambition exceeds its ability. The budget is big, the sets are impressive, and Kurt Russell as dim trucker Jack Burton has potential, but the writing lacks both originality and sharpness, and the story is overtaken by too much magic and mumbo jumbo about ancient Chinese myths.

The best moments are provided by many martial arts set pieces, with armies of Chinese men (and some women) facing off and engaging in battle with various ancient and modern weapons at regular intervals. These scenes are well-choreographed, bloodless and brimming with joyously mindless energy. Burton is often reduced to bemused observer, caught in events that he will never understand, and Russell plays up his character's none-too-bright stance to good effect.

But several other parts of the film don't work as well. The sputtering romantic angle between Burton and Gracie is less convincing and appears bolted on with little conviction. And the ever-increasing emphasis on magic, floating ancient warriors and black curses from centuries past are half-explained at best, and steadily degrade the movie's connections to something resembling reality. The film finally defaults to plenty of repetitive skulking around in hallways and elevator shafts, interrupted by rather childish moments of monsters and magic. Carpenter's electronic music score does not help, and never quite hits the mark within the Chinese dominated setting.

Big Trouble In Little China is an enjoyable enough romp, but the big ambitions are noisily trucked away to more modest outcomes.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.