I was chatting with a co-worker the other day, and the latest news of remakes came up. Last week, the big remake news was that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was going to do a remake of the 1980s cult classic Big Trouble in Little China. I confided to my co-worker that I'd never seen it. He just glared at me and said, "If we weren't working right now, I'd drag you over to my place and make you watch my Blu-ray." Well, the weekend rolled around, I saw it was on Netflix, so let's get this gap in my geek film history filled in.
Big Trouble in Little China comes to us from legendary horror director John Carpenter. The man pretty much invented the modern-day slasher film with Halloween. But in the 1980s, he started branching out into more action-adventure fare, with films like Escape from New York. Reading up on its history, Big Trouble in Little China was mostly overlooked when it came out, with most folks choosing to go see the similar Eddie Murphy vehicle The Golden Child. But, over the years, Big Trouble in Little China has gone on to become the more fondly remembered of the two.
Frequent John Carpetner star Kurt Russel is Jack Burton, a swaggering trucker with just a hint of John Wayne in his blood. Burton makes a delivery to San Fransisco's Chinatown, where he meets up with an old friend named Wang. Wang and Burton head off to the airport to pick up Wang's fiance, who's finally coming from China to America to be with Wang. But, there's a scuffle at the airport with some Chinese mobsters, and they soon mistakenly abduct Wang's fiance, leading to Burton and Wang getting stuck in the middle of a mob war.
But ho! This is no simple crime story. For the leader of the Chinese mob, Lo Pan, is actually a centuries-old wizard. Thanks to an ancient curse, he's been turned into a ghost, and the only way he can be flesh once again is to sacrifice a green-eyed woman. And wouldn't you know it? Wang's fiance has green eyes. So it's up to Burton, Wang, and the forces of good to rescue Wang's fiance and put an end to Lo Pan's centuries of evil once and for all.
I'm please to report that this film is funny. Don't get me wrong, it's not a broad comedy. But I would definitely call it lighthearted. And a lot of that comes from Russel's portrayal of Jack Burton. This guy is a doofus. He tries to go in with guns blazing, but the guns tend to jam and he's just trying to keep his wits about him as the kung fu fighting breaks out. The best is at the climax, where he fires a few warning shots into the air, bringing a chunk of concrete onto his head, and he's knocked unconscious for pretty much all of it. But, he's got just enough swagger and charm of the best B-movie heroes that you can't help but love the big lug.
Also got to give props to legendary Chinese character actor James Hong as Lo Pan. He injects just enough sarcasm and annoyance into Lo Pan's lines that there's a humour to the whole character. Again, I should mention, he does it elevate it to cartoon supervillain levels, but he's got just enough humour for the villain to fit the film's lighthearted tone.
The special effects are really good, too. They were done by Richard Edlund and his crew, fresh off the first Ghostbusters, so there's a definite Ghostbusters-vibe to the various Chinese demons that plague our heroes.
It's not flawless, though. There are a few editing choices that had me confused as to what the heck was going on. But I found Big Trouble in Little China to be a pretty fun little action film.