Big Trouble in Little China
Reviewed by Russell Tharp
Rating: 4 Beans
ohn Carpenter is a gifted director. Let me get that out of the way up front. With "Halloween" he invented an entire subgenre of movies, the teen slasher flick, and he is largely responsible for the use of the "Killer POV cam" that followed in so many later, inferior films. The man has the capacity for greatness within him.
Unfortunately, he has tended to *keep* it within him more often than not. Case in point: "Big Trouble in Little China." Easily the silliest movie in Carpenter's checkered career, it mixes comedy, action, romance, martial arts, ghosts, Chinese folklore, and the hokiest movie monster since "Prophecy" into an incomprehensible hodge-podge of cornball dialogue, hammy over-acting, and special-effects of the approximate quality of kindergarten fingerpainting. And these are just the good points.
Carpenter favorite Kurt Russell chews the scenery as trucker Jack Burton, who, while visiting friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun, also seen in "John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness") stumbles into a goofy plot involving Asian street gangs, kidnappings, white slavery, ancient Chinese ghosts, Chinese Elementals (spirit forces of the Earth in human form), and the destruction of the known universe. That's a lot of plot for the first 15 minutes...
You see, it seems that the long-dead ghost of Lo Pan (James Hong) needs a Chinese girl with rare green eyes to float into the air and grab a magic sword so he can get his body back and then take over the universe. He has somehow managed to run a huge multinational corporation without a body, but since Bill Gates has managed it for all these years, that shouldn't be a surprise. So Lo Pan sends some Asian street gang to kidnap a green-eyed China girl from the airport (Suzee Pai), who just happens to be the fiance of Wang, who just happens to be with Burton at the airport when the gal is snatched.
The chase leads to your standard Hollywood back alley, where a back alley funeral procession is attacked by a whole mess of gun-toting gang members who mysteriously drop their guns in favor of several minutes of impossible-to-follow chop-sockey action. Who won? Whose side should we root for? Who the hell knows? The fight ends when three guys in big bamboo hats show up and start throwing lightning bolts at everybody. Burton's truck is stolen, the ghost of Lo Pan shoots laser beams out of his mouth, and it all slides quickly downhill from there.
So, what are we left with? We have Victor Wong, who you may remember as Booger's mentor in "Revenge of the Nerds," brooding deeply and spouting nonsense that would make Confucious spin in his grave. We have Kim Cattral at her absolute perkiest, a horrifying concept in its own right. And we have Kurt Russell. Kurt, Kurt, Kurt... This is easily Kurt's worst performance since "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes." He grunts, he groans, he mumbles, he swaggers. He drawls out lines like, "May the wings of liberty never lose a feather." He attempts to play Burton as a slow-talking macho John Wayne type, and instead comes off more like Corky the Down's Syndrome kid from "Life Goes On." This film is probably why Goldie Hawn has never married him. Who knows what the hell he might do next?
So, if you're looking for a quality martial arts flick, or a good comedy, or an insightful look at Chinese mythology, look elsewhere. But if you're in the mood for "Abbott and Costello Meet Mortal Kombat," and maybe you are, then "Big Trouble" is just your cup of herbal tea.
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