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1001 Overlooked Movies - Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

A trucker gets caught up in a fantastical adventure in Chinatown.

Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton


If you've never seen 'Big Trouble in Little China' then you need to deal with that or you'll always feel like something is missing in your life. There's nothing else like it and this was my personal favorite childhood movie. Directed by the legendary John Carpenter and starring his muse, Kurt Russell, it's a classic that still leaves you pondering how the hell it was ever made.
'Big Trouble in Little China' is Carpenter at his most over the top and ridiculous. There's none of the creeping dread of 'The Thing' and none of the subtlety of 'Halloween'. And that's exactly what makes it a lost classic.
The plot is suitably crazy, with Kurt Russell having the time of his life as Jack Burton, a macho, smart-assed truck driver out of his depth in a world of magic, mysticism, and Chinese mythology. An ancient Chinese demon king needs to marry a girl with green eyes to make him immortal. It just so happens that he lives in modern day, i.e 1986, San Francisco as a reclusive businessman. After Jack's buddy Wang's (Dun) new girlfriend (who has green eyes and is a bad actress) gets kidnapped by Triads, Jack and a motley crew of a reporter, a sorcerer, a chubby restaurant owner, and others go to rescue her.
If you don't think that sounds like the greatest story ever told then you have my pity friend. No one takes these kinds of risks with films anymore. To mash together fantasy, comedy, action and horror, and make it great is nearly impossible but Carpenter succeeds. It's Kurt Russell who holds the whole thing together, representing the audience with his bewilderment and constant questions about what the hell is going on. Jack Burton is the prime example of a lovable asshole. He's a borderline idiot, but a hugely resourceful one who is amazing at throwing a knife.
The script is perfect; it's tongue in cheek and Jack's idiocy always undermines the gravity of any situation. Example:
Jack Burton: "Okay. You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we're not back by dawn... call the president!"
The movie is full of lines like that and more, with everyone getting a chance to say something memorable.
The bad guy, Lo Pan (Hong), is truly evil in that classic campy Hammer Horror way, while his three super powered bodyguards are extremely cool. One fires lightning from his hands, one is really fast, and the other one is er, able to make himself bigger for some reason that's never fully made clear. Once all of the characters clash at the end you'll be fully behind Jack and the gang.
A fantastic script, a hot young Kim Cattrall, martial arts battles in downtown San Francisco, and Kurt Russell's greatest ever character make 'Big Trouble in Little China' the 'Citizen Kane' of silly eighties action comedies. As old Jack Burton used to say "Everybody relax, I'm here".


The official '1001 Movies' list includes the following movies from 1986 - Manhunter, Stand By Me, Blue Velvet, Hannah & Her Sisters, She's Gotta Have It, The Decline of the American Empire, The Fly, Aliens, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Down By Law, A Room With a View, Children of a Lesser God, Platoon, Caravaggio, Tampopo, Peking Opera Blues, Salvador, Top Gun, Sherman's March, The Horse Thief


Michael Boyd
For more from Michael, check out  his site 'Screen Kicker Movies'.

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