Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

This is Jack Burton in the Pork Chop Express, and I'm talkin' to whoever's listenin' out there.

This is Jack Burton in the Pork Chop Express, and I'm talkin' to whoever's listenin' out there.

As late as the ‘eighties, before the studios knocked any genuine individuality out of their ‘product’,  and before Tarantino made it hip to drop lots of cultural references for no good reason,  it wan’t unusual to sit there surrounded by a largely baffled audience, most of them wondering if confusion was a good enough reason to ask for your money back.  A case in point was Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter’s affectionate tribute to Oriental action movies.

On the plus side – Carpenter’s usual visual panache (assisted by the great Dean Cundey) and thumping synth score, some great dialogue and pace that never lets up. The cast all seem to be in on the joke and throw themselves into it enthusiastically. On the minus side,  the UK audience at least had no context into which they could place the movie, apart from occasional glimpses of Bruce Lee movies. Another problem was that the hero, perfectly played by Kurt Russell, is an idiot, and I say that in a positive way.

All this flouting of convention is fine if your audience has the slightest clue what the conventions are. Looking back now, it all makes more sense, the jokes are very funny and even the cheesy effects add to the mix.  The humour is a lot broader than Carpenter’s early movies;  it’s the point where I started to suspect that he might be giving up on making serious movies, and it turned out that way.

Still, it’s got a lot of great quotes and you won’t have much more fun with any movie if you get into the right spirit.

The 2-disc DVD set is very well put together. The Carpenter/Russell commentary is almost as good as that for The Thing, and the other extras are fun without adding much. Crank up the volume for the terrific score but watch out for the dire music video on disc 2.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★½☆

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