John Carpenter takes Clint Eastwood from “Any Which Way But Loose” and drops him smack dab in to the middle of a chopsocky film. The results are not only ingenious, but entertaining, funny, and the movie many movie geeks adore known as “Big Trouble in Little China.” One of the many fish out of water films about inadvertent heroes stumbling in to an extraordinary situation, Carpenter turns to his veteran collaborator Kurt Russell to lead the charge. Even for a film made in 1986, “Big Trouble” is such a resonant and inherently clever film that it’s barely shown its age at all.
Director Carpenter inherently avoids any and all clues that we’re in the middle of the eighties, and brings us in to a time where we’re shifting in between a seventies trucker era, and mystical China. Kurt Russell has a blast the infinitely charming and dashing All American hero Jack Burton. He’s a drifter and lone wolf who happens to find a purpose in the middle of his humdrum life with his big rigs. When his best friend’s wife is kidnapped by a local Chinese gang for the intent of being sold to sex slavery, Jack and friend Wang intend to come to her rescue. In the midst of their mission, they find themselves in a tug of war between two Chinese gangs that have been battling for decades.
“Big Trouble” is never content with just being an action film, and reaches in to the depths of fantasy to deliver one hell of a surreal picture. Carpenter introduces the three magical warriors known as “The Three Storms,” all of whom are servants of the dreaded sorcerer Lo Pan, an evil snake of a man who wields his magic with long sharp nails and a Charlie Chan mustache. With the sacrifice of a beautiful green eyed girl, Lo Pan plans to break an ancient curse and make Wang’s hostage wife his new mate. Russell approaches the role in his usual charisma and charm, as a man who seems awestruck by the world he’s in, even when he’s in extreme danger.
But while Russell takes center stage, he’s more a spectator while director Carpenter allows the seasoned cast of Asian actors to stage the battle of good and evil, and the fight for the souls of their women. James Hong is fantastic as Lo Pan and Disappears in to the serpentine make up, while Dennis Dun and Victor Wong offer stand out performances as the heroic men who battle Lo Pan and his monsters. Much of the special effects still hold up well, since they’re not the primary focus of the film. Much of “Big Trouble” gives way to wonderful martial arts scenes and great choreography, paired with the sensibility of a classic movie serial that never takes itself seriously. “Big Trouble” is one of the many daring and wonky Carpenter films, and one of his few dark comedies that will provide action fans a good laugh, and fun action sequences alike.
It’s a shame we never saw a sequel with the continuing adventures of Jack Burton, but “Big Trouble” works as a stand alone classic that features John Carpenter at his best.