Welcome to the second in the series where we look back at Eighties Movies and say: Molly Ringwald, Judge Reinhold, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy and Steve Guttenberg, we derided you once – yes, derided! – but now, in the noughties, your flicks suddenly seem much more entertaining than the deafening, CGI-swamped tat we get served now. O great ones, will you forgive us?
This week we turn our attentions to John Carpenter’s cult fantasy/action flick.
The short and curlies: Big Trouble in Little China (1986). Dir: John Carpenter. Starr: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong.
You must refresh my memory again. Kurt Russell is wisecracking, devil-may-care, gambling trucker Jack Burton, who gets caught up in kickass martial arts mayhem in a subterranean world beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown. There’s lots of action and some wicked sets but the film was a flop at the time. Now it’s very much in the pantheon of cult movies.
So it’s good, then? No, it’s pretty tedious. But it was made in 1986, when you took what you were given: the fun Tarantino 90s were miles off, and the exciting 70s were but a distant memory.
So is there anything good about it? Oh yes. It’s got plenty of what we might call "80s honesty”: people being thrown through sugar-glass windows (that’s real stunts, CGI kids!), kung-fu fights, people hovering in mid-air (thanks to real wires, sometimes visible) and real sets (as in "not CGI").
It’s also a career high for, er, James Hong. After getting try-outs in Chinatown and Blade Runner he repeats his Wise Old Chinaman routine in a bigger role. Wise Old Chinamen were huge in the Eighties. Think The Karate Kid, Gremlins and The Golden Child.
What does he say that’s wise, then? “Things between men and women rarely work out but we keep on trying.”
Wow, I had to wait for someone to invent internet dating before I discovered that. So what are the highlights? The fight stuff and the sets. The Hell of the Upside Down Sinners (37mins, pictured below) looks pretty nifty, too.
What really makes it an 80s movie? It stars Kim “Samantha in SATC” Cattrall.
Any songs with really literal 80s lyrics? Oh yes. The end one, written by Carpenter himself. “You can feel the wind is rising, baby, now the truth is here, out of the dark they’re comin’, baby, all the things that you fear. Mmmm, we’d better run, runnin’ through the mystic night.” Wicked.
Anything else? It’s one of the many, many films in which the main character is called Jack and everyone uses it all the freakin’ time, eg: “You don’t trust me after all these years, Jack?”, “The world’s full of crazy people, Jack” etc etc. See also 24, Patriot Games, Midnight Run, Speed and many more. Serial killers, in particular, love it when their good-guy nemesis is called Jack: “It just eats you up that you can’t catch me, right, Jack?” Why doesn’t it happen with any other name? I guess: “Come on, Colin, take the shot!” doesn’t really work.
Big Cheesy 80s Moments? Sadly not. It’s not that kind of film. It doesn’t even have a happy ending – Russell leaves Cattrall, buggering off in his truck, unaware that there’s a monster hiding in the back waiting to eat him.
Car crash or classic? Sorry, car crash.Tweet