September 09, 2013

Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble in Little China went straight to cable when it was released back in 1986. It's been recently been making the rounds of the free and preview cable/satellite channel outlets, and I've taken the opportunity to watch it twice over the past couple of weeks.

Not only is John Carpenter's underappreciated homage to the wuxia/chopsocky genre as funny as it ever was, it stubbornly refuses to age. Now more than a quarter-century old, it's hardly dated at all, a real achievement in an action comedy.

Big Trouble in Little China is "tight" movie making at its best, zooming along from start to finish, never stopping to admire itself. Entirely self-contained, aside from a few second-unit scenes, it looks like it was shot on a single soundstage.

The script eschews topical references. Oh, you might spot the mention of "Peking" and Russell's CB radio monologues that open and close the movie (does anybody born in the past twenty-five years know what CB radio is?). But they set the mood all the better.

Trucker Jack Burton (Kurt Russell, who delivers his lines like he just motored off the set of a John Wayne western) and do-gooder Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) get roped into helping Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) rescue his fiancee from the clutches of the evil Lo Pan.

This is high camp done right, made all the more fun by Carpenter having everybody deliver their cornball lines with dead seriousness, no winking at the camera. Russell proves himself a good sport too, playing both the leading man and the butt of most of the jokes.

But the real delight is character actor Victor Wong as Egg Shen, in a screwball performance worth watching the movie for. The whole ensemble together accomplishes a rare feat: poking good fun at an established genre while paying loving tribute to it.

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