The Cineastes No. 3

Here comes trouble…..
   John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China is a comedy. Undoubtedly. It is also an escapist film, a monster movie, a chop-saki flick, a love story, and a tribute to the movie serials of the 1930s. Its a shame that this film gets slammed for it too. Within the context of a Carpenter film, there is always a social message. I feel that all of his movies are character studies, and that applies for Big Trouble as well. It is a very enjoyable and fun film to watch, and at the same time, it satisfies my craving for an intelligent movie. A good movie should speak to its audience. If a film is intelligent and can hold your attention for more than five minutes, than there is clearly something genuine to it. Big Trouble in Little China keeps you hooked for its entire 100 minutes. Kurt Russell is Jack Burton; a dumb, wisecracking trucker who finds himself wrapped up in a quest to rescue his friend’s fiancee from the ancient, evil magician Lo Pan, an in adventure 2,000 years in the making, set in modern day Chinatown, San Francisco. Jack soon finds himself dodging demons, warriors, and other terrors from the great beyond. It sounds like a nice pitch for a movie. That’s probably why it was made into a movie. Believe it or not, Big Trouble was originally conceived as a western. Either way, the film is notable for its outrageous script. It is intentionally ridiculous, attempting to spoof the old movie serials of the day. And it succeeds, in lampooning not only one specific genre, but a wide variety. The clever script relies on its set of characters. Dialogue is a key factor in the design of each character, and personalizes them. Take Jack Burton for example. He is the protagonist, and is represented as the hero, the star of the show. Yet his actual heroism is questionable. You’ll notice he never does anything very heroic in the picture, he’s always hiding in the background. John Carpenter is playing with the theme of masculinity, here. Kurt Russell has been used frequently in Carpenter’s films. Fours years before Big Trouble, Russell played Snake Plissken in Escape From New York. Plissken is the quintessential, macho hero. Coincidentally, Russell stars as Jack Burton several years later. Jack Burton and Snake Plissken are two opposite personalities; Plissken the hero, and Burton the fool. Kurt Russell is poking fun at the character he played prior to that. Jack Burton, as an individual character, is a shout out to all the masculine heroes of the cinema. Notice too how the roles of hero and sidekick (essentially the “dynamic duo) shift between Burton and Wang Chi. Jack is the hero, but Wang Chi is prepared and knows what’s going on.
” Are you ready Jack?”
The title ” Big Trouble in Little Chinais so for a reason. With “big trouble”, Carpenter is emphasizing the stupendous plot, and “little china”: the relatively small setting in which it takes place (Chinatown). Does that make sense? Just a little thought that occurred to me, that this film was made for a reason, not just to make millions. and it didn’t even make much money to begin with.
Big Trouble really is a character study, the strong cast bring a warmth to their characters and have the audience feeling there in the moment. Only a good number of movies can achieve that. It is in my opinion the most creative of Carpenter’s works. It is an innovation in escapist films, one of the best of the period. Period. Big Trouble in Little China is The Cineastes’ first blockbuster, and hopefully not the last. I feel we need to realize that great movies can be fun and enjoyable too. An outrageous comedy can at the same time be a masterpiece. Fans of the art film will most likely not enjoy this, and that is because they are traveling outside their comfort zone. But the cinema is a journey, where all doors must be open to fully understand it.
“No shit, Jack. No shit.”
dir. John Carpenter   USA   99mins.    20th Century Fox
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong,
Victor Wong, Kate Burton, and Donald Li
Chosen by Eugene Lee a.k.a. “Crap Monster” at YGG’Noise

4 responses to “The Cineastes No. 3

  1. Astute article, I couldn’t agree with you more that this film has an undeserved reputation. And you bring up a good point that Carpenter’s films are character studies, which factors into the idea that we are following Burton despite him following Wang Chi. Good stuff.

  2. Love the connection between Burton and Plissken and the whole notion of masculinity. Its not something I got into but definitely worth exploring. And at the heart of it, despite all theoretical and critical discussions aside, the base charm of this film is its purely entertaining factor.

    Its simply such a hugely fun film to watch regardless of politics or the like.

    • True that. And I feel thats what Adam C. can’t quite get his finger on. The 1980s were full of escapist/blockbusters. You either love em’ or you don’t. But I feel that some blockbusters can be artistic, and this is one such film. It is also indeed, incredibly enjoyable to watch.

  3. Its not surprising nor is it completely without warrant though. I know plenty of people young and old that absolutely abhor the 80s.

    But of course on the flipside, people like us completely indulge in it.

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