Monday, January 02, 2017

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

I remember reading the transcript of an interview about UHF.   Several of the actors were saying how the movie probably wouldn’t get made today, considering some of the content.  Times change.  People change.  What was popular 20 or 30 years ago would probably go over the heads of modern moviegoers.  Things you could get away with back then would never make it into a film today.   Big Trouble in Little China is a product of the same era as UHF.

The movie takes place in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Jack Burton is a truck driver who has to make a delivery.  He sticks around a while and racks up a large pile of winnings by playing cards.  After all is said and done, he agrees to take his friend, Wang Chi, to the airport to get Wang’s fiancée, Miao Yin.   Miao is kidnapped by members of a local gang.  Wang and Jack go after the gang members to get Miao back.  Instead, they end up in the middle of a gang war.  The Three Storms appear in the middle of the fight, led by Lo Pan.  It turns out that Lo Pan is impervious to being run over by a big rig.  It’s not going to be easy getting Miao back.

The movie comes across as knowing what they could get away with.  It’s like the people writing it and acting in it knew where the line was.  (They may have even crossed it a few times, depending on where you stood.)  There are a lot of clichés, like Lo Pan being a warrior that had a curse placed on him.  There’s a very specific way to break the curse, providing an opportunity once every generation or two.  There’s an epic battle to defeat Lo Pan, who is immortal, but wants to become mortal, even though it may lead to his defeat.  There’s even an unlikely hero.

I had been saving this movie for streaming for a while now.  I think I’ve had it saved for so long that it’s gone through several cycles of availability.  It’s one of those movies I sort of knew about, partly because I keep getting it confused with Chinatown.  Both are classics, though this is more of the cult type.  It has that certain mix of quotability and goofiness that go well together.  It’s not something to be taken seriously.

I am a fan of John Carpenter.  (They Live! should be watched just for the fight scene.)  I’m not a big fan of Kurt Russell.  He’s always played the macho type.  (I’m not a big fan of the macho type.)  He was good in Stargate, since the military macho type was what was called for.  Here, it’s the same thing.  His character needs to be more manly than average.  You can see him channeling his inner John Wayne.

It’s a fun movie to watch, but it’s nothing spectacular.  I don’t know how much of that is judging the movie by modern standards.  Several decades have passed since its release.  It’s possible that the movie was intended for an audience that doesn’t exist any more.  It’s a good way to spend a few hours, but I don’t think it’s going to be for everyone.

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