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Big Trouble in Little China - Still Shaking the Pillars of Heaven

The action is great, the comedy addictive and the main character one of the most memorably goofy of the 80s

by Chris McEneany Dec 13, 2013

  • Movies Article


    Big Trouble in Little China - Still Shaking the Pillars of Heaven
    "Honey, I never drive faster than I can see. Besides that, it's all in the reflexes."

    Alongside 1982's The Thing, John Carpenter's biggest box office flop-cum-cult-favourite has just got to be his anarchic, comic-book, wild-card pick 'n' mix of genres, Big Trouble In Little China, that hit the big screen in the summer of 1986 and sank quite dismally on both sides of the Pond. Like so many other misinterpreted, overlooked and neglected gems - things like Brazil and Blade Runner spring immediately to mind - home video represented not only something of a rebirth and re-evaluation, but a source of immortality that continues to draw in generations of fans even today. And now, with Arrow giving Carpenter's unrivalled, thrill-and-laugh-a-minute caper a fine release on UK Blu-ray, Big Trouble's longevity and popularity looks set to win over the hearts of hi-def lovers everywhere.

    Made during the time when Carpenter was heavily interested in quantum physics, a period that saw him practice the concept of trans-dimensional cross-overs with profoundly symbolic and religious overtones with the sadly quite disappointing Prince Of Darkness (which even retained and squandered couple of cast members from this), Big Trouble would represent a new way of thinking for the director. Now, his supernatural bent wouldn't be as black and white as we had witnessed in Halloween and The Fog, which were both driven, singular and simplistic, and his threat not so purely malevolent, as we discovered in The Thing. Big Trouble isn't in the least bit scientific, you understand. But it does seek to open doors of relativity and this is something that Carpenter would really cut loose and have fun with in the splendid Lovecraftian odyssey of In The Mouth Of Madness.

    Interviews that he gave at the time, particularly in the run-up to the release of Prince Of Darkness, which he commenced production on immediately after this, were loaded with ideas and theories about the nature of existence and the things that may lurk beyond it, but as excitingly skewed into Lovecraft’s domain as this may sound, their best outlet would undoubtedly be the ambitious Madness that came along in 1994 and represents the last truly great Carpenter film. You have to give him credit, though, for refusing to become pigeon-holed with the serious stalk 'n' slash, hard SF and urban thrillers that made his name during his amazing early run of non-stop commercial hits.

    Big Trouble in Little China

    “Well, ya see, I'm not saying that I've been everywhere and I've done everything, but I do know it's a pretty amazing planet we live on here, and a man would have to be some kind of fool to think we're alone in this universe.”

    For the excellently titled Big Trouble In Little China, Carpenter drew on his love for Hong Kong Cinema - not the typical Bruce Lee chop-sockies that most American audiences were familiar with, but the more obscure, offbeat and wacky martial arts/sorcery flicks that could be found on the Grindhouse and drive-in circuits. He took his inspiration from things like Swords Of Fame and Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain. With a screenplay written by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein, the director got Tinseltown's then-bon-vivente, W. D. Richter (also a close buddy of his from USC) to adapt it and, working with his regular crew, including ace cinematographer Dean Cundey (back in place after missing Starman) and visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund, grabbed a-hold of his brawny on-screen alter-ego, Kurt Russell, and, together, they all went oriental. And imaginatively mental, to boot. Ori-mental, you could say.

    “This is gonna take cracker-jack timing, Wang!”

    Truck-driving meat-head, Jack Burton (an on-fire Kurt Russell), hits San Francisco's Chinatown and spends a rainy night gambling and drinking with his chums from the market stalls. But when he wins big time over his old friend, restaurant-owner Wang (Dennis Dunn), calling in his debt somehow pitches him into the middle of a gang-war, which then leads to a mysterious encounter with some supernaturally endowed Triad elementals - the Three Storms - and, as if that wasn't enough, a reluctant mission that will take him deep into the subterranean underworld of Little China to rescue Wang's abducted fiancée Miao Yin (played by the gorgeous Penthouse model, Suzee Pai) and then a diabolical head-to-head with a mystical 2000-year-old sorcerer called Lo-Pan (and played tongue-in-cheek by the ever-reliable James Hong) who needs hostage green-eyed girls to help him rule the world from beyond the grave. Hmmm ... none of this was on his delivery sheet. Falling in with Dunn and Victor Wong's Egg-Shen, a tour-bus operator-cum-crusading wizard, a gaggle of monk-like Chang Sing warriors and Kim Cattrall's feisty lawyer, Gracie Law, he infiltrates Lo-Pan's stronghold and ... well ... and then ... oh, what does it matter? As ol' Jack Burton would say ... “ahhh, what the hell!”.
    As ol' Jack Burton would say ... “ahhh, what the hell!”
    Amazingly for such a 40’s pulp-serial throwback as this, there is actually a lot of plot or, at least, a lot of ideas floating about. Lo-Pan's surprisingly tragic quest for immortality and power - his spirit is trapped within the prison of a frail old man's body, yet his libido and his thirst for power allow him to utilise a frightening and regally resplendent phantom to work his magic - hints at a time of Chaos and an age-old struggle for supremacy over the world. A raging feud between him and Egg-Shen seems to have been going on for centuries. Crime and extortion topside hide a realm of magic - “the darkest magic” (remember that Michael Myers had the “blackest” eyes?) - that holds court over Little China, the traditions of the old country meaning very little to Jack, but given a courteous credence by Carpenter, who appears entranced by the possibilities he can tap into with such myths and legends. Once off the main streets of Frisco, we are in a land where literally anything can happen ... and frequently does in the best cliffhanger style.

    Shaggy-haired Beast-Men lurk in the caves beneath the relocated province. Sunken torture chambers are decorated with mangled corpses. Giant bug-like critters have a tendency to pop out of the shadows and gobble up the unwary. And just who's half-inched Jack's beloved rig, the Pork Chop Express? We are in a realm of legend and mysticism, comic-book battles and firecracker dialogue. Jack may be our eyes and ears in this world, but we will soon learn that he is several steps behind everyone else, including us, his brand of heroism all brawn and no brain.

    Big Trouble in Little China

    “It's all right. Everybody relax ... I'm here.”
    And that's meant to be a good thing, is it, Jack?

    A slave to his own incompetence, Jack is the most cack-handed hero ever to go the distance. Full of spit and misplaced bravado, he enters into the fray with street gangs, warring warriors, supernatural entities and unearthly creatures with true do-or-die arrogance. That he fumbles every damn encounter he gets into, whether through bad judgement, bad timing, or just plain bad luck, is to his credit not his shame. “Are you ready, Jack?” Wang asks him at one point. “Are you kidding? I was born ready,” comes the incredibly reassuring, yet completely shallow reply, totally summing up this ever-gallant fool rushing in where angels, and the more sensible, naturally fear to tread. Narrowing escaping certain death, laughing in the face of danger, assuming command of situations that he hasn't a hope of defeating on his own - Jack runs the gamut of what is expected of any all-American jock.

    But with his testosterone level considerably higher than that of his IQ, it is a miracle that his cohorts in the grand battle hold him in such high esteem. The enigmatic prologue, in which Egg-shen seeks to exonerate Jack's involvement in the events that he is about to regale his lawyer with, paints the guy out to be some kind of legendary figure - which is one of the film's classic jokes. If it is only the clumsy bumbling of one outsider that can save the world then, indeed, it is Chaos that will have the last laugh. Ironically, this prologue was an additional scene that twitchy and befuddled Fox execs demanded be put into the film to make Russell's character, at least, seem like more than a mere klutz, little realising that it would actually aid Carpenter's original intentions for Jack Burton a whole lot more.

    “Henry Swanson's my name, and excitement's my game.” Cue Kurt Russell looking almost as clownish in his rain-sodden, bespectacled brothel-creeping disguise as he did dressed as a female stripper in Tango & Cash..
    Jack loves his own legend - something that he created for himself, of course
    Another great thing about the story is how Jack becomes embroiled in it all in the first place. So many adventure yarns have the hero unwittingly swept up in the narrative, but there is also usually a much greater goal that means they can't simply back out once their crusade has begun - rescuing a daughter (John Matrix in Commando), on the run from the cops (John Rambo in First Blood), assuming Messianic duties (Neo in The Matrix) or idealistically fighting the good fight against tyranny (Luke Skywalker in Star Wars) - but Jack Burton, who simply wants his truck back (oh, and Wang's money!), has several opportunities to just walk away from the whole thing. Yet he doesn't. He stays and puts himself back into harm's way when escape would be a far easier option. Is it true heroism? Nope. Not a bit of it. Jack loves his own legend - something that he created for himself, of course, and embellishes regularly over the CB airwaves with sarcastically egocentric self-testimonials - and this little escapade is exactly the type of deal that would make for another astonishing anecdote on the roadmap of his life.

    Which, of course, makes him unique in the Carpenter/Russell roll-call of heroes. Snake Plissken is in things for himself. That he “may” save some lives along the way, is purely circumstantial. (In fact, he is far more likely to gets loyal companions killed!) The Thing's sombrero-wearing helicopter pilot, Macready, is also a loner, but he will help his brother if he can. Both of Russell's previous Carpenter-created icons are the two separate moods of the same character. But Jack Burton is a different fortune cookie altogether. Whereas we all wanted to see more of Snake, his second adventure actually lessened his renegade persona quite considerably. Macready can't and shouldn't be expanded upon. Jack Burton, however, and the Pork Chop Express ... well, as he says at the end regarding whether or not we will ever see him again, “you never can tell.”

    It's a fitting epitaph, but of all the Russell/Carpenter heroes, Jack is the one who actually could be revisited - in any guise, any situation, any location and remain totally true to character. This oriental hokum is basically just in a day's work for him and the devil-may-care trucker could have any number of other escapades and scrapes in any genre you care to mention. You could send him into the past, or the future, or zap him to another planet and he would still be the same tenaciously loveable dunderhead.

    Big Trouble in Little China

    “Okay ... we may be trapped!”

    Russell's style is so winning here. It is tremendous to see his cocksure attitude and Wayne-like swagger come apart at the seams whenever the chips are down, which is entirely appropriate when you consider that the original story was actually a Western set in the late 1800’s. The actor says of the character that he tried to imagine how it would be if this was the film Wayne made when the director took all the wrong cues and fluffed takes and released that version instead of the perfect one. Look at how he accidentally slings his boot-knife away as he desperately tries to rise to a fight he knows he can't run from, consequently arriving to the fracas too late and his buddy has taken care of it all. Or how he is perpetually outwitted and out-manoeuvred by those he confronts, even when sporting a smudge of lipstick planted on his smacker after a fresh snog with Gracie. But the best moment comes courtesy of Egg-Shen's magical potion of courage. After quaffing the elixir, Jack has to admit to a packed elevator of veritable Bruce Lees that he feels “... pretty good. Not scared at all. Kind of ... feel kind of invincible,” before accidentally knocking himself out in the rousing final charge.

    Look at the grins on his fellow warriors in the lift, too. Priceless. You also have to admire the way that John Carpenter coaxed out a Clint Eastwood impersonation from Russell for Snake Plissken and, then, for the brazen buffoon of Jack Burton, summoned up a terrific John Wayne routine from start to finish. Replete with sarcastic drawl, a liberal dose of Duke-ish quotations-under-fire and a tough guy deportment, Russell makes his prime-beef jerk-off hero both the last person able to get you out of a fix and, irresistibly, the only person you'd actually want by your side. Constantly scuppered by his own ineptitude, Burton is the Stooge-like antidote to all those regular, brawn-encased urban warriors that King Kurt was so well known for playing. And the fact that Russell is so damn good at the fun-loving, self-deprecating antics of such an adventurous idiot means that his truck-driving, beer-swilling street philosopher becomes much, much more than the sum of his screen-written parts. Compare Jack Burton to his monosyllabic super-trooper in Soldier and, well, the other one in Stargate. He positively oozes personality here. And if you think about it, that drawl and the big quaffed mullet are also somewhat reminiscent of Elvis, which, of course, Russell played for Carpenter in their first collaboration, the made-for-TV Elvis The Movie.
    This is pure pantomime ... and it works marvellously
    “What does that mean - China is here? I don't even know what the hell that means!”

    Carpenter even finds the opportunity to allow some Hawksian influence shine through with his mouthy heroines of Kim Cattrall and Kate (daughter of Richard) Burton. Foreshadowing the knowing wink he expressed with the overlong fight sequence between Keith David and Roddy Piper in They Live, he gets Burton's big-break-seeking journalist, Margo, to spout out a huge amount of exposition in a fraction of the time it takes the orientals to bamboozle Jack (and us) with their mystical mumbo-jumbo. Wisecracking from start to finish, Jack overlaps practically everyone with his own oh-so-quotable armada of quips, barbs and retorts. Although painstakingly written, Russell makes this almost ceaseless gobbing-off seem like it is improvised, which really adds to the fresh, spontaneous whipcrack-away pace of the movie. Even when there is no action taking place on-screen, his performance adds a dynamic that shunts away at the film, harrying it like there is no tomorrow.

    “In 2000 years you can't find one broad to fit the bill? Come on, Dave, you must be doing something seriously wrong.” So goes Jack's understanding of his captor's Dracula-inspired tale of supernatural woe!

    Veteran performer James Hong, eyeball-fabricator in Blade Runner and instantly recognisable character-actor in about a gazillion other TV, movie and animated voice-over parts, is brilliantly off-the-wall here as both reclusive, crippled tycoon David Lo-Pan and his seven-foot tall demonic alter-ego, his avatar, as it were. Rattling across his lavish lair in his wheelchair to interrogate his prisoners - you've got to love the way that Carpenter has both Russell and Dunn lashed into wheelchairs, themselves, just to even things up a bit - he is a brittle, eccentric and lecherous oddity, uncomfortably stroking Wang's hand in order to gain information about his intended bride, yet clearly associating more with the utterly perplexed Jack, in whom the wizened old black magician possibly sees a queer sort of kindred spirit. “You strike me as someone who would understand the difficulties between men and women ... how seldom it works out,” he simpers towards the bemused knuckle-brain.

    An unexpectedly contemporary and foul-mouthed snarl at the sight of good guy reinforcements on a CCTV screen only endears the decrepit little monster all the more. And then, in his more noble guise of the towering phantom prince, bedecked in royal finery and painted with an impressionistic demoniacal make-up, he giggles like a loon when the promise of true flesh and blood on his withered bones seems to be coming true. And look at how he vigorously wiggles his thumbs during the psychic duel he has with Egg-shen – just as though he is going into overdrive on his Xbox or PS4! It is a really strange character and a fittingly bizarre performance from Hong. How about that little hissing cackle he delivers when his wedding ceremony is interrupted by the good guys, and the exasperated expression on his face when Jack's thrown knife clangs harmlessly off a Buddhist effigy behind him? This is pure pantomime ... and it works marvellously.

    Big Trouble in Little China

    “What the hell is this, Wang?”

    “Chinese stand-off, Jack ... don't make a sound ...

    80's action movie favourite Al Leong - the guy who electrocutes Martin Riggs in the first Lethal Weapon, Hans Gruber's chocolate-loving henchman in Die Hard, and reliable human tsunami of fist and foot bedlam in things like Action Jackson and Rapid Fire - appears here as a diminutive, but explosively agile skirmisher in the ranks of Lo Pan, his Fu Manchu 'tache and flyaway, wispy hair one of those visual hallmarks of the decade's more kinetically violent set-pieces. Apparently Leong also had an uncredited role in the prison fight of Tango & Cash, the Asian actor presumably wanting another pop at battering Kurt Russell. In fact, James Hong also guest appears as a villain in that Stallone/Russell double-whammy.

    Elsewhere, the three Storms harken back to the Masters Of Death in the fantastic Lone-wolf And Cub series of limb-severing blood-spillers, with their bamboo-armour and wicker-basket hats, and with their sadistic array of weaponry and their ability to carve-up whole armies without getting so much as a scratch. Head-boy, Thunder (played by Carter Wong, once martial arts instructor to the HK police and star of the brilliantly titled A Fist Too Fast from 1978) is supremely muscled and intimidating, his broken English and fake smile only adding to his sinister aura. Yet if Russell's Burton is the obvious “blow-hard” of the piece, Wong's brutish ogre is the one who takes “blowing hard” to its most eye-popping and explosive conclusion when his own latex-fuelled fury gets the better of him and he literally erupts like a raging volcano at the sight of his felled master.

    “Tall guy, weird clothes. First you see him, then you don't.”

    The film's initial flop can be ascribed to audiences just not realising what they were getting themselves into. This was the era of Rambo: First Blood Part II and Aliens, after all, and they wanted their heroes packing some serious heat as well as muscle and to be able to decimate legions of enemies scene by scene. Yet, whilst Big Trouble had exactly this type of guts 'n' glory stuffed into it, the film, and its leading man, weren't taking themselves seriously ... at all. Plus, it had characters flying around on wires and defying the laws of physics and gravity with deliriously acrobatic aplomb - and this was well over ten years before the Wachowski Brothers made such a thing cool for Western audiences with The Matrix. Kurt Russell was playing a fool. Rubbery monsters kept putting in appearances.

    Even the theme of a despicable Eastern sex trade taking place in the homeland may have troubled some conservative moviegoers expecting a shallow and inoffensive mainstream fantasy yarn like Spacecamp, and, not to be underestimated, Michael Cimino's excellent crime drama, Year Of The Dragon, starring Mickey Rourke, had enflamed Asian-American sensibilities with its depiction of them, meaning that many from that demographic were already wary of another oriental-flavoured story fanning the fire. Indeed, many from the Asian community felt incensed by what they regarded as Carpenter’s stereotypical view of their culture and were quite vocal in their disapproval – something that the filmmaker was stung by and still completely refutes. But, either way, the film's hectic, helter-skelter collision of Western machismo and Eastern promise proved too exotic a brew for many people and the film unfairly foundered on the critical rocks of bemusement and indifference. But then if Fox, themselves, had got the jitters because they couldn’t appreciate its sophisticated and stylised humour, nor understand why the hero was such an idiot, and they buried the film with regards to its release, what chance did Joe Public stand?
    The film's initial flop can be ascribed to audiences just not realising what they were getting themselves into
    The more I see the film, however, the more I love it. Sure, some of the monsters look pathetically fake - to be honest, they looked naff back in '86, as well - but they have a personality that is all so beautifully enmeshed in the over-the-top zaniness of the production that it just doesn't matter. Lo Pan's pus-filled bag of floating seeing-eyes is a great idea, fabulously designed and with a definite zest of its own, but it can't help coming across like a Carpenter riff on the never-convincing Slimer from 84's Ghostbusters. But, if I had one real complaint, it would be that the combat seen in the alley fight at the start of it all is much, much better than any of the skirmishes that we see taking place later on - actually quite brutal and brilliantly choreographed by Jim Lau and the famed Dan Inosanto amongst an absolute bevy of renowned stuntmen and martial artists - meaning that the final battle we see can seem a tad disappointing and unsatisfying by comparison. But this is only a really minor bugbear in a film that simply doesn't let up.

    As we mentioned earlier, a certain James Cameron also came along with a little film of his own at the same time as Big Trouble - something called Aliens, that you may recall - that managed to sweep most other action-fantasies aside that year. Naturally, Fox ballyhooed his movie since Big Trouble's highly unorthodox comedy (partly retro, partly ahead of the curve) left the studio execs unsure of how to market it. With Aliens being the sure-fire bet, Carpenter's movie was saddled with a lousy ad-campaign that failed to ignite much more than a passing interest. “Jack who?” “Big Trouble where?” being the typical response from anyone other than a Carpenter fan who had been salivating over images of the film’s production in Starlog and the UK’s Starburst magazines.

    Big Trouble in Little China

    “A brave man likes the feel of nature on his face, Jack.”

    “Yeah, and a wise man has enough sense to get in out of the rain!”

    While the film, like so many of Carpenter’s, would typically go on to find legions of fans on home video, it was further proof that big studios would be a bad omen for the director’s commercial prospects at the theatre, enhancing his own innate cynicism and expanding the divide between him and the serious money and backing that could catapult his projects back into the mainstream. It is all a great shame and another nail in the coffin of not only his grim resolve to avoid the studio system, but of theirs to avoid him and his maverick ideas. Which only makes the cruel irony more apparent that, with this outing, the cult auteur is at his most inventive, freewheeling and inspired. He is working with another large cast of very colourful characters and with an enormous amount of dialogue, yet the whole thing flows with extraordinary grace and wit.

    With so much of the script concerned with wacky exposition about spirits paths, feudal wars and occult oddities, the danger was that audiences would just get confused and agitated – a bit like Jack Burton, to be fair – but the quirky style of the delivery from Victor Wong, Kim Cattrell, James Hong and Dennis Dunn provides the perfect balance of noirish verbiage and over-the-top, character-based repartee. The sly gag is that Dennis Dun has the proper mission – rescuing his girl – and the really heroic journey from impulsive have-a-go-hero to fully-fledged warrior to go along with it, and that Russell is actually just the dumb sidekick, although this will be neatly reversed when Wang discovers that he cannot actually fight Thunder and is compelled to run for his life whilst Jack thick-headedly overcomes his own ineptitude and finally vanquishes Lo-Pan.

    With many sets to battle through, the film is forever on the move and becomes one of Carpenter’s most dynamic and propulsive offerings. It is also much pacier and faster cut than normal, reaching Spielbergian levels of visual pizzazz and dexterity. Although Cundey’s trademark camera fluidity is still very much in evidence, there are far more cuts and unusual angles adopted, the camera always moving and the shots much quicker than those in his more measured earlier films. Carpenter’sHawksian penchant for massed ensemble shots also comes to the fore, something that only he was really doing at this time, with the frame often filled with his cast from one side to the other. That unique and spellbinding mood that permeates so much of his and Cundey’s work together comes across in the more exotic of passages, namely whenever Lo Pan is going through his cravingly amorous routines. Here the film slows down and becomes dreamy and mesmerising, sound and visuals becoming a delightfully hypnotic and sublime antidote to the frequently frenetic action.
    Both men’s skills for visual storytelling and Carpenter’s pure directorial verve are at a premium
    Both men’s skills for visual storytelling and Carpenter’s pure directorial verve are at a premium, and there is much to admire from just a technical standpoint. Whereas the action in Escape from New York was good, but not exactly brilliantly realised, it is peerless here. Obviously having Inosanto onboard was a major bonus, but Carpenter, Cundey and a trio of editors still get right in there with Raimi-esque creativity, expertly showcasing the physical bombast. The framing and timing of the ambush at the airport, the big alley-fight and the battle that Wang and Eddie have on the bridge with a quartet of female guards are fantastic examples of how Carpenter was marshalling these gung-ho techniques with fearless gusto. He nods back to Snake’s infiltration of the disused train that houses the President in Escape from New York, when he has Cundey’s camera pull back to reveal Jack manoeuvring, hand-by-hand, along a pipe under the bridge whilst two companions distract the guards. And I love the way that a good guy uses his opponent’s wooden stave to ensnare his head so that he can ram his knee into it, severing the wood with the impact.

    That he is able to inject comedy into these hyper-stylised combat sequences further reveals that this was a director who was now confidently at the top of his game and courageous enough to just follow his instincts and trust his cast with an assembly-line of increasingly preposterous scenarios. The chemistry between him and his leading man is readily apparent. Both men got the joke and there were few action stars that would be willing to send themselves up in such a way. It was Russell who came up with the idea that Gracie’s lipstick should smear Jack during the finale, for instance. During this highly pretentious and image-conscious decade, only Harrison Ford’s classic portrayal of Indiana Jones would successfully cater for pratfalls and seat-of-the-pants clumsiness in the face of adversity, though he was not quite in the same league of all-out klutziness. This gloriously frivolous attitude would not last, however, and Big Trouble probably remains both Carpenter’s (and Russell’s) most outrageous, go-for-broke yet fully rounded production. All that followed would feel compromised to a smaller or larger degree, and fans would see the rebellious, anti-authoritarian stance they had come to love turn brittle and half-hearted.

    Big Trouble in Little China

    “How are you going to get us out of here?”

    “I have no idea.”

    Of course, as regular followers of these reviews will know and expect, I cannot neglect a mention of the film's score. After hiring Jack Nitzsche to compose for Starman, it was a welcome return for John Carpenter and regular scoring associate, Alan Howarth, to the mixing desk and the banks of synthesisers, emulators and the result, aided by the MIDI system, was one of Big John's best-ever scores. With a track record that includes Halloween, Escape From New York, The Fog and, most blistering of all, Assault On Precinct 13, this is certainly saying something. But, with a luxurious amount of time allowed for the composing, mixing and all-round experimentation and fine-tuning, the score ended-up being a truly remarkable blend of rhythmic action, humorous character build and bewitchingly exotic atmospherics.

    With no understanding of Chinese music - Carpenter can barely even read Western music, for that matter - the pair simply created effects and samples that, well, sounded Chinese to them. But their intensive, flamboyant and almost continuous beats and ambient textures created a musical signature for the film that totally embraced its schizophrenic moods of ghostly obsession and all-out derring-do. The infectiously catchy title song (heard over the end credits)is actually performed by Carpenter's own high school band, The Coups De Villes - which is made up of Carpenter, himself, on lead guitar and lending his Jim Morrison-aping, lung-dredging vocals to old pals, Nick Castle (who played the Shape in Halloween and went on to direct The Last Starfighter) on guitar and bringing some high notes to the singing, and Tommy Wallace (director of Halloween III: Season Of The Witch) on keyboards. The resulting vanity-project is awesomely daft, but a pure blast. A full review of the complete score will follow at some point in the future.
    Big Trouble In Little China is an absolute hoot from start to finish
    “Which Lo Pan? Little old basket case on wheels or the ten foot tall roadblock?”

    With Russell never more charismatic, Hong at his eclectic best, and a dazzling array of martial arts, sorcery, monsters and mayhem, Carpenter was, indeed, ahead of the game with this genre bunk-up. After the romantic SF fable of Starman, fans and critics simply didn't know what to expect from him next. It seems, also, that Carpenter was equally as unsure in which direction to turn, himself, but was certainly content to be along for the ride. As far as I am concerned the last great, truly entertaining and audacious films that he made were this and In The Mouth of Madness, the bewildering plummet into mediocrity that would take control of most of his ensuing movies from Prince Of Darkness onwards something that I still can't fathom, and continue to mourn. But, the essential thing is that John Carpenter has a solid series of at least eight classic genre movies behind him, and even the seven or so substandard entries that followed this offer plenty to enjoy - be it the fluid visuals, the mesmeric music or simply the fact that he actually attempts to tackle different themes, albeit whilst dressing them up in his beloved fantasy and sci-fi apparel.

    Big Trouble In Little China is an absolute hoot from start to finish. The action is great, the comedy addictive and the main character one of the most memorably goofy of the 80's. John Carpenter and co. were clearly having a ball making the film and the madcap, irreverent vibe that they provide it with makes for a wonderfully irresistible experience. Back when it debuted, non-one knew how to take it. Now, with the appropriate bucket-full of salt we can see it for the excitingly irreverent fantasy classic that it is. Gore Verbinski and Disney would even sample some of this madcap mayhem and mixed-up fantastical mood for Pirates of the Caribbean, proving that Carpenter was ahead of the curve with this one. Hell, Jack even pre-empts John McClane in the vest-wearing heroic stakes. (Mind you, I really want to get a pair of those side-stitched moccasin boots that he wears!)

    The second to last great John Carpenter movie hits UK Blu-ray in style and, green eyes or not, this is one rare exotic bird that you should waste no time in whisking off to your lair to fawn over. Officially, this gets an 8 out of 10 but, hey, as ol' Jack Burton always says “ahhhh, what the hell ...” So, just between you and me ... you can lash another point on top of that if you like. This baby’s worth it.

    "Crackerjack" stuff, folks.

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