Wow. It certainly has been a slow news day. I can’t even find something to be humorously angry about! So instead, I’ll talk about something I absolutely love:
John Carptenter’s Summer of 1986 classic, Big Trouble in Little China
For those of you unaware (which would mean anyone without cable television between 1987-Present), BTiLC is by far the finest cinematic epic ever to grace our silver screens. That’s a bold statement I know, and I’m sure some of you are already saying to yourself, “But Aaron, what about ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ or even ‘Black Belt Jones’, the second greatest story ever told?”. Let me assure you that by the end of this little post, you’ll either agree with me, or be cast into the hell of upside down sinners.
First off, the film is a 99 minute, slobbering love fest to the Shaw Brothers style ‘chop-socky’ films of the late 60’s/early 70’s. It’s a big-budget homage to a style of film that wouldn’t be popularized in mainstream Hollywood until nearly 15 years later with belated American acceptance of Jackie Chan’s genius, the Matrix, and the wuxia style art-house flavored Kill Bill. While the Matrix (I’m ignoring the 2 sequels because frankly, they sucked.) only took the fighting and visual style of those chop-socky films, Big Trouble co-opted the look without sacrificing the mysticism, humor, and flair that it’s fathering films made their trademark. It’s steeped in black magic, fortune cookie-esque statements, and freaky monsters.
Secondly, it’s the only film I can think of that made it’s only bankable star the sidekick. That’s right. Jack Burton (aka Snake Pliskin, aka Kurt Russell) is, for all intents and purposes, the damn sidekick. How’s that? Well, in addition to being chock full of bravado and machismo (delivered in a great John Wayne impersonation), he never gets anything right. He’s constantly getting the shit kicked out him, he drops his weapons, he’s waaaay out of his depth, and his ‘little buddy’ (a phenomenal Danny Dun) is the one who does the most work. Which for the familiar, is a direct lift from The Green Hornet, a 70’s TV show starring Bruce Lee as the faithful (and ever so much more compentent) sidekick Kato. What exactly does Burton contribute to the adventure besides bravado and Trucker Sex Appeal ™? Not much more than humor, actually. Which is what makes Big Trouble such a welcome change from the Serious Tough Guy films that were so prevalant at the time. (I mean c’mon…Cobra? ‘Crime is the disease. Meet the Cure’. Mmm..tastes like Reagan-era republican bullshit!)
Let’s take a look at some of Burton’s best lines:
‘When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, looks you crooked in the eye and asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like that: “Have ya paid your dues, Jack?” “Yessir, the check is in the mail.” ‘
“Ok, you people! Sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we’re not back by dawn… call the president.”
Comedy gold, folks. Comedy gold. The humor in this movie works incredibly well. And it’s mostly due to Kurt Russell’s delivery. This is not a man know for intentionally funny acting folks, and here he’s in a form that he’s never been able to match since. It’s a straight faced delivery that perfectly captures this ignorant trucker’s complete dumbfoundness at being exposed to the world of Chinese black magic, while at the same time using run-of-the-mill tough guy cliches that are usually taken a hell of a lot more seriously.
Even the normally grating Kim Cattrall is fun to watch in this film. A full year before her star-making turn in the touching drama, “Mannequin”, and 4 years after her ground-breaking debut in the heartbreaking coming of age classic, “Porky’s”, Cattrall’s Gracie Law is a perfect prissy foil for our kinda-hero, with plenty of great back-and-forths and sexual innuendos both rebuffed and accepted.
Folks, the cast is great. The sets are fantastic and the action is a hoot. If you haven’t seen this movie, you don’t deserve the sense of sight nature blessed you with. This is the kind of movie that reminds us just how shitty modern film-making is. Hollywood has completely forgotten how to make funny, action-based films that don’t reek of irony or parody. It’s an unabashedly sentimental film in it’s way, and it delivers everything it promises and more. Go! Go now! Rent this classic film and then the next time you sit though some colon-blowing shit-fest like XXX, cry to the heavens the gone glory days of the Summer of 1986, when films like The Fly, Aliens, Big Trouble in Little China ruled the screens.
Come to think of it, 1986 was one bad-ass year for movies. Let’s look at some of the releases from that year: “The Mission”, “Platoon”, “Blue Velvet”, “Salvador”, “Star Trek 4”, “Stand By Me”, “Heartbreak Ridge”, “Top Gun”, “Legend”, “Little Shop of Horrors”, “Hannah and her Sisters”, and lest we forget, the greatest love story ever told, “The Karate Kid Part II”, which introduced us to a world where Peter Cetera would take us to his castle far awaaaaaaaaaay.
Yes, the world was a better place then. Saturday Morning was stilled ruled by Cartoons (a tradition we have sadly destroyed. How I mourn for our children.), Mr. T still took time out of his crime-fighting, fool-pitying life to teach us all how to live, laugh, and love, and George W. Bush was nothing more than yet another drunken coke-fiend coasting by on his parent’s money.
Those were the days…..and Big Trouble in Little China was THE movie that kept our planet happily spinning along, saving us from being flung off into space like so much polo-wearing dandruff..