Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
They told Jack Burton to go to hell...and that's exactly where he's going!
Most people would expect me to do a V movie to capitalize on the weekly movie landing on the 5th of November, but quite frankly although the movie had some great quotable quotations, I didn't enjoy it as much as some others did. Since that's that, I instead opted to do a different movie with plenty of gunpowder and memorable moments - one that I enjoy enough to watch on a yearly basis anyways. So this 5th of November, don't bother asking about a treason or plot, but instead ask yourself "What would Jack Burton do?"
A lawyer seems to be having a prep talk with a Chinese man about a large green explosion that happened in Little China recently. Specifically, he would really like to know the location of one Jack Burton - to which the Chinese man responds with "you leave him alone." Trying to understand the situation a little better, the lawyer starts to inquire about his beliefs - such as if he really believes in magic and sorcery and monsters. When he responds yes, the lawyer expresses his disbelief, and undoubtedly has his whole world turned upside down when our Chinese man arcs some lightning between his hands, and we segue into the movie proper.
A truck driver arrives in Little China to unload his wares and meet up with an old friend. After a long night of playing a game of chance, the truck driver is in a very large positive standing, but before his friend can pay up he really needs to get to the airport. A little worried that he plans on skipping town, the truck driver gives the friend a lift to the airport where as it turns out the friend is going to pick up the woman he loves. While at the airport, trouble erupts and she ends up getting kidnapped by a local gang, prompting the two to chase after the gang to get her back - and it's around this point things start to get a little strange. After coming to a stop in an alley while pursuing them, the two are witness to a gang battle. In the middle of the fight, three people come dropping in from the sky (looking very much out of place), and when they decide to enter the fray the friends decide it's time to get the heck out of that alley. The trucker does so the best way he knows how - by laying on the horn and stepping on the gas - and everything seems to go the way it's planned until he hits a mysterious extravagant looking mystery man standing behind the three new arrivals.
Turns out the mystery man was a ghost of sorts, and the three arrivals his soldiers. The friends end up abandoning the truck, only to accidentally run into the gang that stole the friend's girl. They run, with the gang giving chase, but manage to slip away. The stakes intensify after another attempt to rescue the girl ends with her being kidnapped by these "three storms" who massacred those in the alley before and puts the heroes on a path in direct conflict with the ghost from before. Another rescue attempt goes awry, and the two find themselves down yet another girl - making two ladies and a truck now captured by the villain. Will they be able to save the day before it's too late, or will the losses just keep piling up?
On paper, the story might not sound all that awesome and I've no doubt done it a disservice in my summary. It's very much a generic "save the girl" type of story when boiled down to it's sheer basics, but on-screen ends up being more than that. It mixes in Chinese flavorings - as to whether the myths it proclaims are actual things or not I couldn't say, but it certainly feels like it could be - while still having that 'gun-ho' "America!" type character that those not familiar with anything Chinese can still attach too. Later on, the story retains it's "save the girl", but also adds in a "defeat the evil" in the form of the Chinese man from the starting bit with the lawyer - all the while leaving the goofy 'murica guy to chase after his truck and trying to help his friend at the same time. It might not win any writing awards, but it's pretty dang entertaining in flow.
Besides the plot not lingering on any given point for too long, you also have a pretty great and sometimes hammy performance from the crew. There isn't really a character that feels as though they are underacted - although certainly some that are overacted in entertaining ways - and if you don't get a chuckle out of at least one of them then you are being far to serious about this movie. Kurt Russel is certainly one of the folks on my top actors list, and his character in the truck driver is just enough of a loser that although the movie seems like it sets him up as the main character he never really directly does a whole lot outside of bring the comedy and help his friend - up until the final stretch. Victor Wong (who some might remember from another movie I enjoy called Tremors) also does an incredibly entertaining job bringing the eccentric sorcerer and fighter of good to the screen during his screen time, and most of the cast all play up their roles well. If anyone would have to be found lacking, it would most likely be one of the three storms - although since the have such limited lines that aren't just fighting dialogue, it's almost unfair to say so.
Effects work is pretty good for it's age. Some of the practical costumes look a little worse for the wear, but in general things still look wonderful. There's a scene at one point where the lightning wielding member of the Storms impressively melts a ceiling grate for no real apparent reason, but just the shot of him walking towards the screen through the corridor with the super-heated grate falling from the ceiling behind him is just such a cool shot. Of course, as stated, some of the effects are much more noticeable - from stiff looking tunnel-monsters to a kind of floppy "dude in a suit" suit, I won't say that they don't at least look very imaginative. For that time period though, it wasn't bad at all. Audio is well handled, and I'm pretty certain that at least one line will be stuck in your head after seeing the movie.
As far as I'm concerned, the movie might not have exactly shook the pillars of heaven, but it gave me a super enjoyable ride that I come back to on a yearly basis. Everything plays well together, and even when it falters it's never so poorly so that it ruins the experience. On screen chemistries are great, effects work is pretty solid for it's time and many of them still hold up, and it has very good pacing. There's some characters who are less enjoyable than others (one of whom starts off by feeling like a fast-talking exposition dump), and the plot isn't really super elaborate, but in the long run I'd say that for a lot of folks this one would be a strong rental at the least. Considering it's currently (at the time of writing this) on Netflix Streaming, I don't see a reason not to check it out (barring for children who their parent's deem it unacceptable to watch).