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Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble in Little China
Year: 1986
Genre: Action/Comedy
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Kurt Russell, Kim Catrall, Dennis Dun

This is another one of those instances where, like Assault on Precinct 13, where I had to watch a movie several times over many years in order to attempt to appreciate it.  While I don’t have the same level of respect for Big Trouble as I do for Assault, I can finally can at least start to understand just what in the hell this movie is.

big trouble 1Whenever I think of the 80s, this movie, among other things, comes immediately to mind.  When I first watched this film on VHS back in the 80s my first thought was “What was THAT?” and my second though being “Now, where the fuck are my ninja turtles?”  In fact, no matter how many times I watched this movie in the following years, I still never had any idea what the hell was going on in this movie.  I finally decided to sit down and attempt to understand this movie only to realize that it’s not supposed to be understood, it’s just meant to be enjoyed, and it makes that point abundantly clear.

Story?  Well, that’s difficult.  Kurt Russell is a long haul truck driver who stops by in Chinatown (San Francisco I suppose) to hang out with his friend Wang Chi.  Some green-eyed girls are kidnapped by a Chinese gang and Kurt Russell and company jump into the fray to save the day.  Most of the movie is just half-explained Chinese myth and barely motivated characters shuffling from one visually crowded action scene to the next.  Its one of those movies where the action-packed special effect sequences take backseat to the hastily tossed together story.  Rather like a prototype for Michael Bay movies.

big trouble 2As far as John Carpenter films goes this certainly isn’t the best but it’s not his worst either.  It just sits there somewhere in the middle, notable for the fact that its odd as hell.  I suspect, however, that this movie would offend Chinese people – though I have no proof of that.  It doesn’t really paint a flattering picture of the Chinese; in fact most of the villains look like Raiden from “Mortal Kombat.”  When I saw it as a child I assumed automatically that all Chinese people knew magic.  Needless to say, I spent the next few weeks getting my ass kicked by any Asian kid I asked to throw lightening bolts from their hands.

This movie does have striking similarities to another.  There is a blonde girl kidnapped by the bad guy, an All-American Hero whose goal is to save the day – cultural sensitivity be damned, and he has a witty little Chinese sidekick.  Seemed a lot to me like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  In fact, there were times, especially when “Chinese myth” is the only cause of anything, for Kurt Russell to turn to his Chinese sidekick and say “Fortune and Glory kid, Fortune and Glory.”  Yeah, I liked Indiana Jones  better than Big Trouble because, even though they’re both campy homages, at least the former made some goddamn sense.

big trouble 3One last thing I want to mention about this movie.  One of my favorite (and I use the term ironically here) Chinese actors shows up in this film.  Victor Wong as Egg Shen.  He’s one of those “cultural insensitivity be damned” type of characters.   Though his most memorable film role, in my opinion at least, is in Tremors as the Chinese shop owner (“GRABBOIDS!”).  In this film he’s more than a stereotype of a wacky Chinese people – he is the ULTIMATE stereotype of Chinese people.  This role comes really close to Rob Schneider in yellowface playing a Japanese minister in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.  In fact, if Victor Wong WASN’T Chinese, it would be full on yellowface racism.

One last thing I want to mention about this movie.  One of my favorite (and I use the term ironically here) Chinese actors shows up in this film.  Victor Wong as Egg Shen.  He’s one of those “cultural insensitivity be damned” type of characters.   Though his most memorable film role, in my opinion at least, is in Tremors as the Chinese shop owner (“GRABBOIDS!”).  In this film he’s more than a stereotype of a wacky Chinese people – he is the ULTIMATE stereotype of Chinese people.  This role comes really close to Rob Schneider in yellowface playing a Japanese minister in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.  In fact, if Victor Wong WASN’T Chinese, it would be full on yellowface racism.

About The Author
Matthew Coats
Matthew Coats
Formerly known under the pseudonym of Alex Jowski. Site owner, movie aficionado, and film school grad. Matthew Coats presents reviews, some written, some as vlogs, and some as weekly shows, for a variety of different movies and television shows. After years of struggling to get his own projects off the ground amidst the normal routine of living, Matthew Coats decided to create a site in order to share and promote movie reviews, video games and much much more from talented and original people all across the internet.

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