Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Genre: Action/Adventure, Comedy

Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, James Hong

Synopsis: Russell stars as a hick truck driver roped into saving his friend’s mail-order bride from sinister magical forces in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

First of all, I apologize for not posting this review sooner: I’m currently in the process of moving apartment and I don’t have much in the way of internet access. I’m sure you all came here on Wednesday and were like: “where the fuck is the new review!?” while angrily shaking your fist to the sky. Don’t worry, kind readers, I have not abandoned you. Also, before I get started, I would just like to express my sorrow at Roger Ebert’s passing. He was truly a wonderful critic and an exemplary human being. I don’t think that I can ever be as good as he was in writing about movies but he has left a terrific legacy and it’s such a shame that he is no longer with us.

Now on to business. Big Trouble in Little China is racist but it’s the best kind of racism where every Asian person is either Jackie Chan or Uncle from Jackie Chan Adventures. I think it’s quite easy for people to be turned off by this movie if they have any experience of what China is actually like. My brother didn’t like the movie, for example, but I loved it. My knowledge of Asian culture is pretty limited to be honest. I do, however, have a somewhat general understanding of Asian-American culture thanks to my many Asian-American friends, my time studying critical race theory, and by reading The Joy Luck Club. If you watch this as an Asian-American film through the eyes of people who know nothing about Asian culture then it actually becomes a very enjoyable b-movie, kind of like noire-magic-race relations movie. This movie is what would happen if Amy Tan had a baby with Quentin Tarantino and then that baby did a shit ton of coke.

The premise of the movie is actually pretty good: boorish hillbilly tucker in Chinatown. It could easily have been a film about a man understanding other cultures and learning how to be open-minded. Instead, John Carpenter was like “Nah! Let’s just throw in some crazy pseudo-Asian spirituality and magic” but it totally works! The movie has a certain dry wit to it that I really appreciated. For instance, there’s a scene where some old Chinese guy is driving around gullible tourists in a shoddily constructed tour bus. It’s like a tour of the ghetto which is so brilliant.

Of course, San Francisco Chinatown isn’t much like that anymore. Chinatown was my favorite part of San Francisco. On weekends I used to go wandering around by myself, ignoring the tacky tourist traps on Grant Avenue. Instead I focused my attention on the quieter streets that had more authenticity to them. I liked the Dim Sum bakeries where no-one spoke English and the markets where you could get really cheap food. It’s a wonderful area of the city that is steeped in history. Most locals poo-poo it as being a crappy tourist filled nightmare but it’s not true. If you pay attention it becomes a wonderland. I think that’s why I liked it so much. I was quite lonely in San Francisco and it was as if I had found something special that only I knew about and appreciated. As an immigrant myself, I found comfort in seeing what it was like for others who had been in my position and who had come to pursue their own ‘American dream.’ I felt like there was a connection. In my hunt for my very own slice of Americana I found solace and acceptance in my own foreignness. I wasn’t really as alone as I thought.

Sorry, I wandered off on my own train of thought there for a second. Back to the movie! It’s a lot of fun if you don’t take it seriously. Don’t watch it and think it’s an accurate portrayal of Asian-American life. Enjoy it as a piss-take!

High-lights:

  • Lots of Wangs and Wongs in the opening credits. Penis jokes at the ready!
  • The scene at the whore house where the Madam goes down is hysterical.
  • Lo Pan is a pretty epic villain and he has killer nails! The scene with the knife fight was great.
  • There’s a pretty funny message with Kim Cattrall’s character. I couldn’t tell is she was supposed to be a hot-shot lawyer or a soccer mom. If it’s the latter it’s kind of like she’s saying: “No, white people! Asian problems affect us too.”

Downers:

  • Quite depressing to think that the film’s actually about human trafficking.
  • No, that’s not Mr. Miyagi.

Summary:

It’s easy to see why this is considered by many to be a cult classic. I think it’s a movie everyone should see at least once. What you get out of it depends entirely on your expectations. Watch it going in with none and you’ll be happy. I think both indica and sativa strains would work well with this movie and it’s a film that can be watched by yourself or with friends. I will say this though: after watching the movie go read The Joy Luck Club. Fiction is great but it’s no match for the real thing.

9/10

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11 Comments

Filed under Action/Adventure, Comedy, Great

11 responses to “Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

  1. Haha! Another great review. Makes me want to re-watch it – it was a veeery long time ago that I saw it.

  2. theipc

    This movie is epic! As is this post! Great post! (One of my favorite movies)

  3. I didn’t see this when it first came out, but it was a Saturday afternoon staple on Fox channels in my area.

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