tek's rating:

Big Trouble in Little China (PG-13)
20th Century Studios; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; Scream Factory; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; FandangoNOW; Google Play; iTunes; Movies Anywhere; Vudu

Caution: spoilers!

This movie came out in 1986, when I was like ten years old. I'm writing this review in 2017, after watching it on DVD. Before watching the DVD, I had a vague sense that I might have seen it sometime in the 80s, probably on Betamax. But after watching it, I'm not at all sure, because nothing about it was really familiar. But I suppose it doesn't matter whether I'd seen it before or not; I've seen it now. I also think it's a particularly hard movie to classify. It would fit in so many of my review categories, including action/adventure, badass, comedy, fantasy, martial arts, supernatural, and I'd definitely say it has the feel of a B-movie. But ultimately, I've decided to file it under "weird."

It begins with a tour bus driver from San Francisco's Chinatown, named Egg Shen, being questioned by some city official about, like, an explosion, or something. I dunno. I assumed that would be a framing advice that we'd come back to at the end of the movie, but... we don't. The official particularly wanted to know if Shen knew the whereabouts of truck driver named Jack Burton (Kurt Russell). Shen refuses to answer that, and just says to leave Jack alone, because the city owes him a great debt, whereas it seems the official blames him for the explosion. Or whatever. Also, the official wants to know if Shen really believes in magic and monsters and such things. Which Shen does. It's not a bad introductory scene, I guess, but after seeing the whole movie, I can't help feeling like it was utterly superfluous.

Anyway, the movie then flashes back to Jack Burton, driving his truck and talking on his C.B. radio in a way that seems kind of like he thinks of himself as some sort of wise and witty guru, or something, but which actually sounds more cheesy than, you know, wise or witty. Then he stops in Chinatown, where he makes a delivery and then hangs out with some friends, including a man named Wang Chi. Jack wins a bunch of money on some game, and after the others leave, Wang makes Jack a bet, nothing or double. (You heard me.) And Wang loses, but he doesn't have the money to pay Jack what he owes right away. Instead, he goes with Jack to the airport to pick up a woman named Miao Yin, who is arriving from China. She's Wang's fiancee, and he's been saving money for years to bring her to America. Unfortunately, before they can meet, she's kidnapped by some gangsters from Chinatown. The scene is complicated by the fact that Jack has just met a lawyer named Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), who is waiting for another Chinese woman, named Tara. I'm not at all sure whether the gangsters actually meant to kidnap Miao Yin or Tara, and I was also surprised that Tara herself never played any kind of role in the plot. Anyway, Jack and Wang try to stop the kidnappers, and follow them in Jack's truck. But things get still more complicated when a street fight breaks out between rival gangs in Chinatown. And then some sort of mystical dudes with super lightning powers show up. And then when Jack and Wang try to get away, an even mysticaller guy named Lo Pan (James Hong) just stands in front of his truck and... phases right through it. So Jack and Wang take off on foot, trying to escape all this madness.

Eventually, Jack finds out that his truck has been stolen by one of the gangs, so of course he wants to get it back. But more importantly, he wants to help Wang get his fiancee back. This means he will have to come to terms with the fact that magic and curses and shit like that are all real. Lo Pan is actually a couple of thousand years old, and sometimes he appears in the form Jack originally saw, but without any physicality. Other times he appears as a much older man in a wheelchair. And because of some ancient curse, he needs to marry a woman with green eyes, to regain his physical form... but he then has to kill his bride. Anyway, Jack and Wang get some help from Gracie, as well as a reporter she's working with named Margo, and a friend of Wang's named Eddie Lee, and Egg Shen, who is a sorcerer and expert on Lo Pan, whom he is sworn to defeat. Of course, Lo Pan has a bunch of powerful minions of his own. And while his original plan was to marry the green-eyed Miao Yin, he later realizes that Gracie also has green eyes, so he plans to marry both of them, and only kill Gracie.

Well... lots of crazy stuff happens throughout the movie. It's all pretty redonkulous, but also amusing. And probably the best part of the movie is that Jack, who is presented as the ostensible action hero (a la Snake Plissken), actually turns out to be the least effective member of the team that's trying to rescue Miao Yin and Gracie. I mean, he's still kind of badass, and does make some important contributions to the battles (particularly at the end). But as some other websites will tell you, he's really more of an unwitting comic sidekick. Which is awesome, for a number of reasons. But anyway... well... I enjoyed the movie. And I can understand why it's become a cult classic, even if I can't manage to really love it, myself. It was undeniably fun.


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