No 430 - Big Trouble in Little China
Director - John Carpenter
This film was recommended to me by Mr Elliot Biddle who seems to think it is utterly utterly brilliant. The signs certainly looked promising, I'm a big fan of Mr John Carpenter and this was made during his period of 'good films' in the late 70's and early 80's. Saying that I do have a guilty pleasure in the adorable rubbishness that is his 'Vampires' film.
So, this was not only the first time I had watched this film but also the first time I had seen Carpenter tackle anything that wasn't horror. I was naturally interested. And I was rather surprised when watching it.
I didn't know quite what to expect but it certainly wasn't this. This is a film that hasn't aged well, and it bonkers. Utterly, illogically, bonkers.
Lets start with the ageing process and discuss just how 80's this film looks.
Firstly, Kurt Russell's glorious mullet. There is no way that this hair will ever look cool again and I thank God for that. It is a truly atrocious hairstyle and helps date the film far better than anything could, even having man with a sign reading THIS IS THE MID 80s!!!! would be a more subtle notification.
It is awful!
Secondly the eyebrows. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but ladies in the 80s had much larger eyebrows than they do nowadays. In this film I'm talking specifically about Kim Cattrall and Suzee Pai who are both gorgeous (but more about that later) but also both have truly intimidating eyebrows.... Maybe it was colder in the 80s and ladies needed more facial insulation. In these days of global warming we've probably forgotten just how crisp the air was in 1986.
Thirdly, the excellent special effects. I don't know if making lightning on film was discovered in the 80s but nearly every film in that decade uses the bloody effect. Whether you were accidentally shrinking the kids, making sure that there can be only one, or out busting ghosts, chances are that squiggly bolts of lightning would be making an appearance.
And the monsters! Let us talk about the monsters, for there are 2 or 3 that appear in this film and they open up an interesting question. John Carpenter made the film The Thing in 1982, a full 4 years before this film, for The Thing he made some truly horrific monsters, yes they look dated now, but they were excellent for their time. So, it seems a fair assumption that over those 4 years special effects should have improved. However, the monsters in this film are appalling Weird Science-esque latex muppets. Obvious fakes which aren't in the least bit scary. Are we supposed to be scared of the Guardians? Though both films have dated, it seems weird that the elder of the 2 films has held out the longest. Maybe it is because Big Trouble was going for a more cartoon feel rather than the bleak realism of The Thing.
And finally - but almost most importantly - the biggest example of the terrible aging process is the shocking stereotypical racism. There is no escaping the fact that this is a film with the most politically incorrect Chinese villain since the Iron Man comics. The film may include edgier fare (Such as the Chinese triads) and combine it with some of the country's ancient folklore and mysticism, but the chief villain is still just a big old Fu-Man-Chu stereotype, and that looks kinda awkward these days.
So... this ends the criticisms. Allow me to talk about what I enjoyed.
Firstly, despite the criticisms, I really enjoyed the pointless stupidity, rubbish special effects and casual racism. It helped to make the film into a completely irreverent romp and has the same atmosphere as films like The Princess Bride. Trashy, tongue in cheek films, which don't take themselves seriously. There is definitely a place for those films in my heart.
The other thing is that this is a film from the times when Kim Cattrall was still very hot (she is still very attractive for an older woman, but was much better back in the day) - here is a picture of her, and whilst you are there, check out the eyebrows. My only problem with her character is that he has no arc of development. Just 2 points.
So for the first half of the film she is the blustery busybody (I never worked out if she was a lawyer or a reporter...) who finds Kurt Russell's character obnoxious. Then, 'click' and she hits point 2 and is all flirty flirty snoggy snoggy.
There is no development between these two points. One point stops and the next begins.
However, this lack of development seems to affect all the characters. It is almost as if a massive middle section has been removed from the film, one minute the group of heroes are essentially strangers thrown together by a terrible situation, the next minute they're flirting joking and bickering as if they've known each other for years. It is very confusing.
However, I think that kind of misses the point. If you are watching the film for serious plot and character development you will be sorely disappointed. If you are watching for a comedic fantasy actioner with its tongue firmly in cheek then you will be richly rewarded by a ridiculous plot, fantastical villains, marvellous action set pieces and a Chinese gangster with the best fashion sense I have ever seen (this is made all the more clear when compared to all the terrible suits worn by other people).
Seriously - watch this film just to see Rain of the 3 Storms once he's not in his terrible lampshade hat. He is kick ass.
Peace out folks