Big Trouble in Little China
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Suzee Pai
Seen on: 21.5.2016
Jack (Kurt Russell) and Wang (Dennis Dun) might be different, but they’re friends. And when Wang’s fiancée Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) is supposed to finally arrive in the USA, they go to the airport together to collect her. But while they wait for her, they witness an attempted abduction of another Chinese woman who is there to be collected by Gracie (Kim Cattrall). Jack intervenes and saves the woman, only to have Miao Yin be abducted instead, landing all of them in the middle of an ancient Chinese war.
Big Trouble in Little China is not always unproblematic, but it is a whole lot of fun. It’s silly and stupid and there are even attempts at trope subversion (mildly successful). I enjoyed myself.
Films about magical-mystical China and their ancient curses and wars always smack of orientalism, at least when they’re made by white people. And while there is a certain amount of subversion in the film of that borderline racist set-up – Jack gets continuously upstaged by Wang; the search for the green-eyed woman isn’t about race even though it looks that way at first -, in the end it doesn’t really manage to get away from the fact that the film still revolves around the white people and the Chinese culture (or most likely a bastardization thereof) is used as an exotic backdrop for them. And after using the entire film to show how awesome Wang is compared to Jack, it’s Jack who gets the last word in and saves the day. It’s also Jack and Gracie’s relationship that gets way more development and while I did enjoy the screwball dynamic, I would have loved to have Wang and Miao equally fleshed out.
But Big Trouble in Little China was charming enough to make me overlook the racist bits, as well as the parts where the women are literally reduced to Macguffins, pretty things to be rescued and give the guys a reward. Instead I concentrated on the silliness and that at least works beautifully and had me laughing more than once.
I liked the martial arts aspect as well. I always enjoy good fight choreographies and mostly prefer even bad ones over simple gun fights (not that those two can’t be combined beautifully). The fights in Big Trouble in Little China aren’t exactly spectacular (especially not compared with what today’s movies have to offer), but they are well done and combined with Dun’s energetic performance and relentless pace, they have their own draw.
I didn’t completely fall in love with it, for that there were too many things that I view critically. But it was good enough for me to enjoy myself a lot. And it was particularly interesting to see Russell in a role that reads almost as a parody of Snake Plissken. Maybe Jack is Plissken before he got too cool for this world? Now that’s an idea that could be worth exploring. Or you can just enjoy Big Trouble in Little China as the silly action comedy it is.