Big Trouble In Little China - Blu-ray Review

'regularly entertaining enough to distract you from the fact that Kim Cattrall was a terrible actress long before she undertook intercourse in built-up urban areas'

Given that it mixes multiple genres with the wanton abandon you might cobble together the remnants of various drinks into a homemade cocktail, by rights Big Trouble In Little China should at best leave a bad taste in your mouth, at worst just fall apart completely. The fact that not only does it not do either of these things, but is regularly entertaining enough to distract you from the fact that Kim Cattrall was a terrible actress long before she undertook intercourse in built-up urban areas, means that both director John Carpenter and leading man Kurt Russell deserve hearty pats on the back.

Making Quentin Tarantino’s more recent genre-traversing cinema seem straightforward by comparison, Carpenter begins his film as a relatively straightforward action movie before introducing both spaghetti western and kung fu elements early on, then finally topping things off with a generous dollop of fantasy. It’s a blend that at times will make your head spin, but Carpenter makes it work by keeping things tongue-in-cheek enough that Big Trouble In Little China is never in danger of taking itself too seriously.

It also helps that Carpenter isn’t afraid of going all-out with everything he attempts here. So the fights are pleasingly fast-paced and foot-and-fist-filled, the martial arts impressively choreographed, and the fantasy elements a satisfying blend of the magical and the mysterious. If he had been less confident in his execution, Carpenter could very easily have ended up as the undoing of his own film. As it is, his direction is one of the key reasons Big Trouble In Little China not only works, but works as well as it does.

Russell’s performance as all-American hero Jack Burton is the other crucial component behind the film’s success. In short, Russell as Burton is the glue that keeps things together. His performance combines equal parts the swaggering machismo of John Wayne and the no-nonsense heroism of John McClane, making Jack an action hero not just for the eighties, but for the ages.

Jack also provides a refreshing outsider’s perspective on the fantastical events unfolding throughout. With a plot centring around centuries-old sorceror Lo Pan (James Hong, in a marvellous scenery-chewing performance) striving to break an ancient curse placed upon him, it’s occasionally a challenge to keep up with exactly what’s happening and why. Thankfully, at the moments you might begin scratching your head, Jack is usually there to reassure you by declaring himself to be largely clueless as to what’s going on as well. Like a lorry-driving eighties predecessor to Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, all Jack wants is his truck back. It’s a plot thread of simplicity that’s always welcome - and at times necessary to hold onto - in a film that at times revels in throwing mythology at you quicker than you can digest it.

Occasionally a little too muddled for its own good when concerned with its fantasy elements, Big Trouble In Little China is nonetheless a slice of eighties pulp cinema that’s hard to resist. Carpenter and Russell keep things pacy and enjoyable enough that it’s not hard to forgive the film occasionally biting off a little more than it can chew. In hindsight, it’s no surprise that Big Trouble In Little China overcame its underwhelming cinematic release in 1986 to become the firm cult classic that it is today.

Big Trouble In Little China is released on new UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 16th December.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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