Malaika’s got a bit of a thing for campy martial-arts films, and 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China, directed by John Carpenter (later featured in They Live) is clearly no exception. Well, I’ve got BTiLC cued up on my DVR, so it’s time to live-review it! Here goes…
Half a city block in San Francisco’s Chinatown has apparently exploded in a ball of green flame, and it’s got something to do with Jack Burton…so who is Jack Burton? Naturally, it’s Kurt Russell, truck driver. But what has a cornbread truck driver got to do with a humongous green ball of flame?
Well, after winning a $1000 bet from his buddy Wang, who subsequently insists on going to SFO rather than paying up, Burton insists on driving him to the airport, just to be safe. It turns out Wang is picking up his green-eyed Chinese girlfriend…problem is that a group of Chinese street thugs kidnap her first. Shortly thereafter, and completely unrelated, Jack and Wang witness a pretty messy gang fight in the middle of Chinatown from the relative safety of Jack’s semi cab. Naturally this street fight is eventually taken over by Lo Pan (the man with light coming out of his mouth) and his three supernatural “storms”. It’s all very strange. Burton eventually runs over Lo Pan in his truck, but it doesn’t actually hurt him. He’s totally chill about it, even, but I guess that’s just the way non-corporeal beings roll.
Wang and Jack get a tip from unconvincing local lawyer Kim Cattrall that the Lords of Death were the kidnappers, grabbing the girl for a quick human trafficking sale. Jack goes to a brothel looking for her, but instead Lo Pan and his immense ball of green flame steal her away from the brothel.
Naturally, Jack and Wang chase after the supernatural toughs, which is a pretty bad idea, considering their martial arts skills are practically zero. Along this adventure they exit a flooding elevator into the Hell of the Upside-Down Sinners, which is a tank filled with corpses hanging from chains. Quite a pleasant place to vacation, really. Soon they are face to face with David Lo Pan, the old, wheelchair bound man (with some of the worst old-man makeup this side of Cloud Atlas), who basically admits his quest for a green-eyed Chinese girl, whose sacrifice will help him break an ancient curse.
Well, sure. That makes sense. Though it’s not entirely clear how wheelchair guy and light-from-the-mouth guy are the same dude. He just transforms from time to time, and it has something to do with his impressive coke nail.
Anyway, Jack and Wang are pretty darn inept, but they manage somehow to escape through a sewer while springing a whole cadre of kidnapped girls, including Kim Cattrall, but not including the green-eyed girlfriend. During the escape, Wang suddenly turns into a martial arts master, which makes no sense at all.
Oh, and while everybody else is getting away, they don’t see Kim Cattrall (incidentally, also green-eyed) getting grabbed by a giant orange Yeti thing. She is brought to Supernatural Lo Pan’s lair, where she finds the green-eyed girl floating in midair. Hypnotized, they are put through a bizarre ritual where they “survive the burning blade and tame the savage heart” or some such thing. This means that they are suitable to lift Lo Pan’s curse, so he plans to marry and kill both of them. Oh, no, wait. He plans to kill Cattrall and hang on to the green-eyed Chinese girl. Clever way to have one’s caked-on make-up and sacrifice it too.
Meanwhile, with the help of the bus driver Egg (Plain? Bland? Her?), Jack and Wang have assembled a good-guy Chinese gang to infiltrate Lo Pan’s lair and rescue them. They see a beholder straight out of the D&D Monster Manual, drink a magic potion, and then face off against Lo Pan in his over-neoned wedding chamber.
I bet they win. And I bet it’s going to take a ton of martial arts to do so. I’m right, of course, and Jack kills Lo Pan and rescues the girls, but not before Lo Pan crosses his coke nails and shoots rainbows out of them. Kim Cattrall and Jack also kiss, causing her to ask, “Oh god, is this really happening?” – something that didn’t really cross her mind when a supernatural Chinese man shot rainbows out of his coke nails. Kurt Russell must be a REALLY good kisser. Then the escape goes on altogether too long and they suddenly have to flee the cops, who have shown up unannounced for a completely unknown reason. Finally the movie is over (or is it? The Yeti thing is hitching a ride on Jack’s rig…) and Jack leaves without Cattrall, because he’s too cool for the girl.
Oh boy, is this a bad movie. Seriously. It’s littered with a witless series of none-liners and unrelentless exposition in dialogue (paraphrased example: “Lo Pan?!? You mean the man who was turned into an evil immortal being by the Emperor in 274 B.C.?” “Yes, and the one who needs to marry a green-eyed girl and sacrifice her in order to break his curse?”). The martial arts are mostly choreographed in a robotic, stiff fashion, and the plot really makes pretty much no sense outside of the fact that there are some good guys who are trying to save some girls from some bad guys.
But hey, neon wedding chambers and coke-nail rainbows!