This week on the B movie docket is Big Trouble in Little China
B movies are the glue stuck in between all the other genres, oftentimes refusing to conform to any particular genre presets. Some but not all of the hallmarks of a B movie include scripts that read like they were written by a room full of eighth-graders, poor visual effects, cringe-inducing dialogue, low budget production design, and zany plot contrivances. You’re aware of the hallmarks, right? B-movies often reek of amateur flair. Thought you were about to watch a great white shark hunted dramatically like only Steven Spielberg can deliver? Nope, this is Sharknado.
Why do we love B movies? I think B movies are comforting. You know what you’re about to watch is bad. If you’re fortunate it may be so bad that it’s good. You’ll often scratch your head trying to work out the plot. Out of the many good films you’ve seen, I bet you can talk with more vigor about the worst ones you’ve seen. They’re unforgettable. Something is comforting about that I think. Besides they’ve been around just as long as the movie industry.
Believe it or not, chances are there’s a B movie for you. So I compiled a list of 50 B movies you must see before you die. No decade is off-limits. No rating is too taboo. For the next 49 weeks, I will introduce and recommend a B movie for your viewing pleasure. Yes, these are exciting times indeed my fanatical friends.
WEEK 44 – Big Trouble in Little China
Do you know what ol’ Jack Burton says at a time like this? Welcome Back to 50 B Movies. This is where I discuss the best or worst B movies to watch. It’s a mixed bag. But today’s film is a true blast from the past. Premiering in 1986, Big Trouble in China is directed by the man who brought the movie-going audience the iconic wraith, Michael Myers. John Carpenter directed this B movie tour de force with a screenplay written by Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, and W. D. Richter.
The films setting feels like a living, breathing locale. Granted it’s not Avatar. You won’t find yourself crying when it’s over and developing depression because the world was so beautiful. There’s no guest appearance of Pandora. But China town is certainly not what it appears on the surface. Deep below the veneer of Egg Foo Yung bus tours and trinket shops, some dark things are happening. But Carpenter and his crew breathe life into this film’s settings. Which there are many of. They house some very elaborate and thrilling set pieces full of martial arts and magic.
The best B movies deliver memorable characters if nothing else. The plot can be as thin as a ham and cheese sandwich. But a heaping wallop of character can elevate the watching experience. Thankfully, Carpenter knows the B movie recipe and he knows it well. So, let’s talk about characters. The film is full of them.
The main protagonist Jack Burton is played by the man whose portrayal in another movie, Escape From New York helped inspired videogame director Hideo Kojima to create one of the best gaming characters, Solid Snake. That every man is Kurt Russel. His acting work with Jack Burton is punctuated with comedic machismo. He is a fish out of water fighting for his life, gasping to understand the strange circumstances he has found himself in.
The movie’s second lead, Wang Chi is portrayed by Dennis Dun. Thankfully, Carpenter doesn’t sink into crass potshots at the expense of another race. Instead, Wang is probably portrayed as more competent and pliable than Burton. Wang is no sidekick. It’s his quest to rescue his fiancée Miao Yin that provides the narrative thrust in the first act.
The two heroes do not go on their quest unaided. They have Egg Shen, played by Victor Wong as an old mystic whose day job includes operating Chinatowns Egg Foo Yung bus tour. Wong is no stranger to B movie land. He later had a role in 1990’s Tremors.
Leading the oppositions stand in the way of our heroes is David Lo Pan who is portrayed by the legendary James Hong. He’s appeared in many movies including Chinatown, Blade Runner, and Wayne’s World 2. If you’re a fan of 90’s cartoons or animated movies. You will instantly recognize his voice as the villainous Chi Fu from the 1998 version of Mulan. His work as David Lo Pan is perfect.
There are many villainous henchmen in this movie. None of them are as awesome as the Three Storms. Thunder, Rain, and Lighting are some of the finest B movie villains to have existed. They are played by the following actors in order: Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, and James Pax.
The tale is decent. Jack Burton and his buddy Wang Chi are out to pick up Wang’s fiancée from the airport. There they run afoul of some street gang dressed in snazzy black outfits. In all the ruckus that ensues, the gang flees with Miao Yin. They plan to pass her off to the gangly old man David Lo Pan. She has green eyes. And he is Jonesing for a green-eyed bride.
Thus, begins a story to rescue Miao Yin before she becomes the ghastly bride of Lo Pan. Along the way the heroes allow another green-eyed girl to get kidnapped. This green-eyed girl is played by Kim Cattrall. She is most recognizable as Samantha Jones from the 90’s sitcom Sex and the City.
Here’s the synopsis: Kurt Russell plays hard-boiled truck driver Jack Burton, who gets caught in a bizarre conflict within, and underneath, San Francisco’s Chinatown. An ancient Chinese prince and Chinatown crime lord has kidnapped a beautiful green-eyed woman, who is the fiancée to Jack’s best friend. Jack must help his friend rescue the girl before the evil Lo Pan uses her to break the ancient curse that keeps him a fleshless and immortal spirit.
Many characters outright inspired the creation of several characters from the iconic videogame Mortal Kombat. Those that stand out are the clear resemblance between Raiden and Lightning. And there is also the soul-sucking Shang Tsung’s resemblance to David Lo Pan. So, we can thank Big Trouble in Little China for helping inspire two of the original Mortal Kombat characters.
Give this movie a watch for a good romp through the ’80s. The effects have even aged well. For a movie made in 1986, it’s one of the best covered here in this column. It’s one of my favorite 80’s movies. Kurt Russell was the man in the ’80s. As far as I’m concerned, he’s still the man now. So, remember what Jack Burton always says: what the hell, give Big Trouble in Little China a watch.