Big Trouble in Little China is an awesomely goofy movie that has a pleasure zone a mile wide, and because it’s so bonkers without ever looking back, it’s nearly impossible not to be fully entertained by the spirited, comic-book inspired antics on display. Despite bombing in theaters when it was released in 1986, John Carpenter’s action romp has found a massive cult following thanks in large part to the VHS-era and the huge cable movie boom of the 80’s and 90’s. Gary Goldman and David Weinstein’s original script (set in the old West circa 1880) was completely re-worked by Buckaroo Banzai helmer W.D. Richter, with the final result splicing martial arts, Asian sorcerery, genial comedy, big stunts, and lots of cheesy-awesome special effects into a tongue-in-cheek package that feels as audacious as it does harmlessly silly. Kurt Russell was absolute gold as beefy truck driver Jack Burton, all cocky swagger and macho bluster, while Kim Cattrall, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, and James Hong delivered robust supporting performances.
The plotting is totally ridiculous and all the more enjoyable for being positively over the top; movies like this are a tough nut to crack on a tonal level but all of the creative parties knew exactly what they were doing. Dean Cundey’s shimmery widescreen cinematography is absolutely gorgeous in that old-school celluloid fashion, while the adventurous musical score from Carpenter and Alan Howarth set the perfect mood. And the sets and production design by John Lloyd were totally remarkable, resulting in a film that feels twice as big as its reported $25 million budget. After the lukewarm critical reception and box office failure of the film, Carpenter took a more independent direction with his filmmaking career before settling into lower-budgeted studio offerings with mixed success. While my favorite film of his continues to be Starman, and Escape from New York is a bonafide classic and The Thing a fan favorite for so many, there’s something rambunctiously exuberant about Big Trouble in Little China that really allows it to stand out in the crowd as an extremely memorable and offbeat piece of work.