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The Getting of Power: The Forbidden Power Interviews by Kent Hill

The films of Paul Kyriazi hold a special place in my cinema-viewing  adventures throughout the years. I, naturally, encountered them during the heady days of the era of VHS –  I still have my copies in that format of Paul’s work. Then, not unlike Terrence Malick, Paul disappeared, and I lamented his absence having come to admire his film-making style and diversity.

So, rejoice I did, when I learned that he had returned to the director’s chair. Eagerly I sat down to watch Forbidden Power – and I was not disappointed. With his new film, Paul returns with his unique voice, his visual dexterity and his great command of unfolding an exciting thriller that doesn’t release its grip on you till it’s time to fade to black.

Fascinated by his study in the field of personal empowerment, Paul takes us on a journey where the achieving of super-human abilities is contracted via sexual intercourse. The character at the center of the story is a mysterious and provocative woman – who seemingly hypnotizes her partners with a type of mystical persuasion. The character we follow, after his eerie yet passion-fueled encounter with the female antagonist, wakes to find her vanished, but also having left behind for him a gift of sorts.

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In this superhero-movie-saturated age we find ourselves, it was refreshing to witness a different spin on the getting of super-powers. Our hero, just like in any superhero origin story, has a delightful time discovering the extent of his new-found abilities. But, as it is with the coming of great power, there comes along with it, great responsibility.

Thus we go along on the adventure, and soon discover that plot is deeper than one might first imagine. I’ve no intention of spoiling it for you here, because I want you to see the movie. What it will say is – this is well crafted film-making that you can definitely become immersed in.

It was a true honor for this fan, not only to talk to Paul, but also to two of the film’s stars – the stunning and talented Nazanin Nuri and the man, the legend, Harry Mok (another exceptional, multi-talented performer whom I too, like Paul, encountered first in the heyday of home video).

I encourage you to seek out Forbidden Power, if you are a fan of Kyriazi cinema or not. I promise you, you will not be disappointed…

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{Courtesy of http://www.paulkyriazi.com/}

At age 8, I see The Making of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on Disneyland TV and decided to become a movie director. Age 16, I start filming 20 minute action stories using my father’s 8mm camera. Age 18, my father bought me a used Bolex camera. I film a 30 min color action movie titled Trapped and it wins the Berkeley Film Festival. I start taking karate to be like James Bond. My Sensei introduces me to samurai movies. Seeing that action with great film techniques of the Japanese directors, moves me into martial arts movies, even before the TV show Kung Fu. I transferred to San Francisco State University making more 20 minute karate stories and placing 3rd in the next Berkeley Film Festival. I graduate with a BA in film. I join the Air Force movie department and film space launches for NASA. I take leave to film my first feature Drawn Swords in 35mm black & white Techniscope. It’s about 3 samurai going to England to enter a fencing tournament. I use all my cash and credit cards, loans, and refinancing my car. I get out of the Air Force and return to San Francisco unable to sell my movie. I promise myself if I get another break I will make a color movie that is so commercial the distributors will have to buy it. I meet karate tournament fighter Ron Marchini who has me re-edit and sell his Philippine produced movie Murder in the Orient. Ron then hired me to write and direct Death Machines. To be commercial, we come up with a story of 3 karate killers (white, black, Asian) to cover all markets. Then we add a cop/gangster plot, big fight scenes in a karate dojo, bar, and police station, and we actually blew up a piper cub airplane. The completed movie is immediately picked up by Crown International Pictures with big advertising. It opened in 50 theaters in LA making it a #14 top grosser. However, I still can’t raise the money to produce my own movie, so I direct a sequence for Sesame Street. I pick up a copy of The Million Dollar Secret Hidden in Your Mind by Anthony Norvel. I take his classes for three months in LA, then return to the San Francisco. In 10 days I raise the money to produce and direct Weapons of Death. The panavision film plays all over the USA breaking a house record in a New York theater. I next produce and direct Ninja Busters. This was followed by the cops and gangsters story One Way Out. Next came writing and directing Omega Cop starring: Adam ‘Batman’ West, Troy Donahue, and Stuart Whitman. An actress from Weapons of Death hires me to produce a travelogue in Phuket, Thailand, Thailand Adventure proving you never know what contact will end up getting you movie work. I write two novels in hopes of getting them produced as movies. When many people ask me “How do you survive as a freelance?” I write How to Live the James Bond Lifestyle. In 2003, I produce In the West – a 90 minute travel production for Japan. Appearance by Pat Morita. In 2005, I produce my novel Rock Star Rising as an audio-book narrated by Rod Taylor, performed by Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, Robert Culp, James Darren, and Kevin McCarthy. It has full effects and music, making it an “audio movie” of sorts. In 2006, I direct the largest production in audio-book history, McKnight’s Memory. Narrated by Frank Sinatra Jr, it stars Robert Culp, Nancy Kwan, Don Stroud, Henry Silva, Alan Young, David Hedison, and Edd Kookie Byrnes. In 2007, I Direct Edd Byrnes’ My Casino Caper audio-book. It’s Edd’s memoir of being stalked for his 3 million dollar Las Vegas win. With Alan Young, Henry Silva, and David Hedison playing themselves, recreating the incident that happened in 1977. Michael Callen plays the part of criminal that stalked Edd. In 2008, I direct Barbara Leigh’s The King, McQueen, and the Love Machine audio-book. Her memoir of being a top model involved with Elvis, Steve McQueen and MGM president Jim Aubrey. Joe Esposito introduces it and plays himself in the dramatizations. In  2012, I update & expand the James Bond Lifestyle on Kindle, Nook, iTunes & Kobo. In 2013, I write & produce – 3 Wild Thrillers – Three fiction stories on Kindle that includes the audio-book. In 2014, I produce The Mexican Swimmer, a 3 hour audio-book performed by Julian Scott Urena. I also write Wicked Players, a story of gambling and survival in wild Las Vegas

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{Excerpt from http://www.nasaninnuri.com/}

I always imagined moving to New York City, before even really knowing what that meant. As a child, I spoke gibberish, pretending to be American, and constantly begged my family to travel to New York. Somehow, without having ever seen any of it in person, I was fascinated by the skyscrapers, Statue of Liberty, and the opportunity New York City had to offer. For as long as I can remember, I had this recurring dream, where I was swimming for so long, exhausted and not sure where I was going, until finally I’d look up and realize I’d swam all the way to New York City. I’d wake up screaming, “I made it! I made it!” I finally left everything in Switzerland behind and made my way to US as an Au Pair. In 2012, with just two suitcases, I moved to San Francisco and lived with a host family. After a year in the states, I began to feel comfortable communicating and expressing myself in English. I extended my job for another year and moved to Long Island, New York. After working for two years as an Au Pair, I was ready to pursue my dream. I moved to New York City and signed up for ESL classes to master my English. As fate would have it, I stumbled upon The William Esper Studio, an acting school that changed my life forever. I was honored to be accepted in Bill Esper’s acting class and enrolled in the two year full-time program. As cheesy as it sounds, acting found me! As I studied the art and spent time learning the craft in my classes, I increasingly realized that my entire journey led me to what I really love. Acting is my calling and all I want to do in my life. At the end of my first year of acting school, I spent the summer of 2016 in Switzerland. I wrote and starred in my first short film entitled “Where Am I”. The film was very well received at the Wellington Film Festival with an honorable mention as it won the “Best Narration” category. I graduated from The William Esper Studio in summer 2017 and was right away cast as the lead – playing Veronica Hawthorn – in Paul Kyriazi’s feature film “Forbidden Power”. After we were done shooting “Forbidden Power” in Seattle I traveled to Utah to film an experimental short film that I wrote, produced and starred in. That untitled short film is in the editing phase and expected to be released in 2018

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{Courtesy of https://www.martialartsentertainment.com/harry-mok/}

Harry Mok’s career in the entertainment industry is attributed to his well-known expertise in the martial arts field. His career began as an actor and stuntman, performing and or starring in such films as Rambo II, Uncommon Valor, TC 2000, Talons of the Eagle, Femme Fontaine, For Life or Death, College Kickboxers, The Vineyard, Tiger Claws II, Ninja Busters, and more. In 1987, Harry produced and wrote his first feature film, The Vineyard, which was released by New World Pictures. Shortly after, he began producing, creating, and designing action games for Atari/Time Warner Interactive. During this period, Harry invented a new filming technology, a 180 degree five camera blue/green screen system that would revolutionize digitization of 2D characters. He filed a patent for this technology. In August of 2005 Harry was honored with induction into the prestigious GSKA Black Belt Hall of Fame. In January 2007, he was inducted into the World Martial Arts Masters Hall of Fame. He is currently based in Northern California. He is one of the founders of 10+ Entertainment and is currently involved with producing a new reality show, New Hollywood Stars.

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“I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of … feel kind of invincible.” : An Interview with W.D. Richter by Kent Hill

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To talk about W.D. (Rick) Richter, is to talk about one of my all-time favorite films, Big Trouble in Little China. It is, to put it simply, one of those films that comes along (not so much anymore) once in a generation. As we know in this age of remakes, reboots and re-imaginations, there is a very good chance that this film, because of its staying power and built-in fan base, will more than likely resurface with Dwayne Johnson playing Jack Burton. Just like Hansel in Zoolander he is, as far as the Studios are concerned, so hot right now!

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And you can be your bottom dollar that it will try like hell to recapture the magic of what was – and more than likely – crash ‘n’ burn in its attempt to do so. I might be wrong. Because, BTILC, was and is what is often referred to as a “happy accident”. What began as a seemingly awkward combination of a western with a plot that involved Chinese black magic became, thanks to my guest, a glorious blending of genres that there is really no recipe for.

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I rarely get nervous doing interviews, but I was glad to be sitting down for this one. When the person on the other end of the line had a hand in creating a couple of the seminal film of one’s existence . . . it is tough to play it cool, plus for the first time in a long time, I found the need to have my questions written, rather than merely see what the conversation would provoke. Primarily because I knew I was only going to have a limited time, and secondly because during our email exchanges prior to the chat, I found Rick to be extremely matter-of-fact and, wishing not to have the interview published in audio form, he merely wanted to be concise and not ramble on as, he says, has happened in the past.

So I sat and pondered questions. Having read other interviews with him in the past, before he’d stepped away from the business, the focus was on the films he had released at the time and didn’t really get below the surface. Off the record, we spoke about a few of the things that were beneath the polished exterior of the press kits, but that was not all that interested me. There have been many books and articles on his films, as well as many having excellent special features and commentary tracks which mine their depths – so I wasn’t going to waste time there.

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In the end I waited till the last minute and scribbled down the first questions that popped into my head. Some of course are elementary, but one or two I’ve had on my mind for a while.

Well, it took a long time, but sometimes, good things do. It was well worth the wait and the frustrating silences in between messages from Rick’s friend who very graciously made the introductions, and I, as a fan first, was humbled, honored and thrilled at the prospect of speaking to yet another film-making idol of mine.

While Rick, early in our email exchanges said, “I prefer to let he films, for better or worse, speak for themselves.” I am and will be forever grateful he took the time to talk a little about his work. In the end I wasn’t nervous or scared at all . . . I felt kind of invincible.

 

KH: Did you always want to work in movies and if so what were the films which influenced you?

WDR: First I wanted a paper route.  Then I wanted to run a circus.  Then I thought about pursuing a career as an English teacher.  Then I thought, “Why not aspire to become an actual tenured English professor?”  But, by the time I got to college, graduate film programs were springing up here and there.  Having loved movies since childhood, but never imagining there was a route available into the business, I suddenly saw a way to pursue a career in film in a structured, sensible way.

I went to a lot of movies of all kinds as a kid, but mostly B horror films from the mid-fifties through the mid-sixties.  In 1964, I saw DR. STRANGELOVE and in 1965 THE LOVED ONE.  They suggested a new direction and deeply influenced me.

KH: How did you break in to the business?

WDR: I wrote screenplays at USC, and one of them secured me an agent.  I then worked as a reader for Warners and wrote on the side and continued to do so when Warners and Irvin Kershner let me work as his assistant while he was prepping DIRTY HARRY for Sinatra.  That project fell apart, but a spec script I’d written, SLITHER, got to the director Howard Zeiff, and he set it up, odd as it was, and we shot it.  Presto!  I was a produced screenwriter.

KH: Your early career was full of greats like Dracula, Body Snatchers and your Oscar nod for Brubaker. How much does momentum play a factor in one’s career (films coming out and performing well) as well as recognition for one’s talent?

WDR: Actually, none of those films did perform well, but they were respected, and, as a result, I was respected as a young writer with perceived potential.  You must remember that during the seventies and eighties eccentric characters in unusual, small stories were nothing Hollywood ran screaming from.  That came later.

KH: You are a part of two of my favourite films of all time with Banzai and BTILC. How do you feel as an artist to be remembered for singular works rather than your entire body of creativity?

WDR: I’ve never given much thought to being “remembered”.  After all, sooner or later, this whole planet is going to be forgotten.

KH: If people want the skinny on Banzai, you have already provided an excellent commentary. What I would ask is, did you ever see Kevin Smith’s Q & A whose guests were Weller and Lithgow, and how did you feel about possible versions of the continuing story of Banzai?

WDR: I thought Kevin did a spectacular job that evening, and it was nice to learn how much the movie shaped him.  As long as Mac Rauch is involved, I feel quite confident that a “new” BUCKAROO could be as startling as the original.

KH: BTILC was ahead of its time, in my opinion. What I’ve always wanted to know is, what the “western version” was like prior to your work on the script, and how much of the finished film remains your work?

WDR: The “western version” just didn’t work for anybody, sad to say.  It all seemed too distant…the Old West and the Asian occult, etc.  So I proposed moving it to a modern, familiar setting and swapping the hero’s horse for a big rig.  The pitch went over well, and, with a writers’ strike looming, I dug into the challenge of creating a contemporary script in about seven weeks, choosing to do that with a somewhat dim but hopefully lovable hero at the center.  The finished film stayed absolutely true to my screenplay, apart from the inevitable ad libs here and there.  Jack Burton’s John-Wayne cadences, though, are definitely nothing I wrote or endorsed.  John and Kurt settled on that themselves.

You asked me prior to this conversation: “Did you write the line or was it improvised: I feel pretty good. I’m not, uh, I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… feel kind of invincible?”

Turns out I did write it.  I wrote the whole script furiously in longhand in several spiral notebooks, and a typist transcribed them into script format.

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KH: There was a significant gap between Home for the Holidays and Stealth. I have interviewed many writers who talk of these periods. They say, it’s not that I wasn’t writing, it’s just my scripts weren’t getting made. Was that true of your career at the time?

WDR: Definitely.  I had movies actually green-lighted then cancelled when directors went over budget in pre-production.

KH: I understand Stealth was a troubled production.

WDR: STEALTH was just a bizarre and massively unpleasant experience.  Directors and location scouts shouldn’t rewrite writers, if you want my opinion.  Kind of like Presidents shouldn’t tweet.

KH: Did your involvement end after the writing?

WDR: The “writing” never really stopped.  I was removed from the picture several times when my revisions failed to please the director.  But I was repeatedly brought back by the studio to pull the script back from the brink after the director (who shall remain nameless) had worked it over again in his spare time.  It’s the only film I’ve had made that, with great care, I kept my distance from during production and through release.

KH: I also love Needful Things. What was it like to adapt King?

WDR: Crazy.  The book is 690-pages of single-spaced prose.  My script was 124 pages, and you know how much “air” there is on a script page.  I figured that if one were to retype the novel in a crude screenplay format, it might easily hit 1000 pages.  So I lost roughly 876 pages while trying to keep King’s story and mood intact.  I have no sense of how that worked out because I’ve never reread the book, but I always imagined a looser, grittier, less-arch movie.

KH: Any advice you would give to a struggling screenwriter – not unlike myself?

WDR: Write.  Write.  Write.  But always try to imagine the movie itself playing to paying strangers.  Why would they — or you! — want to watch it?

KH: Sir it has been a profound honor to converse with you. I cherish the moment and humbly thank you.

WDR: Thank you, Kent. Take care.

B Movie Glory with Nate: Split Second

One of the better entries in a long and tedious career of B movies that Rutger Hauer has inexplicably slaved in, Split Second is actually a solid, enjoyable little flick with terrific action, atmosphere to rival any of the big budget films he did and a stoically deadpan performance from the legendary badass. The year is 2008 (lol the future), the place is London, and the sea levels have been rising fpr years, causing a few feet of water everywhere, leading to a stall in infrastructure growth. Hauer plays police detective Harley Stone, a gruff, take no prisoners shit kicker with a big gun who is searching the dank streets and shadowy clubs of London, looking for a killer who dispatched his poor partner a few years before. Only thing is, this ‘killer’ isn’t actually human, as Stone finds out in a series of well staged, murky shootouts in which the muzzle flares and smoke machines combine efforts (with hidden help from the low budget) to ensure we never get a good look at this beast until the bloody finale. Hauer is the perfect lone hero, a physically imposing presence with the laconic wit and unshakable charisma to match it. His Stone is world weary, laid back but dogged, and not without a bleak sense of humour. “I’m a cop” he sarcastically barbs, flashing his badge to a nightclub guard dog who wouldn’t know it from a hole in the ground. Kim Cattrall plays the female counterpart to the fight, and watch for Pete Postlethwaite in an early role as a pesky bureaucratic swine who gets in Stone’s way a few times. If you picture the hard hitting brutality of Predator, combined with the smoky ambience of Blade Runner you’ll have some idea. Admittedly it’s on a far lower budget and as such has to make do with it’s resources, but it does that just fine. Memorable little action creature feature. 

John Dahl’s Unforgettable: A Review by Nate Hill

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John Dahl’s Unforgettable plays around with a trippy high concept premise in which people’s memories can be accessed by using an experimental, controversial drug. Ray Liotta plays the troubled Doctor whose wife has been recently murdered. He desperately reaches out to the scientist (Linda Fiorentino) who synthesized the compound, and the two set out to use it unofficially, in order to retain his wife’s dying moments, see them for himself and establish who her killer is. The serum takes its toll on his already stressed mind though, and soon he’s questioning his own reality, his trust levels towards those around him dropping considerably. Director Dahl is beyond proficient when it comes to thrillers, usually taking on crime pieces with a noirish vibe. Here he tries his hand at science fiction, coexisting with a classic whodunit narrative, and the result is quite good. Liotta relies on the information that his detective friend (Peter Coyote) gives him, and combined with the knowledge he absorbs from his deceased wife’s brain, begins to piece the puzzle together. There’s also a troublesome detective played by Christopher Mcdonald he must deal with, and a violent thug (Kim Coates) involved as well. Liotta is usually tough, capable and would normally be found playing one of the two cops, but the doctor on the run without a lot of tactical skill suits him and allows the guy some work other than just cops or psychos. Watch for work from David Paymer, Kim Cattrall, William B. Davis, Callum Keith Rennie and Garwin Sanford as well. The premise may be too farfetched for some folks, but for others with imagination it’ll be a blast. It’s also fairly violent and graphic, which may seem gratuitous for such a cerebral outing, but I find it gives it a stylistic edge and raises the stakes, just like Total Recall. Great flick. Not Total Recall, I mean this one. Well Total Recall too, obviously. Yeesh. 

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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“What I’d like to do today is get your version of what happened,” says a mild-mannered, middle-aged attorney. “Oh? You mean the truth,” replies a rather small, aging Chinese man who identifies himself as bus driver, Egg Shen (Victor Wong). The attorney remains skeptical as his potential client calmly describes his belief in Chinese black magic, and other supernatural phenomenon. As if to prove his point, the man holds up his hands so that they are parallel to one another. Suddenly, small bolts of blue electricity begin to flow from each palm, much to the attorney’s amazement and Shen’s bemusement. “That was nothing,” Shen states. “But that’s how it always begins. Very small.” And with this intriguing, tell-me-a-scary-story teaser, John Carpenter’s film, Big Trouble in Little China (1986), takes us on a ride into the heart of ancient Chinese lore and mythology.

Carpenter, always the maverick director with a knack for exploring offbeat subject matter (see They Live and In the Mouth of Madness), created a film that simultaneously parodies and pays homage to the kung-fu film. This often-maligned genre is given a new level of respectability that is rarely seen in Hollywood. Gone are the ethnic slurs, the insulting stereotypes and that annoying quasi-Chinese music that always seems to accompany representations of Asians in past mainstream features. Big Trouble takes great care in presenting funny and intelligent characters without caring whether they are Chinese or not. What is of paramount importance to Carpenter is telling a good story. He has created an entertaining piece of fantasy that manipulates the conventions of the action film with often-comical results.

From the engaging prologue, Big Trouble takes us back to the beginning of our story with the first appearance of truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), a good-natured, fast-talking legend in his own mind. When he and his buddy, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), go to the airport to pick up the latter’s future bride arriving from China, a mix-up occurs. Wang’s bride-to-be is kidnapped by The Lords of Death, a local gang of Chinese punks, and the duo quickly find themselves immersed in the middle of an ancient battle of good vs. evil with immortality hanging in the balance. This struggle takes place deep in the heart of the Little China neighborhood of San Francisco with Burton and Wang Chi taking on David Lo Pan (James Hong), “The Godfather of Little China.” Even Egg Shen appears to help our heroes and provide them with the means to stop the evil that threatens not only Little China, but of course, the whole world.

Big Trouble in Little China was originally written as a period Western set in the 1880s with Jack Burton as a cowboy who rides into town. Producer Paul Monash bought Gary Goldman and David Weinstein’s screenplay but after a reading he found that it was virtually unfilmable due to the bizarre mix of Chinese mythology and the Wild West setting. He had the two first-time screenwriters do a rewrite, but Monash still didn’t like it. “The problems came largely from the fact it was set in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, which affected everything — style, dialogue, action.” The producer decided against having Goldman and Weinstein do additional rewrites because they didn’t want to upgrade the story to a contemporary setting and felt that they had done their best.

Keith Barish and Monash brought in W.D. Richter, a veteran script doctor (and director of cult film, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai) to extensively rewrite the script. Almost everything in the original screenplay was discarded except for Lo Pan’s story. “I realized what it needed wasn’t a rewrite but a complete overhaul. It was a dreadful screenplay. This happens often when scripts are bought and there’s no intention that the original writers will stay on.” Richter’s template for his draft was Rosemary’s Baby (1968). “I believed if, like in Rosemary’s Baby, you presented the foreground story in a familiar context — rather than San Francisco at the turn-of-the-century, which distances the audience immediately — and just have one simple remove, the world underground, you have a much better chance of making direct contact with the audience.” Richter was having a hard time getting his own scripts made into movies so he tried sneaking in his own eccentric ideas into other people’s projects. “It’s often easier to take an idea that they bring to you and try to pass it through your sensibility. If you’re honest up front, you get license to work with material you wouldn’t get them to look at if it was your own story.”

John Carpenter had wanted to do a film like Big Trouble in Little China for some time. Even though it contains elements of an action / adventure / comedy / mystery / ghost story / monster movie, it is, in the filmmaker’s eyes, a kung-fu film. “I have dug the genre ever since I first saw Five Fingers of Death in 1973. I always wanted to make my own kung-fu film, and Big Trouble finally gave me the excuse to do just that.” Barish and Monash offered Carpenter the movie in July of 1985. He had read the Goldman/Weinstein script and deemed it “outrageously unreadable though it had many interesting elements.” After reading Richter’s script he decided to direct. Carpenter loved the off-the-wall style of Richter’s writing and coupled with his love of kung-fu films, it is easy to see why he jumped at the opportunity to make Big Trouble.

The two filmmakers had crossed paths before when Carpenter rewrote Richter’s screenplay, The Ninja, a big-budget martial arts epic, for 20th Century Fox. In fact, Richter and Carpenter had both attended University of Southern California Film School from 1968 to 1971. “Rick and I went through all three production classes together. We each had our own crews, so we never actually collaborated on a film.” Carpenter made his own additions to Richter’s screenplay, which included strengthening Gracie Law’s role and linking her to Chinatown, removing a few action sequences (due to budgetary restrictions), and eliminating material deemed offensive to Chinese Americans. Carpenter was disappointed that Richter didn’t receive a proper screenwriting credit on the movie for all of his hard work. A ruling by the Writer’s Guild of America gave Goldman and Weinstein sole credit.

Problems began to arise when Carpenter learned that the next Eddie Murphy vehicle, The Golden Child (1986), featured a similar theme and was going to be released near the same time as Big Trouble. Ironically, Carpenter was asked by Paramount to direct The Golden Child. “They aren’t really similar. Originally, Golden Child was a serious Chinese, mystical, very sweet, very nice film. But now they don’t know whether to make it funny or serious.” However, as both films went into production, Carpenter’s views of the rival production became increasingly bitter. “Golden Child is basically the same movie as Big Trouble. How many adventure pictures dealing with Chinese mysticism have been released by the major studios in the past 20 years? For two of them to come along at the exact same time is more than mere coincidence.” To avoid being wiped out by the bigger star’s film, Carpenter began shooting Big Trouble in October 1985 so that 20th Century Fox could open the film in July 1986 — a full five months before Golden Child’s release. This forced the filmmaker to shoot the film in 15 weeks with a $25 million budget.

To achieve the efficiency that he would need for such a shoot, Carpenter surrounded himself with a seasoned crew from his previous films. He reunited with three long-time collaborators, line producer Larry J. Franco (Starman), production designer John Lloyd (The Thing), and cinematographer Dean Cundey. The cameraman had worked with Carpenter on his most memorable features: Halloween (1978), Escape from New York (1981), and The Thing (1982). The director wanted as many familiar faces on board because “the size and complexity are so vast, that without it being in dependable, professional hands, it could have gone crazy…So I went back to the guys who had been with me in the trenches before on difficult projects.”

Carpenter and Cundey had parted company before Starman due to “attitude problems.” Cundey says it was due to scheduling conflicts, but Carpenter has said that they had problems while working on The Thing. However, when Big Trouble came along, Carpenter met Cundey in Santa Barbara one weekend. “His attitude about survival in the [movie] business coincided with my own. We had a really good time, so we decided to work together again.”

Big Trouble also saw Carpenter re-team with his old friend, actor Kurt Russell who has appeared in several of the director’s films, most notably Escape From New York and The Thing. At first, Carpenter didn’t see Russell as Jack Burton. He wanted to cast a big star like Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson to compete with Golden Child‘s casting of Eddie Murphy. However, both Eastwood and Nicholson were busy and Fox suggested Russell because they felt that he was an up-and-coming star. The actor remembered reading the script and thinking that it “was fun, but I was soft on the character. I wasn’t clear how to play it. There were a number of different ways to approach Jack, but I didn’t know if there was a way that would be interesting enough for this movie.” After Carpenter and Russell began to go over the script, the character started to take shape. The role was a nice change for Russell as Carpenter remembers, “Kurt was enthusiastic about doing an action part again, after playing so many roles opposite ladies recently. So off we went.”

After watching Big Trouble it’s impossible to see anybody else as Jack Burton. Russell perfectly nails the macho swagger of his character: he’s a blowhard who’s all talk, totally inept when it comes to any kind of action and yet is still a likable guy. It is the right mix of bravado and buffoonery, a parody of the John Wayne action hero much in the same way Russell made Escape From New York’s Snake Plissken a twisted homage to Clint Eastwood. Russell said, at the time, that he “never played a hero who has so many faults. Jack is and isn’t the hero. He falls on his ass as much as he comes through. This guy is a real blowhard. He’s a lot of hot air, very self-assured, a screw-up. He thinks he knows how to handle situations and then gets into situations he can’t handle but some how blunders his way through anyhow.” Russell showcases untapped comedic potential that ranges from physical pratfalls to excellent comic timing in the delivery of his dialogue. One only has to look at his scene with Wang and the elderly Lo Pan to see Russell’s wonderful comic timing. No one before or since Big Trouble has been able to tap into Russell’s comedic potential as well as Carpenter does in this movie.

By many of the actors’ accounts, Carpenter is a director open to suggestions and input from everyone involved. Dennis Dun’s character starts off as the sidekick of Big Trouble and ends up accomplishing most of the film’s heroic tasks while the initial hero, Jack Burton, becomes the comic relief. Prior to Big Trouble, Dun’s only other film role was a small part in Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon (1985) but he was a veteran of more than twenty plays. Carpenter liked the actor in Cimino’s film and met with him twice before casting him in Big Trouble. Even though shooting began only a few days after Dun was cast, the action sequences weren’t hard for the actor who had “dabbled” in martial arts training as a kid and done Chinese opera as an adult.

Dun enjoyed the freedom he had on the set. “John gave me a great deal of leeway to develop my character and pretty much let me do what I wanted. He just encouraged me to be as strong as I could. He gave me a lot of freedom.” This freedom results in a very strong performance from Dun who holds his own against a veteran actor like Russell. Dun remembers that he and Russell shared the same approach to acting. “We never really talked about the scenes. We would come in that day to shoot a scene, and we would just do it. A large part of it was working off each other, just looking in each other’s eyes and taking each other’s energy and running with it.” The chemistry between the two characters is one of the many endearing qualities of Big Trouble as evident from numerous scenes, most notably the one where Wang Chi bets Jack that he can split a beer bottle in half and the scene where the two men attempt to break into Lo Pan’s building to rescue Wang’s fiancée.

The studio pressured Carpenter to cast a rock star in the role of Gracie Law, Jack Burton’s love interest and constant source of aggravation. For Carpenter there was no question, he wanted Kim Cattrall. The studio wasn’t crazy about the idea because at the time Cattrall was primarily known for raunchy comedies like Porky’s (1981) and Police Academy (1984). “I told them we needed an actress, and I enjoyed the way Kim wanted to play the character. She blended in well with the film’s style.” Cattrall plays Gracie as a pushy, talkative lawyer who acts as the perfect foil for deflating Burton’s macho ego at every opportunity.

Big Trouble’s script cleverly avoids the trap of reducing her role to a screaming prop by having Gracie take an aggressive part in the action. “Actually,” Cattrall said in an interview, “I’m a very serious character in this movie. I’m not screaming for help the whole time. I think humor comes out of the situations and my relationship with Jack Burton. I’m the brains and he’s the brawn.” There’s a great give and take between her and Russell. Their characters make for an entertaining screwball comedy couple: he’s always on the make while she constantly fends off his obvious advances. This was Carpenter’s intention. He saw the characters in Big Trouble like the ones “in Bringing Up Baby or His Girl Friday. These are very 1930s, Howard Hawks people.” Listen to how Jack and Gracie talk to each other — it’s a very rapid-fire delivery of dialogue that is reminiscent of Hawks’ comedies.

Production designer John Lloyd designed the elaborate underground sets and re-created Chinatown with three-story buildings, roads, streetlights, sewers and so on. This was necessary for the staging of complicated special effects and kung-fu fight sequences that would have been very hard to do on location. For the film’s many fight scenes Carpenter “worked with my martial arts choreographer, James Lew, who literally planned out every move in advance. I used every cheap gag – trampolines, wires, reverse movements and upside down sets. It was much like photographing a dance.”

Another refreshing aspect of Big Trouble is the way it is immersed in authentic Chinese myths and legends. Carpenter explains: “for example, our major villain, Lo Pan, is a famous legend in Chinese history. He was a ‘shadow emperor,’ appointed by the first sovereign emperor, Chan Che Wong. Lo Pan was put on the throne as an impersonator, because Chan Che Wong was frightened of being assassinated. Then, Lo Pan tried to usurp the throne, and Chan Che Wong cursed him to exist without flesh for 2,000 years, until he can marry a green-eyed girl.” Big Trouble could have easily made light of Chinese culture, but instead mixes respect with a good dose of fun.

Big Trouble also places Asian actors in several prominent roles, including Victor Wong and Dennis Dun who is the real hero of the story, as opposed to Kurt Russell’s character who is a constant source of comedy. “I’ve never seen this type of role for an Asian in an American film,” Dun commented in an interview, “I’m Chinese in the movie, but the way it’s written, I could be anybody.” Big Trouble crushes the rather derogatory Charlie Chan stereotype by presenting interesting characters that just happen to be Chinese. Carpenter also wanted to avoid the usual cliché soundtrack. “The other scores for American movies about Chinese characters are basically rinky tink, chop suey music. I didn’t want that for Big Trouble. I wanted a synthesizer score with some rock ‘n’ roll.”

As if sensing the rough commercial road that the film would face, Russell felt that it would be a hard one to market. “This is a difficult picture to sell because it’s hard to explain. It’s a mixture of the real history of Chinatown in San Francisco blended with Chinese legend and lore. It’s bizarre stuff. There are only a handful of non-Asian actors in the cast.” Unfortunately, mainstream critics and audiences did not care about this radical reworking of the kung-fu film. Opening in 1,053 theaters on July 4, 1986, Big Trouble in Little China grossed $2.7 million in its opening weekend and went on to gross $11.1 million in North America, well below its estimated budget of $25 million.

Big Trouble came out before the rise in popularity of Hong Kong action stars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun-Fat, and filmmakers like John Woo and Wong Kar-Wai. Mainstream audiences weren’t ready for this kind of movie. Despite being promoted rather heavily by 20th Century Fox, Big Trouble disappeared quickly from theaters. Bitter from having yet another movie of his snubbed by critics and ignored by audiences, Carpenter swore off the big studios. He learned the hard way that working with them meant compromising his art in order to advance his career. Carpenter laid it all out in an interview a year later: “everybody in the business faces one truth all the time — if your movie doesn’t perform immediately, the exhibitors want to get rid of it. The exhibitors only want product in their theaters which makes money. Quality has nothing to do with it.” Years later, he said, “The experience [of Big Trouble] was the reason I stopped making movies for the Hollywood studios. I won’t work for them again. I think Big Trouble is a wonderful film, and I’m very proud of it. But the reception it received, and the reasons for that reception, were too much for me to deal with. I’m too old for that sort of bullshit.”

Big Trouble in Little China has stood the test of time. It was rediscovered on home video where it has become a celebrated cult film with a dedicated audience. It has since become one of the most beloved films in John Carpenter’s career and with good reason. It is a fun, clever movie that still holds up today and remains one of the finest examples of cinema as pure entertainment.