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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to dive deep and write something inspired by a long James Schuyler poem and multiple criteria. For the first time this month, I… didn’t do that. So here’s a limerick instead.)

There once was a trucker named Jack,
Whose favorite tactic was attack,
But monsters and mystics
Surpassed his hubristics,
And now he just wants his truck back.

MPA rating: PG-13

This John Carpenter classic is yet another film my VC has been urging me to see for some time now. I’ve been putting it off because I saw the last few scenes a while ago and thought it was too ridiculous and weird. Now that I’ve seen those same scenes in context, I can confirm that Big Trouble in Little China is indeed ridiculous and weird, but that’s not always a bad thing, right?

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Kurt Russell was in his prime as a leading man, so it was probably a no-brainer to team up with John Carpenter for the fourth time. Yet I can’t help but wonder what his initial thoughts were after reading the script. Russell plays Jack Burton, a truck driver who is roped into helping his Chinese friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) rescue his girlfriend (Suzee Pai) after she’s captured by a cursed sorcerer (James Hong) in the dangerous underworld of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Oh, and Kim Cattrall is along for the ride as an intrepid lawyer. Oh, and there’s a trio of evil henchman who can do magic martial arts and wear giant lampshade hats. Oh, and there’s another rival sorcerer who’s a bus driver. Oh, and there’s a sewer monster and a floating head full of eyes and…. (This is where I would have closed the script.)

If you want camp, Big Trouble in Little China delivers it, and it’s a tongue-in-cheek blast. Jack Burton is like a cross between Snake Plissken from Escape from New York and Rick O’Connell from The Mummy, a confident macho man who is constantly bewildered by supernatural forces. Compared with his Chinese allies, he’s also more of a doofus than a hero at times, as when he kicks off a massive fight by shooting into the ceiling, which then falls and knocks him out. Characters are tossed together and thrilling escapes are undertaken with the free-wheeling spirit of a pulp novel and a winking sense of fun, like when a bad guy is so busy posing and making martial arts noises that he doesn’t attack until everyone has practically escaped.

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There’s something special about John Carpenter’s films in the ‘80s that just feels different from other movies, especially anything made today. In the case of Big Trouble in Little China, it’s the knowing absurdity that somehow negates every criticism that could be lobbed at it. I’m glad I finally watched this crazy little film; it’s no wonder it’s a cult classic.

Best line: (Jack) “I’m a reasonable guy, but I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things!”


Rank: List Runner-Up


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