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Re:tro Re:view – Big Trouble in Little China!

Jondee here at Chinatown,

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Big Trouble in Little China (1986) was a quirky movie that director John Carpenter described in a documentary as an “action adventure comedy Kung Fu ghost story monster movie, everything you can imagine.” There was a comic book series that continued the story by Boom Studios for twenty five issues and currently there is also a crossover series Big Trouble in Little China Escape From New York mashing two Kurt Russell characters. It appears that Dwayne Johnson is attached to a remake. The film was shown yesterday, November 1st, which was Dia de los Muertos; kinda appropriate. The Cerritos Harkins Theatre offers the TNC film series which offers movie classics and films like Big Trouble. The showing had a special event with James Hong who plays Lo Pan appearing for a meet and greet and a talk before the film! He is one of the most fun actors to see, saying lines from the film, doing movie poses with fans. Afterwards, the theater had giveaways including signed posters. Then, James Hong was in front of the screen with great applause and spoke about his career starting with Groucho Marx’s game show, You Bet Your Life, and many genre shows and films like Blade Runner (1982), the voice of Chi Fu in Mulan (1998), and many comedies like the maitre’d in “The Chinese Restaurant” (1991) episode of Seinfeld. The film was written by Gary Goldman, he wrote the screenplay for Total Recall (1990), and David Z. Weinstein with adaptation by W.D. Richter who directed The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) and changed the film from a Western. John Carpenter provided the soundtrack for the movie and directed an impressive body of genre work from Halloween (1978), Escape from New York (1981), and the remake of The Thing (1982), six years before he re-teamed with Russell for this film.

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The film opens a Chinese man and tour operator, Egg Shen (Victor Wong) interviewed by a lawyer who wants to know happened. Egg is another fun character, magical knowledge, with some of the funniest lines. He starts his story with the Freightliner FLC 120 truck, the Porkchop Express, coming from the fog into San Francisco. At the wheel is Jack Burton, played by Kurt Russell, it’s a part that is so perfectly matched to the actor. Jack is not heroic or particularly brave, but he does have persistence and a workman’s knowledge of construction, truck driving, and other skills that he puts to use. He is not a gritty action hero, but hapless in this mystical adventure that is out of his league. Jack brings the Porkchop Express to Chinatown for a card game against his old friend, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun). Wang has the right balance of enthusiasm, martial arts skill, and knowledge of the magical threats though he tries to keep it from Jack to protect him. Dun starred in The Last Emperor (1987), the fantasy action film directed by Ronny Yu, Warriors of Virtue (1997), and starred in the HBO series Luck. Wang tries to win back his money from Jack, but ends up owing him though he owns a restaurant. Jack takes him to the airport to see his fiancee, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). She was a Penthouse model who has a few other roles, but mostly the girl with green eyes needs to look pretty. Jack runs into lawyer, Gracie Law, played by Kim Cattrall. Gracie is determined and falling for Jack, but doesn’t trust him at first. Cattrall has a few genre roles such Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) before her part in Sex and the City. Miao Yin is kidnapped by the Lord of Death gang members and Wang is set on rescuing her from black magic and other dangers.

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A gang fight between rivals around Jack’s truck brings in the supernatural threats of The Three Storms; Thunder (Carter Wong), Rain (Peter Kwong), and Lightning (James Pax). I remember the most all of their martial arts moves, but especially the electrical bursts from Lightning. The martial arts choreographer was James Lew who is currently a fight coordinator for Luke Cage.  At the end is Lo Pan, tall and youthful, who is almost run over by the Porkchop Express and instead uses his powers to blind Jack. They are able to escape and Jack’s quest is to get back his truck and money owed by Wang. The duo teams up with Gracie, her reporter friend, Margo Litzenberger (Kate Burton), and Wang’s maitre’d, Eddie Lee (Donald Li). They try to free Miao Yin from a brothel, but are no match for The Three Storms who take her away. Our heroes head over to the Wing Kong Exchange, a business owned by the wealthy, reclusive David Lo Pan. He is a frail, old man in a wheelchair, but this is the form he can take when Lo Pan is not in his ghostly, tall form. Lo Pan wants to marry Miao Yin to break the Curse of No Flesh. They are able to escape, but Gracie is captured by a hairy beast. Now, they have to return to the warehouse while Lo Pan prepares to marry Miao Yin and also Gracie who also happens to have green eyes. They have to team up with Egg Shen, who has formidable mystical powers and knowledge, and the allied gang, the Chang Sing, with their index finger salutes and martial arts skills. Egg takes them through a secret way in the Chinatown underground. He gives them a potion that allows its drinker, as Egg explains, to “See things no one else can see, do things no one else can do.” So this allows the gravity defying Kung Fu feats. There are martial arts fights, magic duels, and a final confrontation with Lo Pan and Three Storms. This film has memorable characters, lines, and scenes that just grows on you. Four Storms out of Five!