Big Trouble In Little China Film Review

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by: Jerry Smith





John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN is, in this writer's opinion, the best film of all time. No, I didn't say the best horror film of all time or the best film in the slasher subgenre, I said the best film of all time. There hasn't been and most likely will never be a film that is able to leave such a profound impression on me, one which is equally inspiring, terrifying and executed so perfectly that I find myself watching it at least a couple times a month for decades. 


While that film is the holy grail for me, something that will never be touched, it also helped serve as a catalyst to watch every single thing the "master of horror" made before and after that slasher classic. I grew up loving ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, THE FOG, THE THING, STARMAN and so on. Though I missed the theatrical run of it, one of Carpenter's films that really left its mark on me was 1986's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. I remember being completely obsessed with the trailer for the film and begged my father to take me to our local video store the day it came out to rent it on VHS. We drove ten minutes to get it and my dad asked the front counter person if they had it and then walked up to me and said  it was all checked out, that I'd have to watch something else. Completely defeated and with my head hanging down to the ground pretty much, I told my dad to rent whatever he wanted and that I didn't really want to watch anything other than BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.  We got home and I went to my room and when my father told my brother and I that we had to watch whatever he got, I reluctantly sat on the couch, ready for whatever movie he had rented. When the film started, I discovered that my father was playing a trick on me, he had rented the last copy of just the film I wanted to see and with a youthful excitement and wonder in my eyes, I watched what would at that become, one of my favorite films of all time. There was something magical and imaginative about BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, from the awesome looking sets, the very cool kung fu, the big fight scenes and most importantly, Jack Burton. Kurt Russell's performance as Burton is still one for the books. We basically had a character who thought he was a badass but was really in over his head the entire film and that's what made it so great. It made me (and still makes me) laugh so hard, seeing Burton get his ass kicked nonstop, accidentally knock himself out by shooting a chunk of the ceiling off and when we think he'll mess up again at the end, flip the switch on us viewers and throw that knife directly into Lo Pan's forehead. What better hero exists than Jack Burton? He was an everyday man who was also larger at life at the same time. Plus, Jack Burton was from my hometown in California, Visalia. Seeing my city on the side of his truck made me smile from ear to ear. This was my hero, this character was from my backyard. 





I've subscribed the church of Carpenter my whole life. The director's filmography is very close to my heart and there isn't a single artist who continually inspires me as much as he does. Whether it's in his films (pleeeease make another one!), his music or even his work in writing, I wouldn't be as creatively inclined without looking up to Carpenter and a lot of  favorite memories in life revolve around moments in which I either discovered the newest JC film or showed someone else one of his movies for the first time. 


I met John Carpenter around seven years ago at the now gone Fangoria Weekend of Horrors and though I wanted to tell the man how much his films meant to me, I stood there at the photo op and just stayed there, only saying "hi." Not long after that, I began my career writing for different sites and magazines and during my run with Icons of Fright (my first writing home, thanks to Rob Galluzzo), I was given the opportunity to interview Carpenter over the phone. Nervous as hell, I did the interview and to this day, the opportunity means so much to me. By now, I've met many of my heroes, interviewed hundreds of people for different publications and the star-struck element of all of that rarely happens for me. If I see someone hanging out at somewhere I am, anytime I'm in LA, I don't approach them. I'm just not that kind of person. People are people, same as all of us, so I don't get caught off guard or wide eyed by any of that these days. But...there's always John Carpenter. 


My son, Dexter, has Autism and early on, I was encouraged to embrace whatever it was that my son was into. Imagine my surprise when his biggest hero turned out to be...John Carpenter. JC is all my son talks about, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA are his two favorite films of all time and it was such a proud moment to be able to watch those films with Dexter for the first time. A year and a half or two ago, I received a package for Dexter and the contents of that said package quite literally brought me to tears. Addressed to my wonderful son, were multiple items from John Carpenter and his extremely kind wife, Sandy King Carpenter. Photos, a variant issue of the BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA comic book, an out of print 2-disc set of BTILC and the soundtrack to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, all signed to my wonderful little boy. That kind act on the part of John and Sandy meant and will always mean more to me than anything else anyone has done for my son and it made me love Carpenter even mere than I already did. 


This week, my girlfriend and I, along with my buddy Charles, took a day drive to my favorite place in the world, LA's The Grove, to attend a signing of The Making of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA hardcover book. Already excited for just the book, there was a huge reason to make my way there: along with Tara Bennett & Paul Terry (the book's authors), the man himself, John Carpenter would be singing each copy. 


Waiting in line, anxiety set in. I knew it wouldn't be smooth because here is the one person I looked up to as a kid and still do, now into my late 30's. When I get nervous, my small amount of OCD kicks into overdrive so to say that the birthday and greeting cards that were next to where I was in line looked immaculate by the time it was my turn to approach JC would be an understatement. 


My girlfriend kept giggling at how silly I was being, at one point, I asked her "is it too late to be able to jump out of this window?" And thirty seconds later, it was my turn. I walked up, shook Carpenter's hand and the filmmaker, in a very pleasant mood, looked at my arms and neck and said, "Man, that's a lot of ink, what's up with that?" And smiled.  I opened my mouth and then FROZE, staring. What was happening?! Carpenter then said, "Ok." And my time was done. No "thank you for making BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, it's one of my favorite films of all time," no "Thank you for what you and your wife did for my son, it meant the world to me," no, I froze. I took my signed book and for the rest of the day (and night), my lady and friend who were with me got quite the laugh out of it. Truthfully, I did too. It was embarrassing but pretty funny. It was great to feel like a kid again, to feel that youthful wonder and be instantly transported back to being that seven year old kid who sat down and watched Carpenter's epic mystical kung fu masterpiece. In that silly and embarrassing moment, that "I don't get star struck" attitude and so on got shot to hell, because it was John Carpenter. The best filmmaker of all time. It feels good to still have heroes.







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