Trucker Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) makes a bet with his friend Wang (Dennis Dun), and when he wins, Wang can't pay up immediately. They go to pick up Wang's bride-to-be at the airport, Jack meets Gracie (Kim Cattrall), a lawyer who knows Wang, and they all witness a group of Chinese gangsters kidnap the fiancée. Now they are all involved in an adventure to get her back from the clutches of Lo Pan (James Hong), an ancient magician who has a liking for women with green eyes...
Written by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein and based on W.D. Richter's story, Big Trouble in Little China arrived halfway between Enter the Dragon and The Matrix. It represented a flirtation by Hollywood with Chinese martial arts and fantasy movies, but ended up neither one thing nor the other, transposing the supernatural China of legend with an American Chinatown, apparently cut off from the Western world for reasons of plotting (do the police never take an interest in the kidnappings?).
One thing the Big Trouble does have is tonnes of exposition - during the first half, not five minutes go by without one character explaining the background to Jack. For this reason, the film works better on second viewing, as by that time you'll have worked out who is doing what to whom and why, and sorted out what information is important or otherwise. Basically it's a fast moving, "save the damsels in distress from a fate worse than death" tale, especially when Gracie gets kidnapped (she has green eyes as well as the fiancée).
The saving grace (who is saving Gracie) is Kurt Russell. At first, you think he'll be the kind of musclebound hero who steps in with a big gun to win out against the odds, but after a while you realise Jack is pretty useless, and played with engaging self-deprecation by Russell. In fact, the action doesn't need Jack or Gracie at all, they barely do anything to justify their presence in the plot except provide a Western angle (and have stuff explained to them for our benefit). Russell secures most of the laughs, whether it's accidentally knocking himself out or obliviously sporting lipstick in the finale.
The villains are a colorful bunch. Hong is a great antagonist, making an impact under layers of makeup, playing an impossibly old man or his seven foot tall, supernatural incarnation. His followers include The Three Storms - who each wear huge wicker hats and offer magical powers - one of whom is his right hand man, a martial arts expert who can inflate himself. Add to this a selection of rubber monsters and you have an appealing air of weirdness to offset the more down-to-earth Jack. You might be better off seeing genuine Chinese fantasy movies, but Russell marks Big Trouble out as worth catching. Music by director John Carpenter and Alan Howarth.
Skillful American writer-director of supense movies, often in the science fiction or horror genres. Comedy Dark Star and thriller Assault on Precinct 13 were low budget favourites, but mega-hit Halloween kick-started the slasher boom and Carpenter never looked back.