Sunday, 30 April 2017

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA


30. “Sooner or later I rub everybody the wrong way.”



 30/04/2017




As much as Michael Myers is the creation of director, writer and musician John Carpenter, the same can be said for Kurt Russell. Yes, Disney was where he began his career as a child actor, leading to appearances in many TV series, but it was his appearances in “Elvis,” a 1979 TV biopic, along with “Escape from New York” (1981) and “The Thing” (1982) that established Russell as a fully-fledged lead – all three films were directed by Carpenter. Russell initially wasn’t going to take the part of Jack Burton in “Big Trouble in Little China,” but once it became clear that he would be playing a self-assured hero that is out of his depth, he signed onto the production.

Having finally seen this film, you can tell that John Carpenter wanted to direct a martial arts film – Jackie Chan would be proud, especially as the cult following of this film helped build a place for his own career. However, the layer of knowing comedy layered over it, with Russell’s Jack as an outsider sounding a little like John Wayne, helps us through the story – even with the martial arts films that already existed, wider audiences in the West would be wiser to these types of films later, especially after the phenomenon of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”


What I liked best, however, was the pacing. “Big Trouble in Little China” is under 100 minutes in length, but you feel it must have been at least half an hour longer. If a bit of mystical magic makes no sense, or if a monster is scary, you are not given enough time to realise, as we are moved straight on to where the story needs to be next. No character is given time to regain their breath. If there were any concerns, upon the film’s release, that the San Francisco Chinatown setting, coupled with the Chinese legends, would be hard to explain in marketing terms, that melts away once the film starts.

John Carpenter would, unfortunately, return to directing independent films after “Big Trouble in Little China” – the politics involved in getting the film made quickly before the release of the Eddie Murphy film “The Golden Child,” just one compromise in making a film for a bigger studio, led to a need to regain control. Carpenter would also not make a film with Kurt Russell for another ten years, until the sequel “Escape from LA.” Hollywood would properly pick up on what Carpenter was trying to do, just not while he was already working for them.

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