Netflixing: Big Trouble in Little China

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Bad movies are a dying art.

That’s not to say that people don’t make bad movies anymore. They do. But there is a tameness to their approach that undercuts all the bad. Today’s bad movies are what we might also call “safe” movies. They suffer for their lack of daring. They’re boring. But it was not always so.

In the previous century, there was a greater appetite for B-movies—popcorn flicks that understood they were not going to win any awards, coupled with filmmakers who decided that if they were going to make a bad movie, then it was better to go all out and make something explosively uncouth.

This was the domain of such luminaries as Ed Wood, William Castle, Roger Corman, and…John Carpenter?

You mean the guy who opened his heart and gave us The Thing?

Wait, is this right?

Mr. Carpenter did have a few runaway hits in his time, but most of his films were the kind that only achieved cult status many years after their release. A number of them are golden examples of bad movies, and they revel in their badness.

But no movie is more unapologetically bad than Big Trouble in Little China.

How Bad is It?

Deliciously bad. Crazily Bad. And honestly unpleasant to watch in a lot of places.

But it also lacks any of the pretentiousness found in the bad movies of today. There is no self-importance here; just a lot of sparkle and weirdness.

It’s useless to try recapturing the quality of the film through a mere description. Some movies inspire you to think about how you would have rewritten them to make them better. Big Trouble in Little China inspires you to think about how you would have vomited on the screenplay as you were reading it.

It’s trying to be The Mask of Fu Manchu, yet fails to even recreate the clumsiness of that “classic”. But it covers up the cracks with lots of explosions and special effects, and the scenery gets chewed to a pulp.

And Speaking of Special Effects…

I was amazed at how well this movie’s effects have aged. I shouldn’t be surprised, really, considering some of Mr. Carpenter’s other work. But these were phenomenal…with a few exceptions.

Everyone who knows this movie knows this image:

It’s the face that launched a thousand memes, and the one dark spot on the effects found in this movie. Yet even here, there is something to be admired. The overall effect may be cartoony, but you can actually count the blood vessels in this guy’s cheeks. As far as outrageously unrealistic latex masks go, this one oozes verisimilitude, and with just a glance you can tell it was painstakingly crafted.

It just goes to show how lazy movie companies have become, being able to throw any half-baked, computer-generated image into their films and still get a passing grade.

And the Story?

Wait…there was a story?

Huh. Imagine that.

Honestly, I would recommend you not to even try parsing the story as you watch. That will only keep you from turning your brain off so you can enjoy the martial arts and big fight scenes.

Suffice it to say that there’s this wizard guy, who is like a two-thousand-year-old warlord from ancient China, and he’s kind of also a…ghost? Anyway, in order to come back to life, he needs to marry a girl with green eyes. Because reasons. So a redneck trucker and a bunch of Chinese martial artists have to go stop him.

What more story do you need?

And the Characters?

Trust me: you’re better off not caring.

This movie doesn’t so much have characters as it has a collection of attitudes that walk around and wear clothes.

There’s the tough trucker guy who just wants to get his truck back…but wasn’t expecting to fall in love.

And the heroic martial artist guy whose fiancee has been kidnapped and only cares about getting her back.

There’s the kooky old man who has all the answers but is too eccentric to be taken seriously.

And the prudish, intrepid girl who cares only about doing what’s right and that is her sole motivation for helping because she is just so responsible and is nobody’s damsel in distress.

And then there is the damsel in distress.

Is it Culturally Insensitive?

Well, yeah. But it would be a waste of energy to get offended by this film. There’s no point in trying to undermine a movie that was supposed to be a nosedive to begin with.

And it’s not bad to the core. The Chinese-American characters, while being stereotypes, are still a variety of different stereotypes. Some won’t part with tradition, others are highly Americanized. Some are workaholics, others are roguish and playful. And they are the real heroes of the movie, even though the promotional art does its best to push Kurt Russell as the main character.

Though, on the other hand, they are all Kung Fu masters, and it’s insinuated that all Chinese people are aware of the existence of magic and monsters and are just keeping their mouths shut around other people, as if they were all part of the same secret club.

So yeah, it’s incredibly divorced from reality. But I would say it’s more “boneheaded” than insensitive.

My Judgment

Big Trouble in Little China is a great movie to leave running on the screen while you’re making breakfast or doing your taxes. The special effects are some of the best in Netflix’s library of movies, and while you won’t end up caring about any of the characters, you will encounter a lot of iconic imagery and fantastic cinematography.

It’s a movie that doesn’t ask much from you, and makes for some lazy viewing, when you’re in the mood for such.

Rumor Has It

A remake has been announced, but I honestly don’t see the point of it. That would be like trying to remake The Thing.

And we all remember how that turned out.