Revisiting Big Trouble in Little China

Watched my Blu-ray copy of Big Trouble in Little China last night; first time I ever watched that disc, which really qualifies this as a ‘Shelf of Shame’ series of posts. 

Don’t know why I waited so long to get around to this (other than perhaps the crazy number of times I watched this film on VHS and DVD), as I love this movie, have done since I saw it at the cinema back when it first came out. I was so blown away by the film- I thought it was brilliant; funny, action-packed and so much sheer fun. Yet it just failed to get an audience at the time. It was so weird. I’ve kind of gotten used to it now, so many times I’ve walked out of a cinema buzzing and later its like I’ve seen a different film to everyone else. I’m way off the cultural zeitgeist, that much is clear.

But like with Blade Runner and so many others, VHS saved this movie. I wonder if streaming will ever save movies the way VHS did (and later DVD, I guess). Streamers don’t usually post viewer numbers but I suppose that’s just the same as most studios never posting VHS sales, which I was always curious about. I’d love to know, for instance, how many copies of Blade Runner have been sold over the years- someone must have those figures, surely? Those old days of VHS rentals and sell-through… one could just tell, somehow, when a film was very popular (certainly in the days of rental stores when you couldn’t get a booking without waiting days/weeks: Die Hard was another film when copies were like gold-dust). Streaming… its anyone’s guess how well new films are performing when they are streaming.

Big Trouble in Little China does seem to be one of those films that gets better with age. It still seems an unlikely film amongst all the others in John Carpenter’s filmography, it feels a little odd. Carpenter’s films are usually so dark and edgy, and China feels just so light and fluffy, daft and fun, almost like a cartoon brought to live-action. The humour is off-key, something which really flummoxed the studio at the time (‘what? Jack Burton’s not the hero? He’s an idiot?’) and left them lost regards how to sell it. Maybe it would have worked better as a more typical low-budget Carpenter flick, like Escape From New York, without a big budget loading the film with all sorts of false expectations (people seemed to think it should have been another Indiana Jones movie, but Jack Burton is no Indiana Jones- even though Kurt Russell is just so good in this). So typical of John Carpenter though, subverting expectations. I miss that guy. It was a better world when he was still making movies.

He’s making original CD albums now, just to prove how messed-up this world is. He should be making MOVIES, darn it.

There’s been lots of talk over the years about remakes/sequels/reboots of BTILC and EFNY. They should follow the BR2049 route, bring back both Carpenter and Russell and show us Jack Burton as a retired old bum in a bar getting roped into an alien invasion storyline and missing things up all over again. Okay. Horrible idea, but no more horrible than some of the sequel projects mooted over the years. 

The 1980s was a pretty cool decade for genre movies, wasn’t it. Cooler than we possibly realised even at the time; when we were in that decade, post-Star Wars boom as it was, it rather felt like it would last forever but times change, tastes change, etc. Mind you, I just remembered that Howard the Duck was released the same year as BTILC. So maybe I should discard these rose-tinted glasses.

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