Big Trouble in Little China (1986) - John Carpenter
For the fourth time John Carpenter and Kurt Russell teamed together, this time they just got plain silly. Armed with a $20 million budget and full studio support, the dynamic duo took a Western script and turned it into a kung fu masterpiece. During filming Carpenter told the actors not to play it seriously because this was a comedy, but viewers at the time couldn't quite figure that out. Ebert saw it as a slick well polished science fiction film with a hollow center, and due to some awful advertising the film pretty much completely lost its box office promise.
Like nearly all Carpenter films, particularly the Rusell ones, this was bound to find its audience eventually. I found it the night of my graduation from Kindergarten in 1989, which was also the network television premiere. I recorded the film as I graduated, and proceeded to spend that summer watching the film on average of once a day. By the time I finally saw the version shown in theaters I memorized every single frame that was cut from the network televised version. Suddenly a whole new movie emerged and the fights that I had previously memorized were added to, and there were new lines to commit to memory. Over the years perhaps the high flying mystique and magical martial arts have lost some of its impact, but in its place I have discovered a comedic gem. Taking it seriously for so many years I was amazed at how damn funny the film really was.
Seeing the film today I notice what a god awful action hero Kurt Russell is, and intentionally so. Russell's Jack Burton may talk a big game, but spends the entire film missing most of the action, messing up his few opportunities to shine. Instead Denis Lin shines as the real hero of the film, as Russell winds up something of a cartoonish sidekick. Hearing Russell and Carpenter discuss it, that was pretty much exactly as they planned. However you can't complain too much when you're still getting the acting, and of course have Burton to laugh at. Always a nostalgic treat, that astounds me by still giving me something new to admire.