Note: This is going to be a bit of an odd entry into this retrospective; I am going to focus more on Kurt Russell and what an action hero was in the 1980s than on Carpenter. For a better review of the film and a more comprehensive look at its production, check out J.D.’s fantastic post on the film from his Carpenter blog-a-thon a couple of years ago.
John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China is a lively, funny, and energetic; the exact kind of follow-up he needed to remedy the effect his previous film — the prosaic friendly alien film Starman — left on viewers. Big Trouble in Little China is a movie that never fails to make smile — a joyful mix between old school Oater and Indiana Jones; it’s the type of film that is always good for whatever ails me in the way that Raiders of the Lost Ark or Die Hard or Lethal Weapon seem to always cheer me up. Nostalgia naturally plays a role in this — I grew up watching these types of action movies, and the aforementioned triad were some of my very favorites — but there is something about these types of action films that acts as the perfect remedy for a bad day or week. Whether it’s Nazis trying to steal the Ark of the Covenant, Germans taking a high rise hostage, or mystical Chinese bad guys running things from a lair beneath Chinatown, these are films that elicit genuine glee despite their ridiculous premises. They’re all filled with great setpieces, memorable dialogue, a wacky premise that makes you smile, and, most importantly, a great hero that the action revolves around. I think Big Trouble in Little China works (along with the aforementioned films) so well as this kind of “antidote movie” the characters (and the filmmakers) take all that ridiculousness very seriously — and so the laughs and the smiles and the thrills are all feel earned.