The 'Cult Classic' label can mean many things: from an underappreciated gem to an out-and-out stinker with sentimental value attached. But Big Trouble in Little China just sucks.
There is no denying it - this stung me. Big Trouble in Little China is, without hesitation, my favorite John Carpenter movie of all time. I'm not saying it is the best by any means, as it would be difficult to put BTiLC up against The Thing or Halloween. Nonetheless this remains my favorite movie that he has produced, so it will come as no surprise that I am about to put forward my case for the defense of this funny and subversive movie - as well as possibly enlightening a few on some of its more subtle pleasures.
"... he can't act, he walks and runs in an odd, lumbering way and he always sports the worst hair of the era that he happens to be living through. "
Oh, and by the way - Jean Claude Van Damme EASILY sports worse hair than Kurt Russell any day (I love Van Damme too, but that is another story).
However there is one key issue that critics like Mssrs Queenan and Ebert seem to miss - and that is regarding the American take on the martial arts film. Do not get me wrong, I am in now way claiming that BTiLC is even on the same planet as the great kung-Fu movies like Fist of Fury, Drunken Master or Once Upon a Time in China. But Carpenter was heavily influenced by the likes of the Shaw Brothers and Lo Wei, with the biggest influence on BTiLC being Tsui Hark's 1983 fantasy Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain - from its flying martial arts (to be made widely popular by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to its mystical warriors shooting lightening and thunderbolts at each other. For example Carpenter states that they didn't have the budget for complex wire work, hence the use of trampolines to show his characters flying through the air in mid-fight (for me, of the most endearing qualities of the movie). It is this love for, not disdain for, martial arts movies that is reflected for many on the screen and ramps up the enjoyment levels to the max.
"Cult films are like Brooklyn: things were great until the investment bankers found out."
So in conclusion, Joe Queenan makes a fine article on what constitutes a cult movie. He is, however, completely wrong about Kurt Russell and Big Trouble in Little China. Russell was and will always be one of my favorite Hollywood stars, who is criminally underused in current times. His on screen charisma and personable charm easily outweighs the plastic, dull crop of current crop of young leading men on the big screen. And BTiLC s one of the most entertaining and godamn fun movies to come out of the 80s. Maybe the studio suits had no idea how to sell the movie to its audiences (the opening scene was shot after principle photography in order to make Jack Burton more heroic than in the initial cut), maybe the cast and crew were having too much fun in production - but I would argue that each and every ounce of enjoyment is up there on screen for audiences to lap up with glee. And what would ol' Jack Burton in the Pork Chop Express say to Mr Queenan? He'd look him squarely in the eye and say:
"GIVE ME YOUR BEST SHOT, PAL... I CAN TAKE IT!"