Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter / U.S., 1986):

A film to embody the Eighties, and justify them. John Carpenter in Spielberg-Lucas turf, he surveys the perils and wholeheartedly forges ahead, the analysis is given in a droll exchange between Kurt Russell and Dennis Dun: "Hollow?" "Hollow." "Fuck it." (Or, more poetically: "The darkest magic, my soul swims in it.") Set in San Francisco, the tale is spun by Victor Wong, who lends it the proper gleam by summoning a miniature lighting bolt to a Doubting Thomas, the rest is pure play. Russell is a truck driver who's taken swagger lessons from John Wayne, Dun is a Chinatown restaurateur searching for his kidnapped fiancée, an emerald-eyed supermodel; an early chase gives a pellucid view of the city and a detour into misty alleys locates the overflowing caldron of genres within it, a street melee rages on until a trio of wire-fu divinities descends from the heavens to dice through the warring factions. The villain (James Hong) appears first as a smirky hobo, then resplendent in Ming the Merciless robes, then a pissy Methusela in a wheelchair, yearning to be made flesh following millenniums as an apparition; the heroes enter a warehouse and end up in the "Hell of Upside Down Souls" ("the Chinese have a lot of hells"), while Kim Cattrall breezes through to buttress Only Angels Have Wings in Carpenter's pop magpie foundations, which also include Year of the Dragon, Blood Alley, The Magic Blade, Hair-Raising Hare, etc. W.D. Richter worked on the screenplay, and Russell lovingly evokes the spirit of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension by firing his gun into the air before a showdown and getting knocked unconscious by falling debris; for the rest, Richter's loopy jokes receive Carpenter's unerring formalist elegance, the villain's lair has a cocktail lounge where the intrepid warriors mix magic potion and neon skulls adorn sinister subterranean ceremonies. Naturally, it took the rise of post-modernism in the next decade for people to notice the greatness in it, but Carpenter at once understood the complex layering of pop imagery, and was off to make We Live. Cinematography by Dean Cundey. With Kate Burton, Donald Li, Carter Wong, and Suzee Pai.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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