Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

I’d only seen Big Trouble in Little China once before this, ages ago, and had largely forgotten about it. I’m not sure when it crossed my radar again, but it suddenly struck me that our son was certain to love it. The smooching is kept to a minimum, it’s just mayhem, magic, fight scenes and at least two characters who later got pilfered by the people who make video games. I was right; he enjoyed it very much and thought the video game comparison was apt. “Some of that,” he observed, “looked a lot like a ‘cut scene’,” as those things are called.

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that John Carpenter’s film has inspired so many people who later worked in movies and games. I was absolutely at the right age for it when it was originally released, but I somehow missed it until it showed up on cable, and thought it was pretty good. It’s actually a little better than that. It’s a very clever and very fun film, and about the only complaint I can make is that the drum-machine music has aged really badly. Everything that Carpenter put on screen is really entertaining.

I especially like how Kurt Russell just effortlessly sells this. Jack Burton is one of the greatest action heroes from his day: resourceful, if not particularly intelligent, and loyal even when he is in way over his head and in the middle of other people’s problems. Dude just wants his truck back. I can get behind that. Support comes from the terrific James Hong as the main villain, along with Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, and Al Leong. I like how there’s a surprise around every corner, and there’s no predicting what the villains can do or what grotesque creatures are going to show up next. I also like how nobody’s cleaned up any of the cobwebs and skeletons in Lo Pan’s fortress underneath the streets of San Francisco.

So our son was incredibly pleased with darn near everything in the movie, and wowed appreciably all the way through it. I think his favorite bit might have been Dennis Dun’s character having an aerial swordfight with one of the baddies, but pretty much everything that Kurt Russell did amused him. I was surprised to learn the movie was a box office flop, only earning back about half its budget, because I’d just assumed it was a hit because everybody loves it. That’s a shame, because the late eighties and early nineties could have used another two or three Jack Burton adventures. With some different music, of course.

MacGyver 3.20 – Murderers’ Sky

There’s a great bit in this story that emphasizes how different the business world was in the eighties. MacGyver has a lead on a villain who’d jumped him earlier, thanks to a distinctive wrench used by workers in a shipping yard. Some random security guy in an office that was blown up at the beginning of the episode goes to a computer terminal that really shouldn’t be plugged in at the moment, presses about six buttons, and our hero has the guy’s photo, name, and address in a hilarious screen-filling image. These days, the guy’d have a legitimate complaint with his HR department, wouldn’t he?

Another thing that was different in the eighties: ninjas. Tia Carrere plays a submachine gun-packing ninja with all the requisite crazy ninja weapons and gear and insanely overcomplicated ninja traps, including a birdcage that explodes with poisoned needles, and a cobra just in case that doesn’t work. I’d say the writer’s grandkids really enjoyed playing with GI Joe toys.

The writer, incidentally, was Hollywood veteran Herman Miller, who had earlier created that iconic early seventies show Kung Fu. Keye Luke, who had played in that series, has a small part here, along with some other familiar faces like Soon-Tek Oh and Al Leong. The highlight of the episode is a genuinely great fight scene in a car park about halfway through the proceedings. Our son was a little more thrilled than I was, but, you know kids and ninjas.

That’s all for MacGyver for now, but we’ll select ten episodes from the show’s fourth season and give them a look in August. Stay tuned!