John Carpenter creates another piece of brilliant cinema with this, a mix of action, horror unt comedy. The tension and violence is still here, as are the mysterious characters and sharp story-telling, but this time it’s aimed at a younger audience. Or at least, he is not trying to be shocking or scare. This was Carpenter’s golden age, when he ensured he would not be seen as a one-hit indie wonder, though the film did not do well at the box-office, a naive and unreceptive western audience not ready for such an eclectic mix.
Kurt Russell (who else?) plays trucker/gambler Jack Burton, a man who just wants to get the job done, get paid and go. His latest job takes him to Chinatown where he meets old friend Wang Chi. They go together to pick up Chi’s fiancée from the airport, but she is kidnapped by gang members. Local reporter Gracie Law gets involved and they look for the girl. Soon they uncover a deadly and magical plot that sees the ancient Lo Pan intending to become all-powerful once he marries a girl with green eyes- Chi’s fiancée. Jack and Chi gather together an army of ninjas and travel into the underground and underworld to rescue the girl and stop Lo Pan. This will not be easy as Lo Pan’s powers are growing, and he seems to be immortal. His three henchmen Thunder, Lightning and Rain also seem to be unstoppable. Soon a massive battle breaks out with monsters, magic, martial arts, ninjas, swords etc in a classic struggle between good and evil.
Although the film’s main draw is the action and sorcery, the script is also exceptional, dripping with cool. Russell gets all the one-liners, delivering them with wit. His character has no idea what is going on, but deals with it, Cattral is good, if slightly OTT as Law, Dun tries to play his character straight, to comic effect, and Hong is outstanding as the evil Lo Pan, indulging in the eccentricity of the story and character. Wong also does well. It is meant to look like it wasn’t made for millions by Hollywood suits, and succeeds in every way. Carpenter is not only a master of tension, but a master of excitement and comedy too.
It unfortunately isn’t often that a John Carpenter film gets the 2 disc treatment, but this one does. Trailers, deleted scenes, interviews, commentary, an extended ending, this has everything that a good DVD should have. Hopefully, after sadly being poorly received upon it’s initial release, the movie should find a new, larger and more appreciative audience thanks to DVD.
As always, fee free to leave a comment on the movie/review: Does Carpenter try to throw too much into the story or does it all work well? Where does this rank in your favourite Carpenter films?