Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

I’m a Reasonable Guy, But I’ve Just Experienced Some Very Unreasonable Things

Today’s movie is one that I guess I’ve seen before.  I’m basing that mainly on the fact that I already reviewed it on Netflix.  But, if it’s true that I’ve seen this movie before, I could tell you nothing about it.  So when Jake was trying to get a handle on my movie tastes and suggested it, I was more than happy to oblige.  It took me a little bit of time to finally receive the movie from Netflix, but now I have and I can see what I actually think of Big Trouble in Little China, written by W.D. Richter, Gary Goldman, and David Z. Weinstein, directed by John Carpenter, and starring Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, Kim Cattrall, Suzee Pai, James Hong, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Victor Wong, Donald Li, Kate Burton, Al Leong, Gerald Okamura, and Jerry Hardin.

Truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) arrives in San Francisco to gamble with his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun).  He then accompanies him to the airport to pick up his fiancée Miao Yin (Suzee Pai).  While at the airport, he also meets Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) who is there to pick up her friend.  Even though she shuts down his advances, he still jumps in to help when Gracie’s friend is attacked by a Chinese street gang called the Lords of Death.  Unable to take Gracie’s friend, they take Miao Yin instead, with the intention of selling her as a sex slave.  Jack and Wang go to find her and get caught in the middle of a turf war that is then interrupted by 4 Mortal Kombat characters: three Raiden lookalikes named Thunder (Carter Wong), Rain (Peter Kwong), and Lightning (James Pax), and a Shang Tsung lookalike named Lo Pan (James Hong).  They take Miao Yin because her green eyes mean that she can be sacrificed to break Lo Pan’s curse and give him physical form again.

I’m charmed by this movie.  It’s aged, to be sure, but it’s aged fairly well.  The story of the movie is equal parts goofy and fun, but at least it’s intentional on both counts.  It includes many familiar parts, but it’s really hard to call this movie very typical.  We’ve seen the damsel in distress movies before, we’ve seen the hapless hero triumphing over the ancient evil, and we’ve seen martial arts movies.  Put them all together and they can become extremely silly and campy, but make themselves an entertaining little cult hit.  Most of the moments that were intended to be funny were kind of slapsticky in action scenes, but they never felt like they were trying too hard.  I thought a couple of the lines in the movie were pretty clever too.  There was one part in the movie when Gracie said that she couldn’t go into a location because her face was too recognizable to the bad people and later, when she was saying she couldn’t come into another location, Jack said, “I know.  There’s something wrong with your face.”  Some of the dialogue didn’t work for me, just because a lot of them seemed to throw exposition in rather bluntly.  Some of the characters actually decided it would save time to throw their personality profile from eHarmony in with their introduction, like when Gracie said, “You know I’m always sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong,” just to get it out of the way.  It’s nice to be able to figure out the characters quickly, but it makes the dialogue clunky.  It didn’t happen that often though, and the rest of the dialogue was fine.  And the look of the movie actually holds up pretty well.  The visual effects would be lackluster by today’s standards, but this movie was made in 1986, and they’re pretty interesting by those standards.  There was a lot of magic going on in the movie from lightning that characters would ride into a scene to light coming out of people’s eyes to two wizards battling by shooting light at each other that clashes and then turns into a scene of avatars doing battle for them.  All of it worked pretty well.  The supernatural creatures they created were pretty interesting as well.  There was a floating ball of eyes that seemed right out of Dungeons and Dragons, and some troll creature that looked like Rahzar from the Ninja Turtles movie.  I don’t know how they allowed the close ups on Gracie’s eyes through.  She was supposed to have green eyes for the role and Kim Cattrall has brown eyes.  Being no particular Kim Cattrall fan, there’s only one way that I would have that information: the really obvious contacts.  Computer graphics probably weren’t good enough or cheap enough at the time to fix that in post, but there’s another option: not showing a close up on her eyes!  I wasn’t paying that close of attention until you forced me to.  The action was kind of hit and miss with me.  There were plenty of action scenes in the movie, but the actual fist fight parts weren’t that convincing or interesting.

None of the performances in the movie really seemed to require too much out of the actors, but they were performed well.  Kurt Russell did an acceptable job as the cocky but none too bright hero.  Dennis Dun did a fine enough job delivering some humor and a good deal of the martial arts for the movie.  James Hong did a good job as the bad guy in the movie, but I just can’t hear his voice anymore and not think of Po’s father from Kung Fu Panda.  And it’s hard to be scary when you’re saying, “Noodle, don’t noodle.”

Big Trouble in Little China isn’t what I’d call a good movie.  Its story is a combination of basic ideas, it features aging graphics, and some of the dialogue is a little blunt.  But the movie still manages to be fun with a good amount of action, some clever dialogue, and overall silly fun mood.  I’m comfortable saying this movie is worth a watch.  It’s a classic cult movie and it holds up fairly well.  Big Trouble in Little China gets “May the wings of liberty never lose a feather” out of “Ol’ Jack always says … what the hell?”

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Double Dragon (1994)

I’m Not Good Enough

Things had to go pretty wrong for me to reach the decision to watch today’s movie.  My original plan was to watch the sequel to yesterday’s movie.  I put the DVD in my computer and it would not play.  I tried to update things, do a virus scan, a registry cleanup, and every other thing I could think to do to fix my computer just enough to watch the Chronicles of Riddick.  I failed.  So I reached the “fuck it” conclusion and went to Netflix to see what was streaming.  A momentary touch of dementia and a few clicks later and I was watching Double Dragon.  I perhaps acted rashly…  Anyways, I watched Double Dragon, and now you can read about it.  Double Dragon was directed by James Yukich, and stars Mark Dacascos, Scott Wolf, Robert Patrick, Julia Nickson, Alyssa Milano, Kristina Malandro Wagner, Nils Allen Stewart, Leon Russom, Al Leong, and Michael Berryman, with cameos by Vanna White, George Hamilton, and Andy Dick.

Linda Lash (Kristina Malndro Wagner) has found half of a magical medallion called the Double Dragon for her boss, Koga Shuko (Robert Patrick).  The other half of it is around the neck of Satori Imada (Julia Nickson) who stays in a dystopian Los Angeles, training two brothers of inexplicably different ethnicities.  There’s the Asian one, Jimmy Lee (Mark Dacascos), and the White one, Billy Lee (Scott Wolf).  On the way home from a martial arts tournament, they get on the wrong side of a gang lead by Abobo (Nils Allen Stewart).  Cornered, they’re rescued by a good guy gang called the Power Corps, lead by Marian Delario (Alyssa Milano).  Shuko hunts down the medallion’s other half and destroys the Lee’s house, killing Satori in the process.  The brothers team up with Marian to take down Shuko while trying to figure out how to gain magic powers from their half of the medallion as Shuko has.  They defeat him, join the halves of the Double Dragon medallion, and get matching outfits that were rejected from Earth, Wind, and Fire, and the movie ends.

This movie is currently rated at 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, and boy did this movie earn it.  It sucks out loud.  One could say that they stuck close to the video game that they based themselves on by having no story, just like the video game.  Actually, there’s a very good chance that the video game had a better story.  It’s set in a dystopian world that has been done better in other movies.  The story itself is juvenile and ill-defined.  To my recollection, it’s never described how this really white guy and this really Asian guy became brothers, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just in a metaphorical sense.  The powers granted by the Double Dragon medallion are also ill-defined.  Shuko can, as it becomes helpful to the story, turn into a shadow, walk through walls, inhabit bodies, choke people, anything that is necessary at that point in the story. The other half of the medallion doesn’t show it’s power until the very end of the movie and basically just seems to allow the holder to take a beating.  It doesn’t seem to make the holder any stronger, you can just get your ass kicked and survive it.  When the brothers finally get their Earth, Wind, and Fire outfits – in a whirlwind transition reminiscent of the Mask – their first order of business is to beat the crap out of a depowered, defenseless Shuko.  I realize he did some messed up things, but it’s a less than heroic end.  And they top it off by taking control of Shuko’s body and making him slap himself in the face.  Now you’ve killed your heroism and your maturity.  There’s also smaller parts of the movie that don’t make sense, like their ultra-futuristic cars with high-tech computer devices in them, but the cars are powered by burning trash, the music in some parts adds in tiny noises that sound like farts, and the main characters high-five about 87 times in the movie, sometimes while still in the middle of a fight.  The only thing I found cute in the writing was that Alyssa Milano and Kristina Wagner break the fourth wall and exchange insults like “generally, I put people in the hospital” and “who’s the boss now?”, referencing the fact that Wagner was on General Hospital and Milano was on Who’s The Boss.

You might assume that a movie with poor story based on a beat-’em-up video game would have decent fight scenes.  You’d be wrong.  And stupid, if you actually expected good things out of Double Dragon.  Best I could tell, there was one, maybe two people in this movie that could even pretend they could fight.  Scott Wolf was awful at it.  So much so that it seemed the choreographers stopped having him fight and instead made him do things for comic relief instead in the fight, such as throwing basketballs, breaking a gumball machine to trip the enemy, and trapping the enemy’s hair in a suitcase.  Mark Dacascos was one of the only people that could fight that was a member of the main cast.  His fights were the most interesting.  Julia Nickson was the person who trained them in martial arts in the movie, but she was even worse than Wolf.  I assume there was some racism involved in hiring her.  Someone probably thought “She’s Asian, of course she knows Kung Fu.”  Generally speaking, the fights ranged from bad to laughably bad.

The performances are as poor as you would expect.  I can’t think of a decent performance in the entire movie, so I’ll just talk about them in general.  Mark Dacascos was the most interesting fighter in the movie.  Scott Wolf took more of a comic relief side, but when you can’t fight and aren’t funny, it’s a failed endeavor.  Robert Patrick is great at looking sinister, but the hair they gave him in this was ridiculous.  It was pure white with black tips and it was like a tall buzzcut.  Find a picture of this if you want a laugh.  And speaking of ruining great looks with bad hair, they made Alyssa Milano unattractive to me in this movie by giving her a lesbian haircut.  It was bleached blonde and about as short as my hair.  It was shorter than Robert Patrick’s.  Kristina Wagner was attractive and was actually able to pull off a really subtle craziness that seemed just barely restrained below the surface.  Nils Allen Stewart has a goofy look to him at first, but then that is blown way out of proportion when Shuko injects him with some experimental steroid making him look, if I may quote the movie, “like the Stay Puff Marshmellow Man”.  It’s horrible looking.

I have probably said far too much about this movie.  I may have spent more time writing this review than they did writing the movie.  There’s nothing really good to witness here.  Not look, not story, not comedy, not fighting, not nothing, not no how!  It’s not painfully bad though, so it is good joke fodder.  If you’re in to mocking movies, you can watch this.  If not, why are you even considering it?  I give Double Dragon “Ug Lee” out of “Home Lee”.

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