sunday-matineeCineplex’s The Great Digital Film Festival is on right now until Feb. 11. One of the great films that played yesterday and will be playing again Wednesday at 7:50 p.m. is John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.

Released in 1986, it bombed at the box office but Big Trouble In Little China eventually found its audience on home video. The film stars Kurt Russell, who starred in several John Carpenter films in the 1980s, including the brilliant The Thing (also playing in The Great Digital Film Festival–Wednesday February 10 at 9:55 PM). The story is a modern-day fantasy/adventure/comedy about Russell’s hero/sidekick Jack Burton, who is drawn into a strange world while trying to help his friend.

Big Trouble in Little ChinaJack Burton is a truck driver who talks big and wins big from his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) after a night of gambling. Wang doesn’t have the money on him to pay Jack and he needs to go the airport to pick up his fiancee, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) who has just arrived from China. Jack goes with Wang to the airport but a street gang called Lords Of Death kidnaps Miao Yin. While chasing after the gang, Jack and Wang run into a funeral that turns into a gang turf war fight between the good guy gang Chang Sing and bad guy gang Wing Kong who Lords of Death work for.

In the middle of the fight the Three Storms arrive: Thunder, Rain and Lightning (whose appearance and clothing was “borrowed” for the video game character Raiden in Mortal Kombat). All three are super powerful beings, and they slaughter the Chang Sing (and a few Wing Kong). Jack and Wang escape but run into Lo Pan (James Hong), an ancient sorcerer who is cursed with being incorporeal/ghost-like. Lo Pan has been searching for a girl with green eyes to lift his curse and Miao Yin fits the bill. In the escape Jack loses his truck but they try a couple of times to rescue Miao Yin with the help of Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), a lawyer Jack unsuccessfully hit on at the airport

Eventually Gracie gets kidnapped (she has green eyes too), and Jack and Wang — with the help of Egg Shen (Victor Wong), a tourist bus driver who knows all about Lo Pan — stage a final battle/rescue.

The film is full of high flying kung fu action. Although he’s the central character, Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton isn’t Big Trouble in Little China’s hero: that role really belongs to Wang (Dennis Dun). In fact, Jack is kind of an idiot who’s of little help the various fights. He’s either accidentally throwing his knife away, getting knocked unconscious or becoming trapped under dead bad guys while Wang does all the fighting. It’s really funny and it’s a nice change of pace from the standard Hollywood action film.

Unfortunately, 20th Centuray Fox studio didn’t know how to market Big Trouble in Little China, and the critics at the time didn’t get the jokes (the big one being the swapping of the hero and sidekick), and most trashed the film. Thirty years later, opinions are much more favourable. Big Trouble in Little China is extremely entertaining — it’s funny and action-packed, and worth another look.

John Carpenter also made a really bad, cheesy song for the film and a music video to go along with it. You can watch it at your discretion.