Though John Carpenter is best remembered for his horror movies, from Halloween to The Thing and beyond, perhaps one of his most seminal works is the genre bending action comedy that is Big Trouble In Little China. Starring Carpenter regular Kurt Russell as the loudmouthed and out of his element truck driver, Jack Burton. In its initial release back in 1986, the film was sadly a critical box office bomb, failing to gross back its budget. It was such a loss that Carpenter moved away from mainstream films and returned to independent cinema. Yet, the film of a modern cowboy caught in a magical martial arts plot has since become a major cult classic thanks to its home video release and following fanbase.
Last night, the fine folks at Beyondfest put together an epic retrospective on Big Trouble In Little China. Complete with a high quality DCP print screening directly from FOX, followed by an incredible QnA with star, Kurt Russell moderated by director/writer James Gunn. Who have since worked together, Gunn having cast Russell in the soon to be released, highly anticipated Marvel sequel, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2.
It was worth the price of admission alone for seeing Big Trouble with such an enthusiastic crowd. Huge laughs during iconic scenes like Jack shooting into the air and getting knocked on the head by the ensuing rubble, and the elevator scenes. A thunderous applause broke out during the final confrontation with Lo Pan and as the credits rolled!
During the QnA, Gunn started things up asking Russell about how the movie ended up back in 1986. He responded that they showed the movie to the studio head at the time, but he “didn’t like it.” Both agreeing that the movie was simply ahead of its time, Russell adding that there was no use racking over “Ifs, ands, and Peter Pans.”
There was much focus on Kurt and his specific work with Carpenter. Discussing their first meeting on the TV Movie ELVIS, and going on to play such iconic characters as Snake Plissken, R.J. MacReady and Jack Burton. The actor attributing the credit to John, citing the absolute circus a director has to juggle in making a major motion picture. Gunn agreeing, and saying that “Working with Kurt is like wrestling a playful bear for 5 months.” Kurt also discussing the DNA of Jack having elements of John Wayne, Jack Nicholson, and himself. A “Guy who thinks he’s the lead character.” He also cited an incident when he was shooting a movie in Ireland, and seeing a minor car accident with an unnamed actor. His co-worker telling him “Hey Kurt, I think its a volkswagon and a station wagon.” Stating “That’s Jack Burton, out of his element.”
There were also a few anecdotes thrown about concerning those other iconic John Carpenter character roles. Discussing The Thing, he talked about none other than MacReady’s equally iconic sombrero. Thinking the hat to be ridiculous on its own, but especially for the film, but eventually warming up to it as a part of the character.
In Escape From New York, he mentioned getting down Snake’s character after meeting co-star Lee Van Cleef and thinking back to the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood. Developing a “Clint” like voice and sharing it with an enthusiastic Carpenter who even responded by saying “This f*cking character’s gonna be great!”
He also spoke very fondly about working with the cast and crew of Big Trouble In Little China. In particular, Dennis Dunn, who played Wang Chi. And how while filming, they treated it with Wang being the true leading man of the story. Being a competent fighter on a quest to save the love of his life, having more the traits of a hero than Jack.
The potential Big Trouble In Little China remake was also brought up. Kurt mentioning working with said remake’s possible ‘Jack Burton’, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson while on Fast 8. Speaking highly of The Rock, and noting that there’s nothing too precious to remake, citing his involvement in John Carpenter’s The Thing, itself a remake of Hawk’s The Thing From Another World. Gunn agreeing, bringing up his work on the Dawn Of The Dead remake. But saying that the key to a good remake being a reason to remake something.
The session opening up to questions from the audience, ending on one devoted fan who travelled all the way from Australia to see the event! Asking if Kurt had ever gotten any good advice. Kurt responded that he never really got advice. His dad was an actor. He was a child actor so he started very young. But something he read really struck him, a word of advice from Spencer Tracy: “Don’t get caught acting.” He’s Jack Burton in the moment. Leading to an uproarious applause.
Proof that people’ll be thinking fondly of Jack Burton and his adventures for years to come.
Photos courtesy of Annette DiGiovanni
Videos courtesy of Marc Gottlieb