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Thoughts on Remaking Big Trouble in Little China

Every time I hear of a new movie remake being announced, I always think ‘why?’ The answer, inevitably, is usually money and the results, just as inevitably, are usually terrible. I recently read an article written by a friend of mine lamenting horror movie remakes and I thought, ‘nothing I’ve loved has been remade,’ and almost as if thinking it willed it to happen, a potential remake of Big Trouble in Little China was announced. So, I watched the movie for the millionth time, digesting the news that Dwayne Johnson is in negotiations to produce and star as Jack Burton, originally played by Kurt Russell.

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Big Trouble in Little China is far from a perfect film, other than Kurt Russell, James Hong (David Lo Pan) and Victor Wong (Egg Shen), the performances are pretty poor. Made on a (fairly high 1986) budget of $25 million (James Cameron’s Aliens was made for about $18.5 million), a lot of the effects weren’t great, nor was the soundtrack.

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And yet, the film has its strengths too, the story is compelling, the sets are elaborate and the fight scenes, done in the pre-wire days, are great.
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The film is much greater than the sum of its parts, all of these elements, good and bad, combined to make a cult classic that people have loved for decades. It’s obviously this love that teams involved in many remakes try to tap into. Yet, for every ten or so remakes that fail, like Carrie, Robocop, Total Recall, Psycho, A Nighmare on Elm Street or Evil Dead there is one that succeeds, like Cronenberg’s The Fly, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Phillip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. In fact, my favourite Carpenter film after Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing, is a remake of a 1951 movie.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, seems an odd choice to play the wise cracking and bumbling Jack Burton. Kurt Russell, with his proto-dad bod, put in a star-making performance as Jack Burton, over confident of his abilities yet oblivious to his incompetence, and displayed a different set of comedic-action chops that I’m not sure Johnson can pull off. Johnson usually seems larger than life, almost superhuman, and although I haven’t seen the movie, I’m pretty sure there’s a scene in San Andreas where Dwayne Johnson straddles the San Andreas fault and holds the continent together WITH HIS THIGHS. As I wrote here, Jack Burton is the side kick to Dennis Dun’s Wang Chi and since Johnson has done a good job of playing the sidekick in the past, maybe he could do it.

I will reserve my cynicism for the moment and instead think that maybe Dwayne Johnson loves Big Trouble in Little China as much as the rest of its adoring fans, so much so that he’s willing to throw his own money into the mix to get the movie made. And if he can pull of a convincing Jack Burton, then I’ll believe he can do anything.