My friend came to visit last weekend, and they had Big Trouble in Little China on DVD, which I had never seen.
I read somewhere once that the key to the film was realizing that Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is the comic sidekick, not the hero. Burton's pal Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) is the hero, or maybe it's old Egg Shen (Victor Wong). Burton doesn't really understand any of what's going on, the forces involved, the things at stake. Which might be what kept him alive, not knowing any better. He keeps blustering his way through, talking big, getting kicked in the face, and just occasionally doing something right at a key moment. Russell makes it work because Burton is also, despite all his big talk, a decent enough guy, willing to help out his friend, even as things continue to get stranger and more dangerous.
Beyond that I'm always happy to see James Hong in pretty much anything, and he plays Lo Pan as so damn creepy, even when we see his actual physical form. I should probably feel bad for a guy cursed to that existence, someone clearly desperate to finally, finally get free of it. But he is extremely creepy, and indifferent to hurting others, and he abuses the power he has so freely that it doesn't happen. And when it's all said and done, he's kind of a paper tiger, which makes him an odd mirror of Jack. His Immortals are much more consistent threats through the film, laying waste to lots of people and tossing both Wang and especially Jack around, until late in the film when Wang really gets himself together and gets a bit of mystic boost. I liked Lo Pan's sense of design for his lair. The giant skull ringed with neon, the flaming torches and elevators hidden within Buddha statues. It's a weird mix, but it's memorable.
It would have been nice if Miao Yin (played by Suzee Pai) had gotten more than two lines. Wang's supposed to be so in love with her, and she's apparently going to be so key to Lo Pan, but she spends a lot of the film in a trance, or unconscious. That comment about female characters that could be replaced with a sexy lamp without it affecting the story comes to mind. Kim Cattrall as Gracie worked pretty well, though she gets stuck with a lot of expository dialogue trying to explain things to Jack (and us). I did like that she seemed to have other things going on besides this at the same time. The film has a strong feel of this being just one incident in a lot of people's lives, that there were other things going on with them before, that will have to be picked up again after. We and Jack have ind of drifted into the middle of it for a moment, one particular instance, and then we ride out again. Not every film does that, or manages it successfully if they try it, so credit to them.