Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Introducing Tenn Ford

The joys of planning a serial: you can just chance upon a bit of fluff that suddenly turns your story around.
The sort of serendipity my friend Claire loves so much.

It went like this: I was laughing with my friend Lucy a while back and this quote from Sir Alec Guinness came up:

bf9e9b7006b725a3791d2a2a9af0d3d8Can’t say I’m enjoying the film. … new rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wadges of pink paper—and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable. I just think, thankfully, of the lovely bread, which will help me keep going until next April even if Yahoo collapses in a week. … I must off to studio and work with a dwarf (very sweet—and he has to wash in a bidet) and your fellow countrymen Mark Hamill and Tennyson (that can’t be right) Ford. Ellison (?—No!)—well, a rangy, languid young man who is probably intelligent and amusing. But Oh, God, God, they make me feel ninety—and treat me as if I was 106.—Oh, Harrison Ford—ever heard of him?

And I said, damn, I need to have a character called Tennyson Ford!
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Never pulpier than this – Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble in Little China

Big Trouble in Little China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK, so I said there’s two pulpish adventure movies I’d never get tired of, but actually there’s another one.

Jack Burton: Well, ya see, I’m not saying that I’ve been everywhere and I’ve done everything, but I do know it’s a pretty amazing planet we live on here, and a man would have to be some kind of FOOL to think we’re alone in THIS universe.

Big Trouble in Little China came out in 1986, an unusual forage in the fields of martial arts and wuxia by horror master John Carpenter.
The movie is both a homage to Hong Kong action cinema and to those pulps of old in which Chinatown was sort of a parallel reality made of opium dens, whorehouses, strange shops and warring triads.

In Big Trouble in Little China there is it all.
And then some.
A cartload of pulpy fun, really, and the movie that really started my curiosity about Hong Kong cinema.

The set up – Jack Burton only wants his stolen truck back. But in the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown he’ll meet beautiful women with green eyes, warring gangs, an evil immortal Chinese wizard and his three supernatural bodyguards. Jack and his unlikely allies will have to enter the Cinatown underground, and face even more strangeness*.

Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, Victor Wong as Eg...

Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, Victor Wong as Egg Shen and Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the standards of the 1980s, Big Trouble in Little China is fast – it’s one of the fastest actioneers ever shot, full of plot twists, fights and weirdness.
Carpenter plays his Hong Kong cards well, and Kurt Russel has a great time in the role of down-to-earth Jack.

Big Trouble in Little China is Pulp all the way through, and yet, it allows for some fun twists.
Carpenter switches the roles of hero and sidekick – so that Jack is a big-mouthed poser “whose heart is in the right place, but whose ass isn’t” (in the words of star Russell), while his sidekick Wang Chi is the fearless, competent fighter.
In the same way, the role of leading lady Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) breaks with the standard cliches, short-circuiting the classic hero-gets-the-girl mechanic, while adopting a hawksian comedy style.

There’s a lot of magic, a lot of martial arts, a big hairy monster, and enough wisecracks and quotable dialogue to make everybody happy.
And there’s quite a bit of Chinese history and Taoist magic thrown in, which is very good.

Finally, Big Trouble in Little China develops a wonderful, deep and meaty self-contained universe – the Chinatown of the title could house dozens of great stories, be the site of a score bloody battles, and outside of its borders none would be the wiser.

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* The story was co-authored by W.D. Richter. the script doctor that had directed in 1984 that other great pulp movie, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.
Which I do not rewatch every time I catch it on the telly simply because they never pass it on the telly.
But I’ll write a post about it, sooner or later.