Two-fisted meathead Jack Burton helps out his Chinese friend Wang Chi when Wangs green-eyed fiancée is kdnapped, in rapid succession, by a San Francisco street gang, a band of martial artists and three evil spirits in the service of David Lo Pan, the two
An American tribute to the Hong Kong sword and sorcery genre, in the spirit of efforts like Tsui Hark’s Zu: Warriors From Magic Mountain (practically unseen outside of ethnic theatres and film festivals in 1986). This is one of John Carpenter’s more amiable pictures, taking its tone from Kurt Russell’s John Wayne-influenced performance as the confident leading man who reverses the Green Hornet-and-Kato white hero/Asian sidekick tradition by bungling every task he is called upon to do (he’s the sort of guy who shoots at the ceiling and then is surprised when lumps fall on his head) while super-efficient Chinese fighters get him out of trouble.
Set mostly un a magical world under San Francisco which is populated by monsters, magicians and masters of mystic martial arts, it mixes straight he-man heroics and kung fu action with wonderful weapons, acrobatic stunts and special effects trickery. In addition, Russell strikes some sparks with Lois Lane-like heroine Kim Cattrall, who is also a potential bride for the Fu Manchu-like Lo Pan.
It falters a little in its confusing climactic battle, but is breathlessly paced, wittily scripted, amusingly played, action-packed and relentlessly spooky. Like Carpenter’s The Thing, this was a commercial misfire on its first release but has picked up a cult following. It now seems well ahead of the game in introducing Chinese-style wirework and mythology to the Hollywood action film.
It's easy to appreciate the movie's colour and vigour, even if it's difficult to know exactly what the heck is going on.