Tag Archives: Victor Wong

Big Trouble in Little China (1986, John Carpenter)

Although Big Trouble in Little China takes place in modern day San Francisco and has a whole bunch of awesome special effects, it’s really just John Carpenter doing another Western. This time he’s doing a light comedy Western and he’s got the perfect script for it. W.D. Richter (credited with an adaptation no less) has some great rapid fire expository dialogue. Practically everything Kim Cattrall says in the film until halfway through is exposition, but Cattrall and Carpenter sell it.

It works because Carpenter’s already established Big Trouble’s tone with star Kurt Russell. Russell’s doing a John Wayne impression, but John Wayne as a goofball who can’t figure anything out. He ends up playing sidekick to Dennis Dun. Carpenter, Russell and Richter take every opportunity to use the character for laughs. But Russell’s able to play the obnoxiousness as likability. It makes for a constantly entertaining film.

There’s also the James Hong situation. Hong plays the villain, both as a seven-foot tall sorcerer and as a wizened old man. Even though the villain’s obviously dangerous–something the film establishes right off–most of his scenes are played for outlandish humor. Carpenter’s big on getting physical humor out of his cast. Cattrall’s especially good in those scenes.

The film’s got excellent production values–particularly the editing. Dean Cundey’s photography is nice, but the fight scene editing is just phenomenal. Also essential is the frantic and playful score from Carpenter, in association with Alan Howarth.

Trouble’s a lot of fun.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by W.D. Richter, based on a story by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Steve Mirkovich, Mark Warner and Edward A. Warschilka; music by Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Larry J. Franco; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Kurt Russell (Jack Burton), Kim Cattrall (Gracie Law), Dennis Dun (Wang Chi), James Hong (David Lo Pan), Victor Wong (Egg Shen), Kate Burton (Margo), Donald Li (Eddie Lee), Carter Wong (Thunder), Peter Kwong (Rain), James Pax (Lightning), Suzee Pai (Miao Yin), Chao Li Chi (Uncle Chu), Jeff Imada (Needles), Rummel Mor (Joe Lucky) and Craig Ng (One Ear).


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The Son of Kong (1933, Ernest B. Schoedsack)

King Kong opened in April 1933, The Son of Kong opened for Christmas 1933. The rush shows. The special effects really suffer–for whatever reason, when Robert Armstrong and Helen Mack are added to the little Kong’s shots, it’s fine, but when little Kong is added to Armstrong and Mack’s… it’s not. It’s like the focus is off on the rear projector.

But the story suffers more. Son of Kong runs a lean seventy minutes, with almost forty-five gone by before the little Kong shows up. That pacing is actually fine. It gives the movie time to catch up with Armstrong and skipper Frank Reicher, get them out to sea in a new story and then introduce the girl. There’s got to be a pretty face. And when Helen Mack shows up, Son of Kong takes a decidedly darker turn. It’s a downer–Mack’s stuck on a tiny port village with no prospects thanks to an alcohol father (a disturbing Clarence Wilson). Armstrong runs into an old acquaintance, who ties into the first movie, played by John Marston. Marston’s also playing a down and out drunk and the whole film sort of wallows in despair.

It opened with a fine comic sequence with Armstrong avoiding process servers, which mixed the character’s despair with being an amusing film experience… but later on, writer Ruth Rose apparently didn’t want to curb it. The scenes at the port are so depressing, it’s fully believable when Armstrong and Mack soon connect onboard the ship–even though their fortunes aren’t much better. At least they aren’t in that port anymore.

The relationship between Armstrong and Mack is Son of Kong‘s best feature. The sequel’s entirely superfluous and, at its best, is a simply another seventy minutes the viewer gets to spend with Armstrong. Here he gets to develop the character free of narrative constraint and his performance is excellent. Reicher also gets a lot more emphasis and he’s great too. But with Mack, Armstrong’s performance comes alive. There’s nuance and subtlety to their interactions, something more sublime than the film could ever hope for. It doesn’t hurt she’s a perfect counterpart to him, down to her voice.

When the film gets to the island and little Kong and the assorted monsters, it does all right for quite a while. It’s all rapidly paced, but it gets into the kinship between Armstrong and the little Kong, which is affecting thanks to Armstrong’s performance.

Then the movie ends. Had it gone on for longer–and I’m not even talking about a decent Armstrong and Mack kiss–I’m just talking about some more content, it would have been much better. Because the entry to the island, the set-up there, is all fantastic–and then it stops. Instead of the bigger sequel of today, it’s the smaller sequel–the pre-Empire Strikes Back sequel. When Skull Island sinks at the end, it almost seems like the filmmakers are ruling out any further, even cheaper returns… and it’s damn unfortunate this one wasn’t given more of a budget. As an inessential sequel goes, The Son of Kong has a lot going for it and it’s a shame it wasn’t able to fully realize it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack; written by Ruth Rose; directors of photography, Edward Linden, J.O. Taylor and Vernon L. Walker; edited by Ted Cheesman; music by Max Steiner; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Helen Mack (Hilda), Frank Reicher (Englehorn), John Marston (Helstrom), Victor Wong (Charlie, the Chinese Cook) and Ed Brady (Red).


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King Kong (1933, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack)

King Kong is a perfect film. I don’t think I’d realized before. It’s always hard to talk about films like Kong, influential standards of American cinema. I want to talk about how its structure still sets the tone for modern films–the gradual lead-in (it’s forty-some minutes before Kong shows up), the non-stop action of the second half, how establishing characters well in the beginning means they can go without dialogue for twenty minutes and still be affecting. Or the special effects. I’d love to talk about the special effects, like how I’d never noticed the absolutely brilliant sound design–the most effective stop motion moments are the ones with the people Kong interacts with. Murray Spivack’s sound brings them fully to life–best evidenced as Kong’s rampaging through the village and attacks a house. It engenders concern for the inhabits, who must have been six inch dolls.

But Kong isn’t a perfect film for its impact. It’s perfect because of itself. The film opens with the scene on the docks, quickly establishing the peculiar tone of the first half. Everyone sort of takes Robert Armstrong’s gung ho filmmaker with a grain of salt. They’re bemused by him. Armstrong’s perfect for the role, big and amiable, it’s hard to be mad at him when he does something selfish and stupid. Just like the characters, who get themselves into the mess by listening to him and knowing better, so does the audience. Armstrong’s like a big kid for lots of Kong, always coming up with the best action after the consequence.

That first scene also goes far in establishing Bruce Cabot. Cabot’s character is Kong‘s most interesting–as is the way the film handles him. The scene with Cabot ranting to Fay Wray about women not belonging on ships–we’re supposed to understand it’s Cabot who’s off, not Wray. Regardless of whether or not he’s right, the first forty minutes of Kong are about Cabot learning to stop acting like a little boy (which Armstrong never has to do). It makes the romance between Cabot and Wray a wonderful one to watch unfold–that “Yes, sir” following their first kiss elicits a fantastic mood.

These scenes all happen long before Kong shows up, long before the roller coaster starts. I didn’t even get to the coffee shop scene, where Armstrong’s enthusiasm even gets the viewer going–promising everyone, viewer and Wray alike, the wait will be worth it.

And when Kong does show up, it’s clearly worth it. King Kong doesn’t really make the monster a sympathetic character. He tends to chomp on people and his curiosity usually leads to someone dying in a horrific manner, but they do make him into a real character. Utterly insensitive to the chaos he causes, Kong still has these wonderful, inquisitive moments. He’s frequently confused by the little people and it rounds out the film, bringing about emotional concern for him without having to light it in neon. The film reduces Wray’s part to victim at the halfway mark–and she certainly never shows any concern for Kong–which is narratively reasonable. It also puts the onerous on the viewer–if he or she wants to care for Kong, it’s because of his or her response to him, not because the film’s dictating.

Once Kong gets back to New York, the whole thing seems to wrap up in fifteen minutes. There’s the interesting monologue from Armstrong though, regarding what he’s done to Kong. He’s fully aware he’s been culturally insensitive, as well as zoologically, but he doesn’t care. The people don’t care what they’ve done to Kong and Kong doesn’t care what he does for people. It creates an interesting, ego and superego free narrative. Anything the audience wants to bring to it or attribute to it, they’re bringing themselves.

King Kong‘s a lot of things audiences and critics had to come up with new adjectives to describe back in 1933–a romance, an adventure being the two easiest–but it’s simply just a fantastic way to spend a hundred minutes.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack; screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose, based on an idea by Cooper and Edgar Wallace; directors of photography, Edward Linden, J.O. Taylor, Vernon L. Walker and Kenneth Peach; edited by Ted Cheesman; music by Max Steiner; production designer, Carroll Clark; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Fay Wray (Ann Darrow), Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Bruce Cabot (Jack Driscoll), Frank Reicher (Captain Englehorn), Sam Hardy (Charles Weston), Noble Johnson (Skull Island native chief), Steve Clemente (Witch King), James Flavin (Second Mate Briggs) and Victor Wong (Charlie).


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Prince of Darkness (1987, John Carpenter)

I’d forgotten Prince of Darkness‘s more fanciful notions–Jesus the space alien, still sent to Earth to save us from the Devil, but this time, the Devil’s kind of a space alien too (or not)–and its less creative ones (the Devil uses projectile vomit to posses people). It’s Carpenter at his strangest, the late 1980s period, where he made low budget pseudo b-movies. Prince of Darkness isn’t really a b-movie, if only because Carpenter’s intent, the one unaffected by budget constraints, is quite visible. But also visible are the realities of making Prince of Darkness for its budget.

What’s unfortunate about the film is Carpenter’s lack of inventiveness. Compared to what Carpenter did in the late 1970s, Prince of Darkness feels like a TV movie, only a really well-directed one. Instead of relishing in the low budget, Carpenter tries to work around it, tries to draw attention away from some of the obvious giveaways–the movies set in this church with at least three floors, but after a while… we only see one floor, like sets had to be dismantled. Or the exterior shots of the church, with the menacing homeless people. After a while, they’re only in a couple places (the disappearing Alice Cooper is a whole different discussion).

Or just the closed concept of the film. It deals with the end of the world where signs of imminent destruction are plentiful. Except there are no scenes or shots of regular people noticing these signs. Carpenter lays a framework similar to the modern disaster and destruction movie, but can’t fill it in with the fluff those movies rely on. Instead, it’s a creepy feel–which comes together a few times throughout and really well at the end–accentuated with his familiar synthesizer score. And the goofy reasoning behind the movie.

Much of Prince of Darkness‘s philosophizing sounds like Carpenter just copied his notes unedited. His cast are generally believable as physics majors, but smart undergraduate… certainly not doctoral candidates. However, Carpenter’s got some really sharp dialogue in the film, which is a pleasant surprise.

The best performances are Dennis Dun and Victor Wong, as they’ve got most of the film’s best lines. Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount, as the young(ish) lovers, are okay but nothing more. Poor Donald Pleasence has almost nothing to do. The rest of the cast varies. The ones who end up zombies more so then others. But soon-to-be Carpenter regular Peter Jason is good.

Where Prince of Darkness pulls itself together is the end. Carpenter lifts a lot from his other films for this one’s sequences–Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing–but even that unoriginal approach can’t affect his skill. The last twenty minutes, even accounting for Dun not trying to break through a wall from his side, just letting Parker and company come through the opposite, is great. There are some make-up problems–budget–and some silly script stuff, but Carpenter knows how to make it work and he does.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Carpenter; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Steve Mirkovich; music by Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth; production designer, Daniel A. Lomino; produced by Larry J. Franco; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Father Loomis), Jameson Parker (Brian Marsh), Victor Wong (Prof. Howard Birack), Lisa Blount (Catherine Danforth), Dennis Dun (Walter), Susan Blanchard (Kelly), Anne Marie Howard (Susan Cabot), Ann Yen (Lisa), Ken Wright (Lomax), Dirk Blocker (Mullins), Jessie Lawrence Ferguson (Calder) and Peter Jason (Dr. Paul Leahy).


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