Magazine article American Cinematographer

Stirring Up Big Trouble in Little China

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Stirring Up Big Trouble in Little China

Article excerpt

(ProQuest-CSA LLC: ... denotes text missing in the original.)

Produced by Larry J. Franco with Keith Barish and Paul Monash

Directed by John Carpenter

Dean Cundey, ASC, director of photography

Big Trouble In Little China has been described as a combination suspense/action/comedy/kungfu/ghost-story," says Dean Cundey, ASC, the film's director of photography, "but it's basically an action-adventure picture along the lines of Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

The film tells the story of Jack Burton, played by Kurt Russell, driver of a semi-rig called "The Pork Chop Express," who uses his truck to haul pigs to the market for slaughter. After winning money from Wang Chi, the owner of a restaurant in San Francisco's Chinatown, in a gambling game, Burton follows Wang Chi to the airport to collect. Wang Chi is there to pick up his bride, arriving from Peking. Before the two can reach her, she is kidnapped by a vicious Chinese gang, The Lords Of Death.

Burton tries to help Wang Chi find his bride and they soon discover that Lo Pan, a. 1,158 year-old ghost, has kidnapped the bride because he needs a Chinese female with green eyes in order to appease the gods and return to his human form.

The trail leads Burton and gang underneath Chinatown, into the world where the ghosts live. They encounter a plethora of places: from The Hell Of The River Of Ashes, to The Great Arcade, and the Spirit Path - and a host of characters: from One-Ear and Needles, to Thunder, Lightning, Rain, the Door Guards, and the mysterious Flying Eye.

Cundey, who has worked on more than 45 feature films, as well as having photographed almost every film by John Carpenter since Halloween, describes his job as director of photography as "fulfilling the creative concept of the director and improving or supplying one if there is none."

In grammar school, Cundey became interested in theater and film when an instructor encouraged him to put on several little plays. Following that, Cundey decided that he was interested in motion picture production design and that he would study architecture in college so he could get into the union. "I guess I've always been very visually oriented," says Cundey, "always drawing and things like that."

But, while at UCLA film school, Cundey took a class from James Wong Howe, ASC, and immediately became interested in the photographic aspect of filmmaking. Says Cundey, "Taking the class made me realize that the cameraman was dynamically involved in creating the visuals. The class was very interesting because we took a simple three-walled set and Howe would then demonstrate how to create mood with only light patterns and contrast ratios.

"His was really the first style that I actually studied because 1 had the chance to talk with him as well as see his work in the form of dailies. Howe has been attributed with creating a rather naturalistic style to his photography and that is something 1 try to do with my own work, although bending the laws of nature to create a certain mood is something about photography that I particularly enjoy."

After graduating from UCLA, Cundey was called by several classmates that had convinced Roger Corman to finance their first feature. Having done make-up on several of the students' shorts, they asked Cundey to do the make-up on their feature.

"I had just graduated and I can remember thinking, 'Gee, this is really great, you graduate from film school and people just call you with work.' " says Cundey.

Following the four week schedule on that picture, Cundey was sitting in his apartment trying to figure out what his next job was when suddenly, the phone rang. "It was Roger Corman," muses Cundey, "and he wanted me to do make-up on a feature he was directing." That film was "Gas-s-s."

"After that," laughs Cundey, "I figured I should probably just sit around and wait for calls for photographic work - but they never came. …

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