As the film begins, Dr. Jones is in a Shanghai nightclub doing business with a Chinese mobster. They’re trading the ashes of the first Emperor of the Manchu dynasty, which Indy has found on one of his adventures, for a priceless diamond. But of course, shit hits the fan and before long, Indy is about to get killed once again. Yet he escapes with showgirl Willie (Kate Capshaw) and his buddy Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), first by road, then by flight. But then their plane crashes and they find themselves stranded in a small Indian village. That’s where Jones’ adventure will really begin, when the people there ask him to go to a mysterious fortress and retrieve a sacred stone and their enslaved kids from an evil cult…
This is one of the most exciting adventure flicks that I’ve ever seen. From the riveting opening to the edge-of-your-seat climax, it’s non-stop thrills. And who better to direct big scale entertainment like this than good old Steven Spielberg? The screenplay might be somewhat frivolous, but it still holds the film together perfectly and it’s intriguing enough to keep our interest, plus it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
What I like in this particular film is the way Spielberg always pushes the thrills further and further. Take the opening. At first, it’s an old-fashioned MGM-style musical number, then there’s a suspenseful James Bondesque confrontation, a shoot-out, a car chase, a deadly high altitude situation, extreme rafting… It never stops! When we get to India, there’s a whole lot of colorful and grotesque stuff, from chilled monkey brains to a guy getting his heart ripped out of his chest then being burned alive. That doesn’t happen in every Spielberg movie!
I also love the sexual tension between Indy and Willie, which kind of reminds me of the back and forth between the leads in “The African Queen” (as opposed to how “Raiders” sort of had a “Casablanca” thing going on; now that I think of it, Harrison Ford is pretty much always channeling Bogart in these movies). The bonding between Indy and Short Round is awesome, too. I usually hate kid sidekicks, but this little Chinese dude rocks! It’s all very, very fun. So much so that I like to call it Spielberg’s best film. Okay, “E.T.”, or “Schindler’s List” are probably better, but my gut favorite might still be “The Temple of Doom”.