Welcome to the underworld beneath Little China. Where everything is possible and nothing is what it seems…. A place that only few dare to enter, and even fewer have escaped to tell the tale. That is, until Jack Burton arrived.
Big Trouble In Little China took the world by storm…literally. No one knew what to make of the film when it was created. Originally the story was written as an 1880’s Western in San Francisco, starring a character named Wiley Prescot. Luckily it was changed to modern times and it became such a consequential classic that still, even to this day, movies will go out on a limb in hopes of emulating such a feat. Directed by John Carpenter, screenplay written by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein, and produced by Larry J. Franco. I guarantee you’ll have been bedazzled, maybe even bewildered, by the end of this film. With such a colorful array of madness, it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on throughout the film. But you could care less. More or less you get the plot though, minus the details perhaps.
Starring Kurt Russell as the cheeky, overconfident, “rubs people the wrong kind of way” hero, Jack Burton, and Dennis Dun as his trusty sidekick, Wang Chi. Though if you ask me, Wang did most of the ass-kicking, which pretty much makes him the real hero. Besides were it not for Wang, the whole mission of the movie would’ve never happened. He’s the one who first took action first, in the name of love. A heart of gold; that’s what heroes are made of. Jack Burton however, had the best lines making him the comic relief, with dashing looks and bad-ass appeal.
The story starts out with Egg Shen (played by Victor Wong) being questioned by police investigators on the whereabouts of Jack Burton, who goes on to proclaim him a hero that should be left alone. The subject of magic was brought up during conversation and Egg Shen makes a point to prove that Chinese black magic exists, as well as sorcery. A wave of electricity surges through his hands as he shows the officers a hint of his magic. ” See? That was nothing. But that’s how it always begins. Very small,” he tells them.
Seen driving a massive truck is our main protagonist, Jack Burton, giving advice over the intercom to the unknown. He says something here that I would like to share since it’s perhaps the most intelligent thing he says in the entire movie. “I’m not saying that I been everywhere and I done everything. But I do know, it’s a pretty amazing planet we live on and a man would have to be some kind of fool to think we’re all alone in this universe.” This line sums up the premise of this film without giving away any of the plot. The more I think about it, I believe the director may have wanted to open our eyes to the possibilities of the unknown that may (and probably do) exist around us.
As an avid believer of fairy tales, I find truth to this. After all, there’s so much we don’t know, who’s to say that there’s not more that what meets the human eye? But that’s a topic for another time. Bottom line is, this information he gives is something that we all need to acknowledge. Magic exists all around us…(among other things). In the ways of science (from my understanding), if evidence cannot be brought forth, it cannot be proven nor denied until then. Not that I’m saying a secret underground lair could exist beneath Chinatown, but then again…who knows?
Jack then makes his way into town, (yes, Little China), to meet up with Wang for a gambling game where money is on the line. The stakes are then raised to all or nothing, to which Jack wins the bet. Wang then convinces Jack to drive them both to the airport to pick up his future wife, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). Her name is literally pronounced “Meow-yin”. It sounds pretty, but funny when you realize that.
Anyways, while there, a brief encounter with Chinatown’s Lords of Death street gang gets Miao Yin kidnapped. But not before the fiery beauty, Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) catches Jack’s eye. Their interactions usually consist of Jack trying to sway her to his affections, and she has no problem telling him off. With her resources, the gang figures out where Miao Yin was taken and they set off to save the damsel in distress. Little do they know what lays before them on their path of heroism…
Next thing you know, martial artist gangs are fighting each other with Jack’s truck smack-dab in the middle of the fight, forcing them to abandon his beloved vehicle. Chaos only ensues from there. It begins to steadily turn into the scene from Wayne’s World when Wayne decides to open a random door in his favorite donut shop, and behind it are a bunch of James Bond type-of-agents all fighting each other for reasons unknown. That’s how the rest of the movie feels. But on a grand scale that involves three mystical warriors called The Three Storms: Thunder (Carter Wong), Rain (Peter Kwong), and Lightning (James Pax). All who work for the elusive Godfather of Little China, David Lo Pan (James Hong).
It’s cool to know that Big Trouble In Little China inspired a few game characters that you may be familiar with already. Sparked by the idea of the Western world colliding with the Eastern supernatural world, Mortal Kombat was created. In fact, the character Raiden was based on Lightning, and Lo Pan himself was the model for the main villain, Shang Tsung. In Street Fighter, the character Blanka was based on of the troll-like monster seen wandering beneath Little China.
Whether you understand the plot of this film or not, the thing to know is that you will find it entertaining regardless. A treasure to behold. I honestly would love to see this film be remade western style like originally planned, but if not this classic is good as is. So visually stunning, this movie has set standards that are still hard to explain. It was said that even the creators didn’t know how to advertise it which explains the lack of income brought in considering that. To simplify, this film is like Duke Nukem trapped in an underground Chinese magical labyrinth. With monsters! And sorcerers too! Clearly a masterpiece… 10/10 stars!
Fun Facts to Know:
- Jackie Chan was the studio’s choice for the role of Wang Chi, which later went to Dennis Dun. Chan turned down the role for two reasons: His English wasn’t very good, and after his 1985 movie, The Protector, he decided to return to China to focus on his film career there.
- Production was rushed to beat Eddie Murphy’s The Golden Child into theaters. Both movies were critically panned at the time of their release, but The Golden Child made $79.8 million while Big Trouble drummed up just $11.1 million. Today, Big Trouble is the more highly regarded film.
- Carpenter and his USC film school friends, Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle, performed the film’s title song as the Coupe De Villes.
- There’s a comic book series that picks up from where the movie ended. Also look for the Big Trouble in Little China video game released in 1986, where apparently a secret screen on the DVD contains images from it.
- Al Leong, also known as Al “Ka Bong”, known for being a stuntman and for playing the role of Genghis Khan from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, makes a few appearances in this film as just a random gang member. One of his few roles, but cool to know.