Jul 29, 2016

[Movies] Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

What makes a movie a cult classic? When does a B-movie become so bad, that it somehow becomes good? Why do some movies that failed at the box office become the home videos that we watch over and over again? I don't think we'll ever come up with anything remotely resembling a sort of formula for this sort of thing, but it's always fun to note when it does happen.

Big Trouble in Little China was one of those movies that actually scared a lot when I was a kid. To be fair, I was also afraid of The Neverending Story, so obviously a lot of stuff scared me at the time. But because of that, it was a movie that I remembered for along time. Later on I went back to watch the rest of the movie when I was older, and I admittedly enjoyed it.

Years later, it's interesting how this movie is now more of franchise as an odd resurgence of interest and even talks of a remake with Dwayne Johnson. And with a Legendary Encounters game edition based on the movie upcoming, it felt appropriate to revisit this little gem of a movie.

Synopsis: Big Trouble in Little China is a 1986 fantasy comedy movie directed by John Carpenter. The screenplay by W.D. Richter was an adaptation of a Western treatment of the story originally written by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein.

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is your loud-mouthed truck driver who somehow gets dragged into an errand or his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun). Wang has to pick up his fiancée Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) at the airport, but a kidnapping attempt results in Miao getting kidnapped instead. They pile into Jack's big rig and try to pursue the kidnappers, but this only leads them into the backstreets of Chinatown. There they witness a sudden street fight between two Chinese gangs of sort only to be interrupted in turn the arrival of three beings that turn out to be The Three Storms: Thunder (Carter Wong), Rain (Peter Kwong), and Lightning (James Pax). They kill every member of the Chang Sing, one of the factions involved in the fight, while Jack and Wang do their best to escape with their lives. But they first accidentally run over Lo Pan (James Hong), who is a powerful sorcerer. Naturally being run over was more of an inconvenience. And Jack's troubles are only beginning.

One the one hand, this is one of those movies that really exemplifies the 80's aesthetic of large-than-life machismo characters, who are often very flawed, along with odd examples of cultural misappropriation and other fun stuff. Plus this one had fun fights that tried to balance great choreography and weird special effects demanded by the plot. Who cares about political correctness - it made for a really fun movie!

Jack Burton as a character is not quite your typical hero. And upon re-watching the movie, he felt very Green Hornet in the sense that it was clear that Wang Chi was the actual fighter and he did a lot more in this movie to actually deal with the bad guys. One of the more memorable moments for Jack involved part of the ceiling knocking him silly for a bit. But such slapstick moments aside, his moments of awesome in the movie seemed fewer than I remembered things, but at the same time this does not take away from him as a character and there is no question he's still the lead. Just more funny bits about movies of this period I suppose.

The Three Storms were what scared me the most, admittedly, down to how they died. I guess the whole Raiden image they portrayed was pretty intimidating and it freaked me out. Throw in James Hong as the ancient sorcerer Lo Pan and we had some pretty freaky bad guys.

I feel kind of bad for Dennis Dun as a character actor since he had great fights and some not so great moments beyond that. I'm not sure if he wasn't that compelling an actor outside of his fights scenes, which is a bit of a shame. On the flip side Victor Wong played the same wise old man character we've seen him portray in so many other movies and it all worked out for the best. I guess the diversity was appropriate to the story  but the level of acting was inconsistent enough to really make Kurt Russell stand out.

I can't say much about the plot since, well, it served its purpose but wasn't any greater beyond that. It was enough to get us from one scene to the next so more awesomeness could occur. Plus we had a much younger Kim Cattrall shouting a fair bit and being a weird spoil for Kurt Russell. There are so many weird elements involved in all of this and yet in the end in all came together and became all sorts of awesome for some reason. There's some magic in this movie that's hard to pinpoint but you're left with a pretty entertaining experience indeed. And thus Big Trouble in Litttle China still gets a good 4 crazy Chinese-warriors out of a possible 5.


  1. Great movie! I loved it growing up and still watch it all the time. If memory serves, John Carpenter himself commented that the movie is really about a sidekick who thinks he is the hero of the story. The sidekick is the actual hero. It makes sense when you think about.

  2. @Matthew - that totally makes sense. It's brilliant!