Big Trouble in Little China – Directed by John Carpenter, 1986
Initially shot with a 25 million dollar budget, and grossing only 11.1 million, Big Trouble in Little China was written off as just another comedy/action film in a slew of others during the 80’s. Starring Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, a roughneck truck driver who ends up helping his friend Wang rescue his girlfriend, the premise can seem weak to those seeking an enlightened, highbrow movie experience.
Opening the film is a scene between a detective and Egg Shen (played by Victor Wong) discussing the ramifications of the actions of Jack Burton. Egg then asks the detective why he doesn’t believe in magic and gives a demonstration. The film then opens with Jack traveling in his truck, enjoying CB banter and establishing his character as redeemable, even if a little gruff. He makes a drop-off in Chinatown and gambles with his friend Wang into the morning, who ends up owing quite a large sum of money to Jack. As they set off to get the cash, Jack escorts Wang to the airport to pick up his girlfriend, a beautiful girl with green eyes, who ends up kidnapped and taken into the Chinatown underworld.
They meet up with Gracie Law, an attorney who is trying to expose Lo Pan as the mafia lord of Chinatown, but the Chinese community knows that there is much, much more to Lo Pan’s inexplicable power – after all, a 2000 year old sorcerer wouldn’t be satisfied living quietly. Eventually, it is revealed that Lo Pan is trapped in a non-human body and his only hope for redemption is to marry a woman with green eyes – and then sacrifice her. The final hour of the movie is laden with special effects and martial arts action sequences that give all the actors a chance to shine, combined with many beautifully sarcastic and humorous moments that give levity and a sense of realism to something that might otherwise be considered too fantastical, even for Hollywood.
Originally envisioned as a western set in the 1880’s and brought to life in a contemporary setting combining elements of Chinese mysticism and modern culture, the film had a lot of hurdles to overcome in order to see the light of day. Original screenplay writers were taken off the film when they refused to make changes the studio wanted. Word of competition by Eddie Murphy’s film ‘The Golden Child’ forced John Carpenter to rush the film into production in order to have it released five months earlier. The dissatisfaction that Carpenter felt regarding his art seeps into the film, which lent to its poor commercial success initially, but is now rightfully enjoying success in cult film fan circles.
Purchase this movie today from the following places:
Turner Classic Movies
Barnes and Noble