Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong
Release date: July 2, 1986
Running time: 99 minutes
Number of "Ancient Chinese secret, huh" jokes in here: 0. I'm pretty proud of myself.
When it comes to a director-actor pair that made a string of amazing movies that made literally no money, there isn't a better pair than John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. This is one of those movies that's great to use as a barometer for someone's taste. If you watch it and don't enjoy it, you can just delete my number out of your phone because you're essentially dead to me. Life is short, and I won't waste a second on it on someone who doesn't love Jack Burton.
This review is spoiler filled so if you haven’t seen it yet…
Watch this movie if: You want to see Kurt Russell. That's all I'm putting here. If you don't want to see Kurt Russell then feel free to see yourself out, the door is behind you.
The movie begins with a pre-credits scene with an old Asian man named Egg Shen (Victor Wong - a long and illustrious career that ended with 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, as so many careers do). He's being questioned by one of many incredulous white guys who don’t understand all this Chinese magic mumbo jumbo (in this case it's Deep Throat from The X-Files). At the mention of Jack Burton, Egg becomes indignant and insists Jack be left alone and reiterates how we're all in his debt. Stuffy Old White Guy asks him if he really believes in monsters, sorcery, magic, and all that other bullshit. Egg says he does, then summons electricity between his hands. This is the first time a mysterious Chinese magician will summon electricity out of thin air, but it’s far from the last. And if there’s one thing I love in movies above all else, it’s mysterious old Asian men summoning lightning with their bare hands.
|Probably won't get much weirder than this
Kurt Russell is Jack Burton, truck driver of the Pork Chop Express, driving down the highway and rambling nonsense into his CB radio in the absolute
worst best John Wayne accent while the soothing tones of John Carpenter synth blares in the background. This movie was originally written as a western and I guess Russell decided fuck it, he's keeping the voice.
Nobody ever responds over the radio but he just keeps on spouting some of that good ol’ fashioned Jack Burton wisdom. The entire movie is filled top to bottom with scenes whose only purpose are to dump thousands of years worth of Chinese magic and demons and emperors and curses into as few sentences as humanly possible while still forming a coherent plot, and every single bit of it makes more sense than whatever the fuck Jack is saying.
When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Jack?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."
Jack pulls into Chinatown as he continues to ramble incoherently like a madman. Once there he gambles with a bunch of people, one of which being his long time friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun). They play all night and by dawn Jack has cleaned everybody out and only Wang remains at the table. In an attempt to win his money back, he double-or-nothings and loses. Wang tells Jack the money is at his restaurant, but before they go they have to go to the airport to pick up his green-eyed fiancée Miao Yin. Kurt offers to drive him because he is a compassionate, caring friend with beautiful hair, a strong chin, big muscles. Ungh.
|His style, his smile
At the airport Jack Burton does what Jack Burton does, which is scope the place for fine ass white girls. He spots green-eyed lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) and immediately approaches her and begins to hit on her. His advances are getting him nowhere, proving this movie is a work of fucking fiction, until he's interrupted by a Chinese street gang known as the Lords of Death, who are looking to kidnap a girl to sell. They have their sites set on famous character actress Some Asian Girl, whom Gracie is waiting for. Jack confronts them and after a brief fight they abduct Miao Yin instead and escape. Jack and Wang hop in the Pork Chop Express and follow them. I could just say truck but I really enjoy saying Pork Chop Express.
|1986, a simpler time
Jack and Wang follow the gang until they end up in a back alley in Chinatown, and that's the last place you ever want to be. They come across an elaborate funeral procession for the Chang Sing's recently assassinated leader. In a back alley. The funeral is interrupted by the Wing Kong, whom the Lords of Death work for, who literally emerge from smoky doorways wielding butcher knives and machetes.
|Wait, weren't you in Die Hard?
A ridiculous fight breaks out. Well, multiple fights break out. First, a giant gunfight occurs while Jack and Wang are parked right in the middle of it. Once the gangs run out of ammo, the real fight begins. Kung fu, bamboo sticks, machetes. It's somehow even more ridiculous than the anchor fight in Anchorman. There's more spin kicks, crane kicks, and tiny Chinese men being thrown through windows than your puny gaijin brain could even comprehend. It's become a completely different movie out of nowhere and it's the funniest/best thing.
|Forget it, Jack; it's Chinatown
Speaking of a completely different movie, Raiden from Mortal Kombat comes somersaulting out of a green explosion. Two more similarly goofy dressed men follow him; one appearing in rain and the other in a burst of lightning. They're the Three Storms: Thunder, Rain, and Lightning. They're powerful magicians with the Wing Kong who use their magic to quickly murder the Chang Sing.
Wang has seen just about enough and orders Jack to haul ass out of there. Being cramped in an alleyway, there's nowhere to go but straight, and as he plows ahead the Storms all leap out of the way leaving one man standing in his path.
The sorcerer Lo Pan (James Hong - the voice of every single animated Asian character ever) stands before them, daring Jack to drive into him. Jack drives straight through him, like he wasn't even there, then gets out of his truck to see what the fuck just happened. Lo Pan appears behind the truck, then reacts accordingly by shooting a beam of light out of his eyes and mouth, temporarily blinding Jack.
|A simpler time
Wang splashes some water in Jack's eyes, the obvious cure for ancient Chinese black magic being wielded by a powerful sorcerer who has been cursed to roam the Earth for two thousand years. They run into the Lords of Death again and are forced to retreat to Wang's restaurant, leaving Jack's truck behind.
Back at the restaurant they meet up with all the main characters in one handy scene: Wang's friend Eddie (Donald Li) who speaks better English than me or Jack, tour bus driver/sorcerer/expert on the history of ancient black magic Egg Shen, and Gracie who's back in the movie for some reason. Miao Yen has been sold to a brothel and they create a clever ruse to rescue her.
The clever ruse? Disguise Jack
|Ah geez o pete who does a guy have to talk to around here to get his dick sucked
and have him loudly ask anyone within ear shot if they know where to find a girl with green eyes. It's about as subtle as walking around the building asking everyone if they've seen a red headed Chinese girl.
Why did Jack go alone? Because they might have stolen his friend's fiancee - the woman he's spent his entire life slaving away at work for, saving every penny he could to bring her to America - and plan to sell her body to be used and abused until she's just a shallow husk of a human being waiting for a death that seemingly never comes no matter how hard she prays, but they also took his truck. And ol' Jack Burton says when some eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck and is about to cornhole you so viciously that they won't be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, you stare that big sucker right back in the eye and get your fucking truck back.
He gets a room with one of the random whores but is interrupted by the Storms. They crash through the roof, take Miao (who is being held captive behind a secret door, because of course she is) and fly off. Did I mention they can fly? They most certainly can fly.
Their stupid plan only made everything worse, so they go to Gracie's place to devise another dumb plan and decide to dump a hundred years worth of exposition and back story into two sentences, because why not. For example:
“Do you mean David Lo Pan that is chairman of the national orient bank and owns the Wing Kong Import-Export Trading Company but who's so reclusive that no one's even laid eyes on this guy in years?"
Every other line in this scene is a one sentence, one breath exposition dump like how the South Park kids talk in the Chinpokomon episode.
Miao is being taken to the Wing Cong Exchange, "the most dangerous, cutthroat den of madmen in Chinatown," a front for Lo Pan’s domain, which is essentially a giant 18th century palace. That’s entirely underground.
Jack and Wang enter the Exchange dressed as people from the phone company in their newest clever disguise - denim jackets. They find a secret elevator leading to multiple underground levels. The elevator grinds to a halt and fills with water. They pry open the doors to find a room filled nearly to the ceiling with water and a bunch of spooky skeletons hanging upside down. The name of the room? Hell of the Upside-Down Sinners. Yeah. Sure. Why not.
|Hello boys and ghouls, how about a jump off the die-ving board
Rain captures them and beats them up a bit for good measure. They’re taken (blindfolded and in wheelchairs) to Lo Pan. Lo Pan is currently in the form of the oldest old man alive. He’s basically Grandpa from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
|Which of these is an ancient sorcerer? 9/10 surveyed get this wrong
Meanwhile at Gracie's house, Egg Shen rambles endlessly about appeasing ancient demons, good and evil and ghosts, but basically the gist of it all is Lo Pan is a demon. Or pure evil. Or something. But he’s not a man. And immortal. And cursed.
This quote really sums it up:
"[He] has spirit-medium powers, like the immortals. His flesh and his bones are atomized. He becomes a dream."
Lo Pan is stuck in the old man body and needs a woman with green eyes to make him young again so he can rule the universe from the beyond the grave or some stupid shit. When he's in his human form, he's stuck in the body of the crippled old man. In his other form, the form Jack "hit" with his truck, he's completely intangible. What's the point of living forever if you can't enjoy earthly delights, like Baja Blast and sex with Chinese girls.
Once he’s done talking about his curse for the fifth time, Lo Pan notices Eddie and Gracie at the front desk on the security monitor. They’re greeted by Thunder, who takes them into the freight elevator where they’re gassed. Eddie and Gracie are knocked unconscious but Thunder is unaffected because Magic.
Jack and Wang are blindfolded and put in wheelchairs and taken to a cellar. Wang dumps EVEN-FUCKING-MORE exposition about the 2,000 year old legend of Lo Pan. He was cursed to roam the earth like a ghost until he can marry a special kind of girl. But before we can find out what kind of special girl it is (spoilers: it's one with green eyes), Thunder returns with Eddie thrown o'er his shoulder like an oriental soldier. Jack jumps Thunder, who literally flexes so hard Jack goes flying off of him, back into his wheelchair, and rolling out of the room.
|Jack at this juncture in the film
The three of them make their way through the base. They find a bunch of girls in cages, including Gracie, who is hogtied. I'm going out on a limb and assuming this is not the first nor last time Kim Cattrall was hogtied in Chinatown. Wang and Eddie create a diversion so Jack can free them. Unfortunately, their diversion is getting the shit kicked out of them by Chinese girls.
Eddie and Wang get the upper hand because just like in real life, every Chinese person in this movie is a master of martial arts. Jack frees all of the girls, even the sex slaves. ESPECIALLY the sex slaves. They dive into the sewers to escape. Yes, amongst this sprawling domain with water chambers and fuck cages there is an entry point to the city's sewer system. If this is your sticking point then this movie is not for you.
After more karate they reach the front door and everyone leaves but Gracie. She falls behind as she notices a trap door open and A BIG MONSTER HAND REACHES OUT AND GRABS HER. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS MOVIE?
|SUCH a Samantha move
She’s taken to Old Man Pan, who is so happy to see her and her green eyes. I thought it had to be a Chinese girl, if it doesnt matter then how did it take 2000 years to find a green eyed wo- you know what, I dont care. I've let this movie get away with ghosts who can go between being transparent apparitions and old men in wheelchairs and flying Chinese and Kim Catrall so you know what I'm just gonna give this one a pass.
At the restaurant (again), Egg Shen arrives with the Chang Sings. They're going to accompany Jack and Wang to finally put an end to Lo Pan. And rescue the girls. And his truck.
The pre-wedding ritual begins, which is of course the Storms getting shirtless and wildly swinging weapons around while yelling. This is also what he has planned for the bachelorette party, reception, and honeymoon. Gracie and Miao both "tame The Burning Blade," and by that I mean they each grab the blade of a sword as it magically lift them towards the ceiling. They float to the roof and Lo Pan decides to marry them both. He will kill Gracie to appease the demon responsible for his curse and then live out his "earthly pleasures" with Miao. Fucking. He's talking about fucking.
Jack and the gang decide walking through the front door isn't going to work a second time, so they go underground into what is essentially Fraggle Rock. Just as I typed that, a big fucking Muppet monster came out of a hole in the wall and ate someone. This fucking movie.
They arrive at Lo Pan's Labyrinth (get it?) and Egg pulls out a flask for everyone to drink from that's apparently the only way to stop Lo Pan. His explanation? "Only a dream can kill a dream." I don't know what the fuck is going on anymore, but apparently it lets them see what others can't, do what others can't, and makes them feel invincible. Write your own joke here. Before they head into this climactic final battle against ancient sorcerers and masters of black magic, they toast to America. I haven't understood anything for the last hour, why would now make sense. They might as well toast to Mother Russia because at this point I feel like I've missed 20 minutes of movie somewhere.
Speaking of what the fuck is going on, they begin sneaking around the base and then a giant floating head covered in eyeballs appears. It's a Guardian, and what it sees, Lo Pan sees.
Lo Pan is made mortal from the ceremony as the guardian spots them and shit hits the fan. It’s fucking go time: Lo Pan’s entire army against all of them. Everyone’s posing and screaming and about to charge at each other. Our hero Jack, with his sweet ass mullet and his tank top tucked into his jeans, fires his gun - and a tile above him dislodges and knocks him unconscious. He lays there for a bit while everyone else fights to the death to save the beautiful Miao and also maybe Gracie if there's time.
The final battle begins on what is supposed to be a ceremonial wedding ground but looks more like the stage of a Motorhead concert
|THE ACE OF SPADES
Wang has a sword because he's Chinese. He has a glorious wire-fu swordfight against Rain and eventually kills him by throwing a sword at him in mid air, which impales him and causes him to fly into a statue and explode. As you do.
Jack wakes up and kills an armored guard. The guard's lifeless corpse falls directly on top of him and pins Jack to the ground, rendering him useless again. While he's stuck on the ground, Egg and Lo Pan shoot lasers at each other out of their hands which collide like a Dragon Ball Z fight, and inside the lasers are silhouettes of two warriors fighting. Don't believe me?
|Ahhh. A simpler time
Lo Pan decides he's had enough of this ham handed carnival act and takes Miao and Thunder to the offices. Jack, Wang, and Gracie follow. Wang distracts Thunder in some serious Scooby Doo shit so Jack can be the hero and stop Lo Pan, despite the fact Wang has done everything for the entire movie. Well, everything except have gorgeous hair, piercing eyes, a hypnotic voice, bulging biceps, a smile that will melt your heart...
|If you listen hard enough you can hear him yelling "Zoinks"
Jack and Gracie share a passionate kiss before Jack confronts Lo Pan with his face still covered in lipstick.
Jack throws his trusty knife at Lo Pan...and it crashes into a gong five feet away. Lo Pan picks it up an throws it back at Jack, who catches it and throws it right back into Lo Pan's fucking head.
|You mess with Kurt, you go in the grinder
Thunder sees Lo Pan's corpse and realizes he has brought great dishonor and reacts how you think he would
|I guess he was...THUNDERSTRUCK. Nailed it.
After he explodes, Jack, Wang, Gracie, and Miao are cornered in a corridor by Lightning, who's apparently still in the movie. Egg appears from a hole above them somehow and sends down a rope to pull them up. Lightning tries to climb after them but Egg drops a statue on him and crushes him and flames erupt from offscreen.
A combination of Lo Pan's death and kung fu treachery have caused the building to collapse around them. They frantically race for the exit and open a door to find Jack's truck, good as new. They hop in, burst through the door, and haul ass back to the restaurant. With Lo Pan finally defeated, Egg leaves for a well deserved vacation.
Wang pays him the money he owes and everyone begins to pair up like a good ol' fashioned happy ending. Eddie is getting with some girl I didn't even bother mentioning because she doesn't do anything, Wang and Miao are about to get married, and Jack...Jack tells Gracie he's leaving and hits the open road. That's right, after spending the entire movie teasing a relationship with Gracie, this is how it's settled:
“Aren’t you even gonna kiss her goodbye.” “Nope.”
Jack’s driving down the highway in the Pork Chop Express in a storm talking on his CB radio in a similar rant to beginning. As he’s rambling, the camera slowly pans to the outside of the truck and OH SHIT THE MONSTER IS THERE
God I love this movie, it's like Stranger in a Strange Land, but with magic. While most movies would spend a solid half hour world building with all the factions, curses, and mythology, they just cram it into three sentences and have Chinese people fly around instead. It's unbelievably goofy and I can guarantee I'll watch it at least once a year, along with Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Sophie's Choice.
5/5 YOU KNOW WHAT OL' JACK BURTON ALWAYS SAYS