In Defense of Big Trouble in Little China
Despite the hate, this is one of the best movies of it’s time–here’s why.
In the Just Blaze episode of the FanBrosShow podcast, Benhameen mentioned that he finally saw Big Trouble in Little China and he thought it was “terrible”. A work of film, music or literature has to hit you at the right age at the right time for maximum effect (good luck reading The Catcher in the Rye for the first time if you’re over 20). I saw Big Trouble in Little China when I was a kid and not until The Avengers had a movie lived up to its trailer:
Big Trouble in Little China was a box office flop in 1986, mainly due to the studio’s confusion on how to market the film. I think their concern matched Benhameen’s observation:
“[Kurt Russel] is the main hero but he doesn’t do much…he’s a tough guy but he gets handled throughout the movie. He keeps losing and the people around him do things so the villains die and the battle is won.”
Kurt Russell isn’t really the protagonist of the story and his Jack Burton is the antithesis of the White Savior. Although Russell is the one featured prominently in the trailers and on the movie poster, it is Wang Chi, played by Dennis Dun, who is the hero of the story. Wang Chi’s fiancé was kidnapped and set to be married to Lo Pan, a 2000 year-old sorcerer straddling the realms of the living and the dead, trying to become flesh again and rule the universe. It is Wang Chi who:
- understands the legends of Chinese culture,
- knows Chinatown
- knows Kung Fu
- fights and wins the battles,
- and has someone to lose (whereas Jack Burton tags along to save his truck).
Jack Burton is no hero–he’s the bumbling sidekick.
There was some controversy at the time surrounding the movie. Carpenter said members of the Asian-American community felt the film reinforced “Fu Manchu” stereotypes. This is a fair criticism, but I feel Carpenter’s was trying to pay homage to the Chinese Kung Fu movies that he loved. If you look at Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, you can see the influence:
Big Trouble in Little China was an unconventional film, ahead of its time yet very much of its time. I think it’d be hard to enjoy, as an adult, in 2014 if you’ve never seen it before. I’ve watched it three times in the past week putting this together. It is far from a perfect movie; some of the performances are patchy and many of the effects are dated. But after all these years and all these viewings, I still love it.
Some fun facts about Big Trouble in Little China:
Neither Kim Cattrall (Gracie Law) nor Suzee Pai (Miao Yin) have green eyes. They both wore green contacts for the film.
Dennis Dun, who played Wang Chi, was not a martial artist. He certainly played the part well.
Benhameen, after discussing BTiLC, asked “What’s the best worst movie you’ve seen?” My response to this was The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. The director of Buckaroo Banzai, W.D. Richter was brought in to rewrite Big Trouble, transforming it from a western to a modern day action film.
In the original western version of the story, Jack Burton’s truck was a horse.
Raiden, from Mortal Kombat was based on the three storms:
And lastly, here’s something for the fans of the film: