Friday, February 13, 2015

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Big Trouble in Little China lent inspiration to everything from Mortal Kombat to Ninja Gaiden. That's because this is only the greatest movie of all time. At least, I thought so when I was a kid. Surprisingly, it still holds up well today. Kurt Russellmania is here, Mister Burton.

Here's our host for the evening, wisened old martial arts master Egg Shen.

Egg is an unassuming tour bus driver. He's telling the story of the movie to...

...this guy who always plays either a dad or a professor. He's one of those actors that you see all over the place but have no idea who he is.

Egg busts out some CUTTING EDGE special effects for 1986. Hell, this looks good NOW.

Unfortunately we don't see the reaction shot of the professor dad.

THE TALE BEGINS with some rockin' music.

Here's our hero, Jack Burton. He's a trucker who spends most of his time driving around the Bay Area and waxing philosophical on the radio. Who is he talking to?

Here's Wang, martial arts master and spry cohort to Jack Burton. When they're not arguing, they gamble.

Wang tries to chop a bottle in half and completely fails, but Jack catches the bottle-missile just in time to avoid a concussion. It's all in the reflexes.

 As our heroes drive to their airport to pick up Wang's girlfriend Miao Yin, Wang talks about how his body and spirit are going north and south~! over this woman.

Jack is generally unimpressed by all of this, but he's got a heart of gold and goes along with it.

Jack Burton always takes a moment to scope out nearby babes while amazingly not being the least bit creepy.

"Oh yeahhhh. Niccce."

Speaking of babes, here's one. Gracie Law here is played by the actress who went on to star in Sex in the City as "The Slutty One"

Three people who have no time for Sex and the City? These goons. Meet the Lords of Death, Chinatown's most fearsome sunglass salesmen street gang.

The Lords of Death proceed to knock Jack down and kidnap Miao Yin right in front of them.

 Apparently Miao Yin has green eyes, which makes her very valuable in the people-trade market.

Luckily, Wang is on the case, with his reluctant buddy Jack.

Jack asks an Asian woman for directions while she... apparently cooks someone's beloved pooch.


While looking for the Lords of Death, our heroes stumble upon the Chang-Sings, another faction. Though Wang helpfully informs us that these monks are the good guys.

However, their mortal enemies are right around the corner: The Wing-Kong. Also monks, but most certainly not good guys. Next thing we know, a huge battle breaks out while Wang and Jack lay low in the truck.

The Chang-Sing have this cool hand gesture that they make at each other when a fight is going well.

But wait! Just when things are going well for the good guys, a trio of god-like beings appear and start laying waste to them. Here's Lightning, who guessed it, lightning.

Here's Rain, who has a menacing death stare. Sorta looks like an angry cat.

These guys are the three storms, demi-gods who each represent a different element. From left to right: Rain, Thunder, and Lightning. They also have a great theme. Sounds like something right out of Mortal Kombat.

Rain is perhaps the best fighter of the trio, while Lightning has the coolest special powers. Thunder (who probably should have been called Wind) has the least...well...thunder of the three, so he's always positioned to look like the leader.

Their boss (and the Wing Kong boss) is the nefarious Lo Pan, seen here blasting light out of his eyes. This leads to our heroes running for their lives from the street massacre as it unfolds.

Well, they found the Lords of Death, but now Jack's truck is no more. Indeed, the Lords have already confiscated it. Not sure if these guys are part of the Wing-Kong faction or just happen to do business with them.

This leads to Jack losing his sweater and adopting the iconic look that he'd be known for hereafter: Designer wifebeater.

Here he is rocking a kimono while still being as manly as humanly possible.

Here's Wang's buddy, the aptly-named Eddie. He's... well, he's a guy. I don't know. He's nondescript.

But wait! The lady from the airport, Gracie, is here. And apparently no one in this movie likes her.

With a name like Gracie Law, I'm surprised she isn't a lawyer. Better Call Law, indeed.

She's working with this Sassy Female Reporter to investigate this slave trade thing that the Lords of Death are up to. They do this by sending Jack into the brothel owned by the LOD.

...I spoke too soon about Jack not being creepy, as he gets creepied-up for the infiltration. Time to look for Wang's lady. She's here somewhere. Knowing the rarity, he specifically asks for "a girl with green eyes".

"Chinese girls do not come with green eyes" says Female Littlefinger.

...or at all, in this establishment.

Something walks by Jack in the waiting room. That kinda looks like the guy from Rocky Horror Picture Show.


First storm gods, now transvestites. What has Jack gotten himself into?

They hook him up with a decidedly run-of-the-mill non-green-eyed lady. I've always wondered what exactly he was doing at this point. He's taking his tie off! Is he actually going to make some whoopie here just to get to the bottom (so to speak) of this mystery?

The three storm gods attack the brothel, and panicky people rush out into the hallway. Lots...and lots of people.

How the hell many people were in this place? My God!

The lightning god kidnaps Miao Yin. That's right, she got kidnapped from her kidnappers. Not sure if the Lords of Death planned all this or what.

Side Note: The lightning special effects are amazing and look better than most CGI today. No idea how they made it look so real.

Everyone regroups back at the ranch, and it is decided that they need to infiltrate the Wing Kong Exchange to see if Miao Yin is there. Well...if she is, those three storm guys are also there. Better bring some heavy weaponry.

While the others do more investigation, this duo journeys into the Wing-Kong lair as some very atmospheric dungeon music plays. This soundtrack is so good.

This leads to a horrifying scene with an elevator locking them in and filling with water. AHHHH!

They manage to climb out, only to find themselves in a dungeon with upside-down drowned corpses everywhere.


They escape the drowning pool only to be taken prisoner by the Wing Kong. Here, Rain beats them up in some kind of Mortal Kombat prison.

Shang Tsung Lo Pan appears in old man form. It seems that he has to marry and/or sacrifice a girl with green eyes in order to become young and corporeal again. As it is, he can only assume his young form as a ghost. Which means... he can't have sex. Yeah. That's what this whole thing is about. Lo Pan can't have sex.

This leads to our heroes breaking out of captivity, which involves Jack careening down a hallway backwards in a wheelchair while screaming at the top of his lungs. He nearly falls down a well, and everything looks so real that I have no idea how they pulled off this stunt without literally risking Kurt Russell's neck.


Lo Pan's gang of lady-ninjas manages to kidnap all of the extraneous side-characters (and Gracie), but said characters are quickly freed by Wang (with some help from side-guy Eddie).

Everyone files out of the Wing Kong Exchange, fleeing for their lives. They weren't able to find Miao Yin, either. This movie is pretty much just a bunch of rescue attempts that go poorly, when it comes down to it.

Everyone else may have escaped, but Gracie gets re-kidnapped on the way out. That's right, the women in this movie get continuously kidnapped inside of other kidnappings.

Big Trouble in Little China is like the Inception of women getting kidnapped.

Egg Shen finally reappears, and throws his hat into the ring. He and his Chang Sing faction will support Jack Burton's next attack on Lo Pan's evil dungeon. Armed with all of these new party members, our heroes set out yet again.

Meanwhile wedding bells are ringing for Zhang Jiao Lo Pan, as he gets ready to marry both Gracie and Miao Yin. Aside from being a seven-foot-tall ghost, he's also a Mormon!

Our heroes traverse the sewer level to get to Lo Pan's palace. This is like a video game. Hurry up, guys! He's going to marry your girlfriends!

In perhaps the only deletable scene in the movie, the storm gods do various martial arts forms to...brainwash the two blushing brides. At least, I think that's what's happening. I'm all for watching martial arts forms, but this scene goes on a bit long and derails the momentum of the movie a tiny bit. That makes it the one scene I think I'd omit if it came down to it.

Back in the sewers, a MONSTER AHHH WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING gobbles up one of Egg Shen's comrades.

Egg throws some sort of magic grenade at it and goes "YOU WILL COME OUT NO MORE" to which Jack replies "WHAT WILL COME OUT NO MORE??"

Meanwhile in Lo Pan's palace, the evil sorceror's forces are assembled in front of a light-up mall god.

This sinister beholder is one of the more memorable characters of the movie. It lurks around corners, spying and sending information back to Lo Pan via some sort of cosmic wi-fi.

Lo Pan, elsewhere, can see everything that his minion sees. Maybe he's using a greater portion of his brain, like in that awful Lucy movie.

Our heroes prepare for the final assault in Egg Shen's bar, where Egg prepares some sort of smoky drink for everyone. It's a bit suspect-looking, but if you can't trust Egg, who CAN you trust?

"Drink this, you will see things no one else can see. Do things no one else can do!"

...that or just get a pretty good buzz going. Maybe they should call off this assault and go watch a DVD of Pineapple Express instead.

The attack begins! Jack immediately knocks himself out by shooting the ceiling over his head, because... America.

What follows is the greatest fight in the movie, as Wang locks horns with Rain in a sword battle.

Rain is a formidable foe, and he's clearly surprised when mere mortal Wang manages to hold him off. Ultimately, Wang wins by hurling his sword at Rain while the storm god is in the middle of a trajectory-locked M. Bison Psycho Crusher type attack.

R.I.P. Rain. You will be missed.

Meanwhile, Egg Shen and Lo Pan poke-battle each other with controlled apparitions that they summon from their Schwartz-rings.

Lo Pan taps his thumbs while controlling his apparition, like he's playing a video game. He also giggles a lot. Of course, Egg Shen wins the poke-battle and Lo Pan beats a hasty retreat.

Lightning unleashes more...lightning, and it continues to look like the awesomest thing ever. He also retreats as the battle goes south, and oddly disappears from the movie for a while.

Thunder, however, goes nowhere, as the next scene features him beating the complete crap out of our heroes in a two-on-one handicap match.

While Wang distracts Thunder, Jack takes on Lo Pan with a KNIFE THROW FOR THE AGES.

It seems Lo Pan succeeded in becoming corporeal and young again just in time to die.

Well, consider this a divorce from your two wives.

This leads to a sweet domino-effect as all of the statues in the room perfectly fall over and break. Everything about this movie is so well-done.

Thunder shows up, and he's PISSED. Without Lo Pan, he has nothing left to live for.

As our heroes and their rescued girlfriends look on in horror...

...he inflates to epic proportions and explodes. Are we sure this guy wasn't Wind?


However, there's still one more boss fight to contend with. Rayden Lightning calmly shows up again now that all his allies are dead, and proceeds to blast lightning in random directions just to... show off?

Get outta there, Jack!

Undertaker Lightning can't be bargained with! He can't be reasoned with! And he will not stop! Until all of the roofing in this hallway is destroyed!

This guy is such a showoff. He has Jack cornered and he's still focused on looking as cool as possible rather than winning. These special effects continue to be godly.

Lightning is defeated when Egg Shen drops a giant statue on his head. I like how all of this has been a team effort. There's no single protagonist winning everything.

JACK FINALLY GETS HIS TRUCK BACK. Take that, Lords of Death! Chinatown's most feared street gang, my ass!

The ending of the movie is an eerie scene with everyone hanging out in Chinatown with an oppressive fog outside. I wonder if this fog is a meta-statement on the way none of us know what awaits us when we step out the door.

Eddie gets a come-on from the Sassy Female Reporter, and it looks like some ::makes quotes with hands:: "article writing" is in their future.

Wang finally gets to relax with Miao Yin, seen here amazingly not traumatized by everything that has happened to her since she got off the plane. I also realize that she doesn't have a single spoken line in the movie, despite being the objective for most of it. Well, this movie can't be completely perfect.

So everyone's getting laid... except Gracie and Jack. She puts the moves on, and he shrugs her off like Cool Hand Luke.


Jack actually has a more romantic interaction with Wang: A firm handshake.

It could have been awesome to see these guys bro it up in a sequel. Then again, given Hollywood's track record, I'm glad they left this alone.

With that, Jack drives off, picking up where he left off at the beginning by waxing philosophical over the radio. And everyone lived happily ever after.


Lo Pan's weird troll minion, who I avoided taking shots of earlier, has stowed away on Jack's truck. Cut to credits. With AWESOME MUSIC.

So, final thoughts on this movie: It's as awesome now as it was in 1986. It's fun and action-packed, intense while never taking itself too seriously. The special effects are amazing, putting a lot of modern CGI to shame.

On a personal note, as far as I know, this was the first movie I ever watched and understood. I was lucky enough to start with a real winner. ...The second was Surf Ninjas. Not quite as good, that one.


  1. Jack's talking to other truckers of course. Damn that music is good.

    I love that hand gesture.

    Thunder has the power of BIG

    I find myself with little to say other than "THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME" over and over.

    Man, how is this NOT a videogame? A proper one I mean. If Ghostbusters can get a modern game surely Big Trouble can.

    I know that /I/ would trust Egg Shen.

    I thought Lo Pan won that battle with Egg Shen! It's closer to a tie either way.

    I'd like to state for the record that there is no "OR DID THEY?" This is Jack Burton we're talking about here. You know what good ol' Jack Burton says in times like this? Gimme your best shot pal. I can take it.

    1. Went back and looked and the Egg Shen / Lo Pan pokebattle ends in a tie.

      Then Lo Pan says "You never could beat me" as if he won, so... it's a bit confusing. Visually, though, it looks like a complete tie. Not sure why I remembered it as Egg winning -right after I watched it-.

      This movie getting a sweet modern game adaptation like Ghostbusters did (and Back to the Future?) would be something else. I wonder why games based on cult favorite 80's movies haven't caught on yet. The Thing got a game follow-up but otherwise the list is short. Seems like these things would sell very well given the popularity of retro.

  2. *Great* post. Yet again you bring back good memories with all the pictures and music links. This was one of my first movies too.

  3. Such a fantastic movie, and a great post by you. You've reminded me I need to watch this with Jean so she'll know what US Chinatowns are all about. You're right about the special effects not having aged.
    I admire that Jack is a lone ranger who settles down and doesn't need love because doing good work is his calling. That attitude is something we've forgotten is respectable lately imo.

    1. The special effects are mind-bogglingly good. I don't know how they did half of 'em. Wonder if it was the same studio that did The Thing's special effects, as those were also bonkers for the era.

      It's funny how movies like T2 and BTILC look better than modern CGI-fests.

  4. I'd see the fuck out of a sequel to this. But you're right, it'd probably be terrible

  5. I just rewatched this and I started wondering if the bottle cutting thing was just a scam to knock Jack out and run without paying. But probably not right since they were friends