A Good Time for Big Trouble (in Little China).

Recently I read Ernest Cline’s latest offering Armada (2015). It’s a book filled with references to the music, film, and video game culture of the 1980’s. Since I finished the book I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick revisiting films I loved when I was a teen in the 80’s. And one film, very near to the top of my all time favourites list, is the third collaboration between John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, Big Trouble in Little China (1986).

Cinema poster of Big Trouble in Little China (1986). © TAFT Entertainment Pictures.

Big Trouble in Little China is one of those films I have watched countless times. Each time, often while eating a large take-away order of Chinese, I can’t help but smile and laugh at the various quips and nuances woven into the film. And I know I’m not alone in my adoration of this film.

I remember when I first heard about this film, it was in the magazine Inside Kung Fu. I saw the magazine on the shelf at W. H. Smith and snapped it up. As I recall the article was mostly positive and eager to point out that this was the first Hollywood film with a mainly Asian cast. Never mind that though, after the Carpenter/Russell team ups of Escape from New York (1981) and The Thing (1982), there was no way I was not going to see this film.

Kurt Russell as Jack Burton. I’m here.

If you are unaware of the plot Kurt Russell plays Jack Burton, a brash, loud mouthed braggart that drives a long-haul rig he calls The Pork Chop Express. While he drives, Jack uses his CB radio to expound his wisdom and philosophy to any and all that will listen.

Jack meets up with his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) and while helping Wang pick up his fiancée Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) at the airport she is kidnapped by the Lords of Death, a Chinese street gang in the employ of David Lo Pan (James Hong). From here Jack’s life is never the same.

Egg Shen (Victor Wong), Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), and Jack Burton on their way to do battle with Lo Pan.
James Hong as David Lo Pan.
What the hell is Gracie Law doing here?

Along the way Jack picks up new friends like Chinese wizard Egg Shen (Victor Wong), falls in love, yet again, with Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), and learns about the reality of the world he’s been thrust into. Jack takes everything in obliviously arrogant stride by being his very John Wayne American best. An attitude, while amusing, doesn’t always work out the way Jack hopes.

The interesting thing about Jack is that in his mind he’s the hero of the story, the Big Kahuna, El Capitano, Numero Uno. In reality, though, Jack is the sidekick being allowed to think he’s the hero so he doesn’t get hurt, both physically and emotionally. Well not too much at least.

Big Trouble in Little China is one of those films that after watching it I gave serious (teenage) consideration for a few days to learning to drive those big-rigs and heading out in search of my own adventure. Ah, such are the fantasies of youth and stupidity.

It’s been nearly thirty years since Big Trouble in Little China was released and after my latest viewing it hasn’t lost any of it’s charm or appeal. It’s a film for those of us who know it, love it. As a property it should have been expanded on and embellished upon, but sadly has been neglected by most people for too long. Recently, however, things have begun to change for this beloved property.

About a year ago BOOM! Studios launched the comic book Big Trouble in Little China. Its story was co-written by none other than John Carpenter himself. Even without his involvement I would have jumped at reading this title. The very first issue picks up right where the film left off, with Jack in his big-rig and the demon tagging along. It’s as close to a John Carpenter sequel as you could want.

Cover of issue #1 of Big Trouble in Little China from BOOM! Studios.

Throughout the first twelve issues we follow the further adventures of would-be hero Jack Burton and his band of friends. Each issue was a treat and I looked forward to reading each one. At the end of the twelfth issue, Jack is brought into the present day, and while I had my misgivings at first, I think after two more issues the story is uniquely appealing to fans of Big Trouble in Little China and will continue to be so.

Also, for the collectors among us, Funko has released two sets of Big Trouble in Little China figures. The first being part of their ReAction figure line and the second part of the POP! line. Both sets have their charms, but until I see an Egg Shen figure I would only give them a passing grade (I’ve still purchased them though).

Big Trouble in Little China ReAction figures from Funko. Where the hell’s Egg Shen?
Big Trouble in Little China POP! figures from Funko. Still no Egg Shen?! Hmph.

Now for some bad news. Ready?

In June it was announce that Dwayne Johnson has been attached to a remake of Big Trouble in Little China. The world needs this remake like it needs another hole in the ozone layer. Dwayne Johnson is a good action star, but he has no business being part of a Big Trouble in Little China remake. Never mind that any remake will probably be bloody awful no matter who they get to star in it. This is yet another example of  Hollywood, bereft of new ideas, trying to cash in on another much loved property and milking it for all the cash they can squeeze out of it, regardless of the foul taste it will leave in the mouths of fans. I hope nothing comes of this.

This unsettling news aside, Big Trouble in Little China will always have a special place in my heart, and in the hearts of many others. As a film it was far greater than the sum of it’s parts. Now as a comic book those parts are living once more. If you’ve not seen Big Trouble in Little China for yourself I can only say go watch it now. It’s a magical experience. I only hope John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, James Hong, and the rest of the cast and crew look back at this film as fondly as I do.

So if you ever find yourself looking at the black blood of the earth and shaking the pillars of heaven and are in a tight spot you need to ask yourself, ‘What would Jack Burton do?’

What would Jack Burton do?


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