Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a loud-mouthed, uncouth meat and potatoes kind of guy. And he’s a big rig truck driver. Jack is in Chinatown making a delivery. While there he enjoys a break from the road. He has a couple beers and does a little gambling. He does well. His friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) gambles away all his money. Wanting to try to recoup Wang makes a double or nothing wager and loses.
Wang has to go to the airport to pick up his fiancé Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). Not wanting Wang out of his sight until he pays up, Jack takes him there. While at the airport Jack sees a beautiful blond. Wang tells him she is Gracie Law (Kim Catrell) and that she is trouble. Gracie is there to pick up someone. A Chinese street gang, called the Lords of Death, tries to kidnap Gracie’s friend. Jack ends up in the middle of it and the gang kidnap Miao Yin instead.
Jack and Wang jump into Jack’s rig and go after the kidnappers. The guys end up in the labyrinth of Chinatown’s allies and in the middle of a turf war between two rival gangs. In the middle of the war three warriors called The Three Storms appear. They are Thunder (Carter Wong), Rain (Peter Kwong) and Lightning (James Pax). They have special powers that they use to do battle with the gangs. The Three Storms are the minions of a wizard called David Lo Pan (James Hong.) Lo Pan suddenly appears in front of Jack’s rig. Jack hits the gas to get out of there and appears to run over the wizard. In a panic Jack gets out of his rig, thinking he killed the old man. Lo Pan is fine but pissed. He shoots electricity at Jack making him temporarily blind. Wang grabs Jack and they run. While hiding Jack’s truck gets stolen.
They end up at Wang’s father’s restaurant. Gracie shows up and tells them that the Lords of Death plan on selling Miao Yin. When Gracie finds out that Miao Yin has green eyes she knows it will cost a lot to get her back since that trait is rare in Chinese women. They need a plan to get Miao Yin back. It goes awry when Lo Pan finds out about Miao Yin’s green eyes. According to ancient legend Lo Pan needs to marry a green eyed woman to break an ancient curse and then sacrifice her. When Lo Pan finds out that Gracie also has green eyes he plans on marrying both, sacrificing Gracie and keeping Miao Yin for himself.
“Big Trouble in Little China” was released in 1986 and was directed by John Carpenter. It is an action, adventure, martial arts, comedy, fantasy film. It was Carpenter’s eleventh film and it tanked at the box office. Like a lot of movies that were unappealing to the masses it has since been elevated to cult status. Although low turnout may be because the film was not promoted as it should have been. Still it takes an unusual mind to appreciate this film. What, at first blush, looks to be a disconnected pile of unmentionables does in fact have a plot. A strange one, but nevertheless, it is a plot.
The film is full of martial arts action and some decent special effects. The humor is mostly character driven. The acting and pacing both flow together organically. It’s quick and fun to watch. The dialogue is snappy and sometimes incongruously hard-boiled. It’s probably the closest you’ll ever get to Chinese noir.
On a base level it is a very strange buddy movie. Although Russell is the main character of the film, Jack Burton is basically Wang Chi’s sidekick. There are a few moments when Jack shines but most of the mayhem inflicted on the bad guys is done by Wang. An observation that Gracie is quick to point out. Not only is Jack the sidekick but he is also the comic relief. It’s one of the few times I was OK with a comic relief character. Although Jack is the sidekick he is the one who either makes or breaks the movie. If you can appreciate his personality, flaws and all, you can appreciate the movie. It is because of Jack that this tongue-in-cheek adventure story is so wild.
From my understanding, the Chinese characters in the main title translate to "Evil Spirits Make a Big Scene in Little Spiritual State".
Kurt Russell did five movies with John Carpenter. Besides this one he did: “Elvis” (1979), “Escape from New York” (1981), “The Thing” (1982), and “Escape from L.A.” (1996). If you are a fan of either “Escape from New York” or “Escape from L.A.” you will probably like this film as well.