Big Trouble in Little China: A Cult Movie Classic
It was one of my favorite movies as a youth. I had it recorded on video and watched it over and over again. In fact, I could say the lines in the movie word for word while watching it.
The movie is a reverse John Wayne. The John Wayne character, Jack Burton, played by Kurt Russel, in the movie, is basically a buffoon. John Wayne, in the movies, was always portrayed as if he were always in command, a hero, top-notch, numero uno; but Jack Burton is all pretense. He thinks he is tough, but can't get it right. He's shaken up when he has to shoot someone and can't get it together to fight someone without going through unnecessary preparations.
However, everyone else in the movie is much more competent. This is why I call it the reverse John Wayne. While everyone else in a John Wayne flick is meant to make him look good, everyone else in Big Trouble makes Jack Burton look bad. Everyone else is more skilled, brave, and knowledgeable than Jack Burton, and Jack Burton is perpetually in unknown territory.
As lost as Jack is, he still manages to pull it together against the odds. With a little help from his friends.
Jack Burton is a rugged trucker who finds himself in Chinatown, taking care of his vices: Drinking and gambling. He's visiting a semi-friend, Chinatown local Wang Chi, having some beer and playing a Chinese gambling game. Wang Chi loses a bet and can't pay Jack. Jack is very interested in getting his winnings, so lingers long enough to accompany Wang until he can get him his money.
Wang is expecting a girl to come into town so they can start a life together. However, she is kidnapped at the airport by a brutal Chinatown gang, soon after Wang and Jack arrive to pick her up.
So, the pair wander down into the bowels of Chinatown to find Wang's kidnapped girlfriend. While pursuing the girl, they stumble into a gang war and they also run into Lo Pan and his three magical henchmen, The Three Storms.
Thrashed by Lo Pan and his henchmen, Jack and Wang escape, but Jack loses his truck in the scuffle.
Back at Wang's family restaurant, the pair are joined by friends, a journalist and a lawyer, and Jack's love interest, Gracie Law played by Kim Cattrall. In addition, they enlist the help of Egg Shen, a good magician quite familiar with the dark forces of sorcerer Lo Pan.
By curse, Lo Pan has become immortal and seeks to find a green-eyed bride whom he must sacrifice to get back his mortality.
That green-eyed girl is Wang's fiancé, whom Lo Pan holds captive and Wang intends to free.
Without spoiling the ending, we will just say the battle is spectacular, and funny.
The movie is full of fantasy and humor. The cultural conflict between Jack, your typical American trucker and braggart who can't quite live up to his image, and the Chinese folk with whom he's gotten involved is a humorous thread throughout the movie. In addition, Gracie Law is the somewhat satirical do-gooder who, nevertheless, definitely does a lot of good.
There are monsters, magic spells, mystical powers, fights between sorcerers, martial arts action from martial arts experts, and great comedy. The repartee between Jack Burton, Wang and Gracie Law is classic.
As stated before, the role-reversal of John Wayne machismo turning to buffoonery is quite priceless and Kurt Russel definitely pulls it off. Jack Burton's lines have become gold for fans of the movie, with the classic preface to all his grandiose statements, "You know what Jack Burton says at a time like this?" Kurt Russel's delivery is superb, totally conveying the insecurity and ego in one fell swoop.
It is also interesting to see a relatively honest portrayal of Chinese-Americans in a 1980s movie, an era notorious for the worst and most stereotypical portrayals of various ethnic minorities in American film. The movie is sympathetic and sincere to all involved, propelling each character with their foibles, integrity, and goodness intact.
That's what's good about Big Trouble in Little China.