Film: Big Trouble in Little China

"All I know is, this Lo Pan character comes out of thin air in the middle of a goddamn alley while his buddies are flying around on wires cutting everybody to shreds, and he just stands there waiting for me to drive my truck straight through him with light coming out of his mouth!"
Jack Burton

Big Trouble In Little China is one of John Carpenter's greatest films, written by W.D. Richter and released in 1986.

Kurt Russell is Jack Burton, a long-haul trucker with a penchant for making soliloquies over the CB. He's in San Francisco's Chinatown to meet his buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) and pick up Wang's fiancee Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) from the airport, but David Lo Pan (James Hong) kidnaps her with the help of his Wing Kong street gang and the Three Storms.

Jack, Wang, lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), tour bus driver Egg Shen (Victor Wong), and the Chang Sing street gang join forces to rescue Miao Yin from the deathless Lo Pan, but Jack's really in it to get his truck back.

Subverts a few tropes of the action hero genre. Most notably, as stated by both Carpenter and Russell in the DVD commentary: "This is a movie about a guy who thinks he's the Action Hero when he's really the comic sidekick."

The story continues in the Big Trouble in Little China comic series by BOOM! Studios, the first issue of which arrived on June 4th, 2014.

Don't confuse this with Chinatown. Hilarity will not ensue.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Jack's not an action guy despite his macho facade, and by the end is simply glad to be out of there. Despite this he leans more toward the badass side of this trope. He is brave, sort of competent, and Wang constantly asking for his help implies Jack has a bit of a reputation as a tough guy. He's just out of his element when dealing with magic.
  • Affectionate Parody: The film lovingly spoofs action hero and magical martial arts film tropes.
  • Air Jousting: Wang Chi and Rain in an aerial sword duel.
  • All Asians Know Martial Arts: Wang, a restaurant owner, is an expert martial artist for some reason. On the other hand, his maitre d', Eddie, doesn't appear to have any such skill.
  • Almighty Janitor: To the public, Egg Shen is just a tour bus driver... Who also happens to be a sorcerer.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Lo Pan needs to marry a girl with green eyes to become flesh again. He doesn't care about her consent.
  • Attack Reflector: Egg Shen uses a mirrored fan to send Lightning's lightning bolt attack back at him.
  • Audience Surrogate: Jack, being unfamiliar with the world he's entering, asks all the same questions that the audience is.
  • Audible Sharpness: Swords and knives get the traditional sound of being drawn.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Jack and Gracie pile up a lot of Slap-Slap-Kiss style Unresolved Sexual Tension, and finally admit to caring for each other at the end, but Jack promptly subverts the expected They Do resolution by taking off. He really was just in it to get his truck back.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Subverted. Jack is so tense during his first real fight alongside Wang Chi that he accidentally throws his knife into a corner, and the fight is over by the time he gets back.
  • Badass: Jack tries very hard to be a stereotypical American Hero, but his combat skills don't quite live up to his dialogue. Wang Chi is a more straightforwardly awesome martial artist, and the whole gang of heroes gets an upgrade in the final battle thanks to Egg Shen's potion.
  • Balloon Belly: When Thunder becomes truly enraged, he inflates himself with air.
    Wang: I don't think he's gonna stop!
  • Bash Brothers: Wang and Jack team up to fight Thunder near the climax; most of the battle is spent running away from the invincible demigod.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Jack and Wang bluff their way into the Wing Kong Exchange building by pretending to be telephone repairmen who'd been called in to fix a problem.
  • Beam-O-War: Lo Pan and Egg Shen duel in this way. The two beams, upon colliding, take the shape of dueling swordsmen. And then they twiddle their fingers like they're using video game controllers to direct the swordsmen.
  • Beta Couple: Margo and Eddie spend a fair chunk of the film shipping Jack and Gracie, which naturally leads to them hooking up themselves.
  • Blatant Lies: After Jack shoots a mook, he gets a horrified expression on his face. After Eddie asks if it's the first time he's ever "plugged somebody," Jack suddenly adopts a macho facade and says, "'Course not!"
  • Body Horror: Thunder inflates himself to a comically huge size and explodes.
  • Bound and Gagged: Gracie and Miao Yin are both tied up in the slave emporium prior to their delivery to Lo Pan; Gracie is gagged because they got tired of her yelling.
  • Bring It: Lo Pan does this to Jack (using his index finger) as Burton is driving his truck toward him.
  • But Now I Must Go: After defeating Lo Pan, Jack leaves his friends and goes back to what he does best - being a trucker.
  • Call Back: The phrase "Cops got better things to do than get killed." is spoken twice by different characters.
  • Catch and Return: Jack's trademark skill is his ability to catch objects as a lightning reflex. He employs it in the climax.
  • Catch Phrase: While he may not be a badass in the standard sense, Jack certainly has dialogue down pat.
    • "It's all in the reflexes," which serves triple duty as a Chekhov's Gun and a Bond One-Liner.
    • "You know what Jack Burton always says at a time like this?" "Who?" "Jack Burton. Me."
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: Jack and friends pass a police car and fire truck on their way to the scene during their escape, which have apparently finally decided to respond to the explosions and gunfire.
  • Chekhov's Skill: In the beginning, Jack catches a bottle flying at his face. Later, he catches a thrown knife out of the air and delivers the same quip.
  • Co-Dragons: Thunder, Lightning, and Rain serve as Lo Pan's enforcers and gofers. As they are corporeal, they have the ability to do things that he can't.
  • Common Eye Colors: Lo Pan has to sacrifice a woman with green eyes to become whole again. The thing is, he at first thinks he needs to sacrifice a Chinese woman, and (Han) Chinese people having green eyes is extremely rare if not impossible.
  • Covered in Kisses: As a result, Jack has Gracie's lipstick smeared on his mouth when he's facing Lo Pan.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Jack Burton, an ordinary guy with no noteworthy skills (save one), against an ancient Chinese sorcerer-demon with fantastic magical powers. Maybe that's what gets Lo Pan to drop his guard.
  • Cutlass Between the Teeth: Jack carries his knife in his mouth when he needs both his hands free.
  • Cutting the Knot: In order to get into an elevator, Jack hauls out a knife and cuts through the wall to get in, which works because the wall is made of paper.
    Jack: Hollow?
    Wang: Hollow.
    Jack: Fuck it. [SLASH]
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Subverted and becomes "Did not want the girl". Jack declines to stay with Gracie at the end of the movie, saying sooner or later he rubs everyone the wrong way. Riding off into the sunset is one of the vestiges of the film's original Western setting.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?:
    • Justified, as the heroes deliberately wait until after Lo Pan is married to fight him because he'll be mortal afterwards.
    • Two of Lo Pan's dragons go out this way. Rain is defeated via a sword through the guts, and Lightning is defeated by having a big rock dropped on his head.
  • Diving Save: After kidnapping Miao Yin, the Lords of Death are escaping in a car. Jack pulls a frozen Wang Chi out of the way of the oncoming car.
  • Don't Think. Feel: Jack can and does do impressive things on "reflex" but often botches actions when he makes a conscious, premeditated attempt.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Two of Lo Pan's Dragons die after he does.
  • Driven to Suicide / Taking You with Me: Thunder doesn't take Lo Pan's death well. Rather than go berserk and tear up the place, he commits suicide by self-inflation, causing the building to collapse.
  • Drowning Pit: The elevator in Lo Pan's lair can be flooded with water to trap hapless intruders.
  • Eagleland: Mocked, but in a good way. Nearly all of the main characters - save Jack and Gracie - are Chinese-American immigrants (including Lo Pan) and Wang Chi offers up a patriotic toast to America before drinking Egg's potion.
  • Elemental Embodiment: Lo Pan's Co-Dragons embody the aspects of storms: Thunder (Super Strength), Lightning (Shock and Awe) and Rain (really good sword skills?).
  • The End... Or Is It?: As Jack drives off, we see that one of David Lo Pan's monsters is hitching a ride under his truck.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Except for Jack, but he still throws in with a good punch or two.
  • Evil Cripple: Lo Pan in his "old man" form, restricted to a wheelchair.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Egg Shen invokes this trope when he and Jack are beneath Chinatown.
    Jack: That is not water.
    Egg: Black blood of the earth.
    Jack: What, you mean oil?
    Egg: I mean black blood of the earth!
  • Eye Scream: Averted with Lo Pan's sentry monster. Despite being nearly made of eyes, it dies due to a precision sword strike between them.
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: Lo Pan's spherical spy monster has eyes on stalks, on its back, and even one in its mouth.
  • Femme Fatalons: Lo Pan can grow these at will.
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: Jack tries it and Reality Ensues, with bits of the ceiling falling on his head and knocking him out.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: At the beginning, aside from Jack and Wang, there's some hostility and some reluctance to work together. By the end, they've all become very good friends.
  • Funny Background Event: During Jack and Lo Pan's confrontation, Thunder is chasing Wang in the background - the latter is doing flips and backflips.
  • Ghostly Glide: Lo Pan floats over the ground when he's in his ghost form.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: Lo Pan's long wispy beard definitely qualifies as Evil Hair.
  • Green Eyes: Lo Pan needs to marry a girl with green eyes to break his curse, but he also needs to sacrifice her. When he discovers that Gracie and Miao Yin both have them, he's overjoyed because he gets to trick the prophecy.
  • Groin Attack: When Lo Pan's Yeti monster grabs Jack from behind, Gracie kicks it in the family jewels to make it let go.
  • Guns Are Worthless: In the grand melee, Thunder confronts Jack. Jack tries to shoot him, but Thunder simply grabs the gun and smashes it. The Wing Kong security guards are also terrible at shooting the heroes.
  • Hellevator: How does it know which way to go without anyone pressing buttons? Ancient Chinese secret.
  • Hero Ball: Jack and Wang juggle it. Wang is more martially competent and properly motivated; but Jack is the one who comes up with the ideas and keeps saving everyone else's life. He's also the one who kills the Big Bad.
  • Hero of Another Story: We get quite a few, befitting the theme of the movie that Jack actually isn't the hero:
    • Egg Shen has been fighting Lo Pan (and likely other mystical forces) for several years.
    • Gracie Law and her friend have been exposing the Chinatown underworld, resulting in her knowing quite a bit about the local gangs to the point where they now want to kill her.
    • While this is the first time Wang has been up against supernatural threats (he grew up believing them to be myths), he obviously has experience at fighting bad guys and even has an alliance with one of the local gangs.
  • Hero-Tracking Failure: When the security guards are shooting at Jack. If one looks closely, a charge explodes just next to Jack's head. This was not done on purpose. Apparently, the special effects technician set the charges to go off too soon, nearly resulting in Kurt Russell being injured. Of course they decided to Throw It In anyway.
  • Hey, Catch!: Jack has a trick. It's his only trick, but it's a good one — he can catch anything. As he says, "It's all in the reflexes".
  • Hooked Up Afterwards: Margo invites Eddie over to her apartment in a very seductive way.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with a lawyer asking Egg Shen to explain what exactly went down in Chinatown. While the film does explain what went down, it doesn't explain what led to the conversation with the lawyer (who never appears outside the opening scene).
    • As The Unmasqued World trope implies, the final battle against Lo Pan was devastating enough - the lawyer even provides a list - to where the normal law enforcement types have finally taken notice, and want answers.
  • Humble Goal: All Jack really wants is to get his truck back.
  • If I Do Not Return: Jack tells Gracie, "If we're not back by dawn... call the President."
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: David Lo Pan with Gracie Law and Miao Yin.
  • Indecisive Parody: Of martial arts/fantasy/action movies.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Margo wants to be one.
    Margo: "I feel like I'm in over my head."
    Eddie: [kindly] "You are."
  • Intimidation Demonstration: When the Three Storms first appear to break up the fight between the Chang Sings and the Wing Kong, they give a display of martial arts skills and supernatural powers to intimidate the gangs.
  • It Wasn't Easy: Egg Shen disappears after the fight in the assembly hall, then abruptly reappears to throw his friends an escape rope through a hole in the ceiling. When asked how the he got up there, Egg just says "It wasn't easy!"
  • Juggling Loaded Guns: Just before the climactic battle, Jack attempts to lead the charge of The Cavalry by shooting upwards dramatically. A chunk of the ceiling lands on his head for his effort, and puts him out of commission until the fight is well underway.
  • Large Ham: Several, but especially Jack and the villains.
  • Law of Inverse Recoil: Subversion when Jack fires a machine pistol on full automatic.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Lo Pan's creature is obviously a beholder.
  • Lighter and Softer: Carpenter is mostly known for hard action and horror films. This one is much more comedic, though there's still a lot of violence.
  • Lipstick Mark: Hilariously, Jack delivers what he thinks is a straight example of a Badass challenge while he's got one on his lips from kissing Gracie.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: When Jack finally defeats Lo Pan, his lair starts to fall apart.
  • Magical Asian: All the Asian characters to an extent, but mostly Egg Chen
  • Meaningful Name: Gracie Law is a lawyer.
  • Mighty Whitey: Subverted. Jack acts like he's the lantern-jawed, All-American hero of the story, but he's actually the Side Kick of his more capable Chinese-American friend Wang Chi.
  • Mind-Control Eyes: When Gracie Law and Miao Yin are under David Lo Pan's control.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: The kidnapping of a girl with green eyes → David Lo Pan's plan to rule the universe from beyond the grave.
    Lo Pan: Indeed!
  • Mirrors Reflect Everything: Egg Shen uses this when Lightning fires some, well, lightning at him. His mirror? A Chinese fan that looks like it's made of aluminum foil.
  • Mook Lieutenant: One unnamed Wing Kung member (credited as "Hatchet Man", played by Al Leong) acts as the gang's leader, and is also shown kicking more ass.
  • Mooks: Street gang Wing Kung act as Lo Pan's mooks.
  • Mr. Exposition: Margo waxes expository about Lo Pan for Jack's benefit; the other participants in the conversation mostly know about him already.
  • Mundane Solution: Lightning, The Dragon who shoots lightning bolts out of his hands, is defeated by dropping a statue on his head.
  • Neck Lift: Thunder does this to Wang Chi when Wang and Jack attack him.
  • Nice Hat
    • Lo Pan has an extremely nice hat.
    • The Storms' wickerwork hats are rather nice also, as the brims' weave is loose enough that they can see through it.
  • No Man of Woman Born: Lo Pan has to marry and then sacrifice a green-eyed woman to return to human form, but he has to stay married to one in order to regain his full power. The solution: Marry two green-eyed women and sacrifice one of them.
  • Not with the Safety on, You Won't: The first time Jack tries to fire the TEC-9, he has to be reminded by Wang to take the safety off.
  • Oculothorax: A Beholder-like monster shows up, to Jack's horror. "What it sees, Lo Pan knows." Naturally, he tries shooting it.
    Jack: (to Egg Shen, who's glaring at him) What? You never know til you try.
  • Oh, Crap:
    • When a gang member calls Wang Chi by name, both Wang and Jack give a collective "Oh crap."
    • Jack and company collectively wince after the knife he throws at Lo Pan misses.
  • Open the Door and See All the People: Jack opens a door and sees a mob of angry-looking mooks on the other side. Naturally he slams it shut in their faces. Subverted once the mooks have hacked through the door, Jack shoots most of them with his TEC-9.
  • PG Explosives: Egg Shen uses explosives to blow up multiple Mooks. There's no gore; they simply fly through the air.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Jack's true role in the story is as the sidekick to Wang; accordingly, he gets to deliver all the one-liners and be the Butt Monkey.
  • Pop Goes the Human: Thunder inflates himself to monstrous size after Lo Pan's demise, then explodes, bringing the temple down with him.
  • Portrait Painting Peephole: The Yeti monster spies on the heroes from behind a statue.
  • Power-Up Food: Egg gives everyone a potion that makes them all into a Badass Abnormal, especially Wang Chi, who's strong enough to fight members of the Three Storms himself.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: There's a Running Gag throughout the movie of Jack delivering a pre-battle boast and then getting his ass handed to him.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Jack when punching Rain, one of Lo Pan's minions. After hitting Rain twice to no effect whatsoever, Jack sort of gives a respectful nod before getting kicked across the room.
  • The Punishment: Lo Pan was cursed ages ago to be of "no-flesh", unable to exercise his sorcerous powers in his physical form. He can assume the shape of his once-powerful self, but he is incorporeal and unable to touch anything.
  • Purple Prose: Lo Pan's inept attempts to gush about Miao Yin's looks.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: In one scene Jack is embarrassed by having killed someone only for the first time and lies about it so as not to appear dorky to his male friends, who obviously aren't killers any more than he is.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: While Lo Pan is interrogating Wang Chi and Jack, he speaks in Chinese to Wang Chi with no translation for the audience.
  • Redshirt Army: A squadron of Chang Sing warriors provide the muscle as Jack, Wang, and Egg Chen storm Lo Pan's wedding. Only the heroes are shown escaping and whether the Chang Sings all perished in the melee or escaped the lair through alternate means is never explained.
  • Revolvers Are For Amateurs: Eddie's revolver is seen to be pathetically inadequate compared to the arsenal of guns used by both heroes and villains.
    • Egg Chen tries to offer a large caliber piece to Jack, thinking it will make the latter feel "like Dirty Harry." Jack is unimpressed and chooses to stick with his TEC-9.
  • Riding into the Sunset: Name-dropped in the commentary.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: Much of the movie is only tangentially related to actual Chinese mythology, but the "evil boddhisatva" stands out most.
  • Screaming Warrior: At first all the screaming into combat is done by the street gangs, with Jack as a slack-jawed bystander, but he and Wang get into the act as well in the big melee in Lo Pan's temple.
  • Second Person Attack: During the street fight between the warring gangs one of the fighters roundhouse kicks the camera.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Jack's a macho, all-American badass (or so he thinks), while Wang is a dutiful store owner, dizzy with excitement to meet his Chinese betrothed after many years apart, and tends to be more emotional. Jack's machismo is mainly for show, however, while Wang's the real badass.
  • Shock and Awe: Lightning's powers are, as one might expect, to shoot bolts of electricity everywhere. He enjoys his job a bit too much, perhaps, as he spends so much time showing off that the heroes can counter his attacks or run away.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Jack shoots off a padlock to free the female captives from their cells in Lo Pan's warehouse.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Jack's CB soliloquy offers the following gem:
    Jack: [...] Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it."
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Subverted when the heroes must stand by and allow Lo Pan's wedding to take place so he will become mortal, and thus vulnerable.
  • Summon Magic: Egg Shen and Lo Pan conjure huge spirit-warrior figures to duel one another during the wedding-ceremony battle.
  • Sunglasses at Night: At the start of the film, Jack is driving a truck, with sunglasses on, well after the sun has gone down.
  • Super Serum: Egg Shen provides this in the form of a potion that lets one "see things no one else can see, do things no one else can do." It also provides a good buzz.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Jack has a lot of enthusiasm, but he has no idea what is going on and is constantly in need of explanation and leadership from the others.
  • Tap on the Head: Wang and Eddie knock out several of Lo Pan's guards, and Jack does it to himself at the start of the giant melee by way of Firing in the Air a Lot and hitting the ceiling.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Many of the characters speak their motivations aloud, even referring to themselves in third person. For example, when introduced, Margo exclaims she's desperate and will do anything for a story.
  • Theme Naming: Lo Pan's Co-Dragons, the Three Storms, are named after components of storms: Thunder, Lighting and Rain.
  • Third-Person Person: As Jack Burton always says, talking about yourself in first person is for wimps.
  • Throat Light: Lo Pan can emit a blinding blast of magical power from his mouth.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Wang delivers the killing blow to Rain at the conclusion of their aerial duel by throwing his sword into Rain's guts.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: The Wing Kong and Chang Sing street gangs are explicitly referred to as "Fighting Tongs," though only one side is evil.
  • Trolling Translator: Lampshaded as Jack and Wang Chi are sneaking around David Lo Pan's base.
    Jack: (pointing to Chinese writing on elevator) What does that say?
    Wang: (speaks Chinese) "Hell of Boiling Oil".
    Jack: You're kidding.
    Wang: Yeah, I am. It says "Keep Out".
  • Underside Ride: The ending shows the hero happily driving away, only to throw in a last second Jump Scare revealing a monster hiding under his semi trailer.
  • The Unmasqued World: The first scene (which is chronologically the last scene) implies that the outside world noticed the fight with Lo Pan and wants answers.
  • Wait Here: Parodied when Jack tells this to several of his Sidekicks.
  • Why Won't You Die?: Lo Pan gets visibly frustrated by Jack's refusal to give up despite how obviously overmatched he is..
    Lo Pan: Is it too much to ask, Thunder? Kill him! For me!
  • Wizard Duel: Egg Shen and Lo Pan have a Beam-O-War battle in the middle of the grand melee at Lo Pan's wedding. The duel is inconclusive.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Jack thinks he's in a realistic action film, but this is a martial arts film with fantasy elements. He also thinks that he's the hero, when he's the sidekick.
  • Yellow Peril: Wang explains that the Chinese-American immigrants brought black sorcery along with their culture, and that the entire world is in danger if Lo Pan succeeds in his goals.
  • You Do NOT Want To Know: Jack is freaked out by the creature in the sewers, but Egg Shen brushes his questions off.
    Jack: WHAT?! WHAT will come out no more?!

Alternative Title(s):

Big Trouble In Little China