troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
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. His 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. His maitre d' Eddie, however, doesn't appear to have any such skill.
  • 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.
  • 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... and at least his dialogue is badass. Wang Chi, on the other hand, manages to kill a storm demigod in a sword fight after carving through an entire army.
  • Balloon Belly: Thunder, when he inflates himself with air.
  • Bash Brothers: Though Wang does most of the fighting, he and Jack become this briefly when they take on Thunder.
  • 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, which dismisses them from the plot before the climax.
  • Big Bad: David Lo Pan
  • 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!"
  • B-Movie: An intentional one.
  • Body Horror: Thunder when he inflates himself to huge size and explodes.
  • Bound and Gagged: Gracie Law and Miao Yin.
  • Breath Weapon: David Lo Pan fires a blinding magical blast of light from his mouth.
  • Bring It: David Lo Pan does this to Jack Burton (using his index finger) as Burton is driving his truck toward him.
  • Call Back: The phrase "Cops got better things to do than get killed." is spoken twice by different characters.
  • Catch and Return: Jack Burton after David Lo Pan throws his knife back at him.
  • Catch Phrase: Jack uses several.
    • "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?" To which people respond, "Who?"
      Jack: 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.
  • 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.
  • Common Eye Colors: Big Bad David 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: And as a result, Jack has Gracie's lipstick smeared on his mouth when he's facing Lo Pan.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Jack Burton vs. David Lo Pan
  • Cutlass Between the Teeth: Jack Burton with his knife.
  • Cutting the Knot: In order to get into an elevator, Jack Burton 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: Jack Burton declines to stay with Gracie Law at the end of the movie. 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.
  • Diving Save: After kidnapping Miao Yin, the Lords of Death are escaping in a car. Jack Burton 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.
  • Drowning Pit: The elevator in Lo Pan's lair.
  • 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 the main hero Wang Chi offers up a patriotic toast to America before drinking Egg's potion.
  • Elemental Embodiment: Thunder, Lightning and Rain.
  • The End... Or Is It?: As Jack Burton 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: David Lo Pan can grow these at will.
  • Finger Snap Lighter
  • 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.
  • Friendly Local Chinatown
  • Ghostly Glide: Lo Pan floats like this when he's in his ghost form.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: David Lo Pan's long wispy beard definitely qualifies as Evil Hair.
  • Green Eyes: Gracie Law and Miao Yin
  • Groin Attack: Gracie Law to Lo Pan's humanoid monster when it grabs Jack Burton from behind. She kicks it in the family jewels to make it let go.
  • 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
  • Heroic BSOD: The first time Jack shoots someone, he looks a little shocked. When Eddie asks if it's the first time he's ever "plugged" someone, Jack snaps out of it and resumes his usual bluster.
  • 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 Burton. 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 Burton 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 Burton 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 Burton 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.
  • 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 David Lo Pan's mooks.
  • Mr. Exposition: Margo Litzenberger, about David Lo Pan.
  • 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
  • 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: Jack and company after the knife he throws at Lo Pan misses.
  • Open The Door And See All The People: Jack Burton opens a door and sees a mob of angry-looking mooks on the other side.
  • PG Explosives: The explosives that Egg Shen uses to blow up multiple Mooks.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Jack Burton, even though he's supposed to be The Hero.
  • Pop Goes the Human: Thunder's demise. Well, human-shaped anyway.
  • Portrait Painting Peephole: The Yeti monster, spying on the heroes from behind the statue.
  • Power-Up Food: Egg gives everyone a potion that mades them all into a Badass Abnormal, especially Wang Chi, who's enough to fight members of the Three Storms himself. And win, beating Rain.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: Multiple subversions by Jack Burton.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Jack Burton when punching Rain, one of David 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: The curse of "no-flesh."
  • Purple Prose: Lo Pan's inept attempts to gush about Miao Yin's looks.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: The Three Storms.
  • 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 David Lo Pan is interrogating Wang Chi and Jack Burton, he speaks in Chinese to Wang Chi with no translation for the audience.
  • Revolvers Are For Amateurs: Certainly true for Eddie.
  • 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.
  • San Francisco: The city's iconic Chinatown is the main setting, and a few shots feature the city's skyline prominently.
  • Screaming Warrior: Most of the male characters.
  • Second Person Attack: During the street fight between the warring gangs one of the fighters roundhouse kicks the camera.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man
  • She's Got Legs: Gracie Law and Miao Yin.
  • Shock and Awe: Lightning, one of the Three Storms.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Jack Burton shoots off a padlock to free the female captives from their cells in Lo Pan's warehouse.
  • Sidekick Ex Machina: Wang Chi
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: During Jack's CB soliloquy.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Subverted when the heroes must stand by and allow David 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: Not exactly night, but barely an hour before it; at the start of the film, we see Jack Burton 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 to several of Lo Pan's guards, and Jack Burton does it to himself.
  • Tennis Boss: Lo Pan.
  • 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: The Three Storms: Thunder, Lighting and Rain.
  • Third-Person Person: Jack Burton.
  • Throat Light: David Lo Pan.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Wang Chi vs. Rain.
  • 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 Burton and Wang Chi are sneaking around David Lo Pan's base.
    Jack Burton: (pointing to Chinese writing on elevator) What does that say?
    Wang Chi: (speaks Chinese) "Hell of Boiling Oil".
    Jack Burton: You're kidding.
    Wang Chi: Yeah, I am. It says "Keep Out".
  • Underside Ride: The ending shows the hero happily driving away, only for a last minute 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.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Chang Sing gang members disappear after the final fight.
  • Wait Here: Parodied when Jack Burton tells this to several of his Sidekicks.
  • Why Won't You Die?:
    Lo Pan: Is it too much to ask, Thunder? Kill him! For me!
  • Wizard Duel: Egg Shen vs. Lo Pan
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Jack Burton thinks he's in a realistic action film, but this is a martial arts film with fantasy elements.
  • Yellow Peril: David Lo Pan.
  • You Do NOT Want To Know: "WHAT?! WHAT will come out no more?!"

Back to SchoolFilms of the 1980sBiggles
Absurdly Ineffective BarricadeImageSource/Live-Action FilmsStompy Mooks
Bedknobs and BroomsticksUrban FantasyCast a Deadly Spell

alternative title(s): Big Trouble In Little China
random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
51202
35