"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 theAction 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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.