Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz!
I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “John Carpenter” with a minor in “Heroic One-Liners”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
From August of 2013 it’s the speech for Big Trouble in Little China!
When trucker Jack Burton agreed to take his friend Wang Chi to pick up his fiancée at the airport, he never expected to get involved in a supernatural battle between good and evil. An immortal sorcerer named Lo Pan and his three invincible cronies kidnap Wang’s fiancée, but worse than that, they stole Jack’s Truck too! Now, Jack, by all accounts a very reasonable guy, is about to experience some very unreasonable things. Everybody relax! Supercult is here and tonight there’s definitely Big Trouble in Little China!
John Carpenter, known primarily for writing and directing some of the best sci-fi and horror cult films of the 70’s and 80’s including Halloween, The Thing, Escape from New York, and They Live, brings us Big Trouble in Little China. Released in 1986, Big Trouble in Little China stars Kurt Russel as Jack Burton, an All-American trucker and possibly the most entertaining fish-out-of-water character you’ll ever see. Victor Wong, who 90’s kids may recognize from Tremors and 3 Ninjas, plays the local Egg Shen, the local expert on the magic and dark arts, and James Hong, the voice of Po’s father in Kung Fu Panda, plays the evil magician Lo Pan.
Carpenter envisioned the film as an inverse of traditional scenarios in action films with a Caucasian protagonist helped by a minority sidekick. In Big Trouble in Little China, Jack Burton, despite his bravado, is constantly portrayed as rather bumbling; in one fight sequence he even knocks himself unconscious before the fight even begins. Wang Chi, on the other hand, is constantly portrayed as highly skilled and competent. On a commentary track for the DVD release, Carpenter commented that the film is really about a sidekick (Burton) who thinks he is a leading man. According to Carpenter, the studio “didn’t get [his film]” and made him write something that would explain the character of Jack Burton. Carpenter came up with the prologue scene between Egg Shen and the lawyer as a way to verbally hype Jack Burton’s character who literally spends the next 90 minutes in a state of constant cluelessness and overconfidence.
Here’s some random Trivia for you:
- According to John Carpenter and Kurt Russell in the DVD Commentary, the story was originally written as a western but Carpenter decided to set it during modern times. They even mention that instead of Jack Burton’s truck being stolen, it was originally his horse.
- Kurt Russell suffered a bad case of the flu during shooting so the sweat on his body is real, caused by the fever.
- The movie actually has a video game tie-in of the same name published in 1986 by Electric Dreams Software for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Armistrad CPC. Gotta love those 80’s videogame consoles!
John Carpenter and Kurt Russell said that the test screening was so overwhelming positive that both of them expected it to be a big hit. However, 20th Century Fox put little into promoting the movie and it ended up being a box office bomb bringing in just over $11 million of their $25 million budget movie got mixed reviews. Roger Ebert wrote, “special effects don’t mean much unless we care about the characters who are surrounded by them, and in this movie the characters often seem to exist only to fill up the foregrounds,” while Time writer Richard Corliss wrote, “Little China offers dollops of entertainment, but it is so stocked with canny references to other pictures that it suggests a master’s thesis that moves.”
Eight years later in 1992, Ed Boon and John Tobias would create the hit videogame Moral Kombat and draw inspiration from the character designs of Lo Pan and Lightning from Big Trouble in Little China for their characters Raiden the thunder god and Shang Tsung the demonic sorcerer.
After the commercial and critical failure of the film, Carpenter became very disillusioned with Hollywood and became an independent filmmaker. He said in an interview, “The experience [of Big Trouble] was the reason I stopped making movies for the Hollywood studios. I won’t work for them again. I think Big Trouble is a wonderful film, and I’m very proud of it. But the reception it received, and the reasons for that reception, were too much for me to deal with. I’m too old for that sort of bullshit.” Despite being a flop the film went on to be a huge cult hit through home video and gained new life as a cult classic. Empire magazine even voted Big Trouble in Little China its #430 spot in their “500 Greatest Movies of All Time” list.
Big Trouble Little China currently has an astounding 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and, a 7.2 on IMDB, and a total body count of 46. It’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles plus Ghost Busters with a little bit of the Big Lebowski thrown in there for good measure.
When monsters and ghosts and Chinese Black Magic are all around you, just remember what ol’ Jack Burton says: It’s all in the reflexes!
The Supercult show is proud to present: Big Trouble in Little China