“Have ya paid your dues, Jack?” “Yessir, the check is in the mail.”-Jack Burton
With all of backlash in past weeks on social media from die-hard fan boys and cinephiles, it is unfortunately safe to say that a remake is in the works for an enjoyable film that is fine left untouched. The devilish, greedy, and unimaginative suits are hard at work to revamp another cult classic, spoon-feeding its modern cinemagoers, rather than viewers having the initiative to do the research in exploring the original source material. When this remake premieres, many young viewers will believe that it is the original. The current state of knowledge, or lack thereof, and situational awareness with our culture on the subjects of film, art, and history is downright appalling. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and once again, another film will be remade no matter how we feel about the situation. Why? Hollyweird is tired and lazy. Rather than develop a new property, they would rather modernize fun flicks from our youth with topical references, product placement, corporate sponsors, and lead the sheep to the cinema slaughterhouse to cash in on a vehicle for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
A majority of film lovers agree with my above statements, and strive for new material that will have a lasting impression on the horrid state of current cinema. I enjoy Johnson and do believe he is a bankable talent with charisma. Johnson has even made the gentlemanly request that John Carpenter of They Live (1989) and Kurt Russell of Death Proof (2007), be brought back in some production capacity to ease the tension from fans. I hope this remake never happens. My advice for you Mr. Johnson is to pack your bags, tear up your contract, stay out of San Fran, go wrassle, or you will have Big Trouble in Little China (1986)…if you smell what The Rick is cooking!
Big Trouble finds us meeting our semi hero, Jack Burton, Russell, truckin’ along in his tractor trailer, The Pork-Chop Express, enroute to San Francisco during a storm. Jack drives sharing his homily of hard-nosed wisdom via CB Radio (long before podcasts) to fellow drivers like a weathered road scholar. Seasoned by life, full of hot air, and overly confident from his wins & losses of attending life’s school of hard knocks, Jack has an opinion on every topic that he shares with all in earshot. Yep, he is our likeable, braggart of a hero, and he DOES have what it takes to tussle with his upcoming, supernatural dilemma.
Jack arrives in town to rest his dogs from the weary road before partaking in gambling, beers, and catching up with his friend, Wang, Dennis Dun of Prince of Darkness (1987). The role of Wang was originally envisioned for Jackie Chan of Rumble in the Bronx (1995), but his English was not up to snuff enough to the studio’s liking, was practically unknown at the time by American audiences, and opted to stay in his homeland for an extra decade (Rosetta Stone lessons?). After a night of bustin’ each other’s wontons with drunken, guy banter, Jack accompanies Wang to the airport to pick up his exotic looking fiancée Miao, Suzee Pai of Sharkey’s Machine (1981), who is arriving from China that morning. While waiting around in Arrivals, a very 80’s cheesy clad Chinese gang, the Lords of Death (LOD), with human trafficking on their minds, attempt to kidnap another Chinese girl who is being met by friend Gracie, Kim Cattrall of Porky’s (1982). Of course our boisterous bad boy Jack will have none of this behavior on his watch, intervenes which leads to the LOD napping Miao. Jack and Wang chase LOD in The Pork-Chop Express through San Fran leading them into the spider’s web of the mysterious, lethal, and comical back alleys of Chinatown. Our heroic duo find themselves in the midst of an ancient rumble between factions, Chang Sing and Wing Kong. A battle ensues and Jack is witness to the supernatural fighting entity, “The Three Storms,” as they destroy Chang Sing.
Like any person with a sense of street smarts to minding one’s own business, Jack tries to make a quick getaway in his rig and creams sorcerer/ Wing Kong leader, Lo Pan, Jams Hong of The Golden Child (1987). Carpenter was originally slated to direct The Golden Child before dropping out. Lo Pan, unfazed from the vehicular assault, but a bit ticked by the accident, is enough of a weird cat for Jack and Wang to handle, as they hightail it out through alleyways, to avoid the wrath and impending doom from the sorcerer. I hope Jack had good auto insurance and he should have invested in “The Club,” because his meal ticket on wheels, is stolen from the heart of Chinatown through all of chop suey infused chaos.
Jack finds shelter in Wang’s restaurant, where they bump into Gracie, Eddie, Donald Li of U.S. Marshals (1998), and sorcerer/historian, Egg, Victor Wong of Tremors (1990). Jack being an outsider to Chinatown, cusses & discusses with the enlightened group while being caught up to speed in a crash course on the ancient Chinese history revealing secrets of white/black magic. Jack trying to figure out what the heck in fried egg rolls is going on around him, is enlisted, but not without a bit of stubborn resistance, to track down Miao who has fallen into the tight grasps of the Lo Pan clan.
“A man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do,” Jack and Wang are off into the Chinatown labyrinth of an underground while trying to survive the odd happenings, creatures, and transformations of the evil Lo Pan. Why is Lo Pan, so agitated at the world? Lo Pan, was once a great warrior/wizard (a D&D player’s dream), who was defeated in battle and the victim of a No Flesh (Clive Barker’s alley) curse. Lo Pan is temporarily granted a shell, that of a feeble old man. Lo Pan, desperate to break the curse in order to regain his human form and vitality, the Sorcery Book for Dummies calls for him to wed a green eyed girl, enter Miao. This act will appease the Gods, but he must also appease the Emperor with a sacrifice of a green eyed girl. Lo Pan in quite a pickle in need of two green eyed ladies to marry and sacrifice, lucks out when his henchmen capture Jack and company revealing that Gracie has green eyes. Lo Pan will marry Miao and sacrifice Gracie (he must have envisioned the horrifying Sex and the City epidemic fastly approaching). Jack must lead the team to save the green eyed beauties, defeat Lo Han & his tunnels of oddities, and brandish American bravado with every action sequence, showdown, and line of dialogue in this fun action, fantasy flick.
Big Trouble in Little China was directed/scored by Carpenter, and was slammed by critics when released 29 years ago today, and a box office failure only recouping 11 million of its 25 million budget. Big Trouble was indeed just that for Carpenter, as he was under the thumb of the studio due to Big Trouble being his highest budgeted film at that time. The experience left Carpenter sour to the studio system, and its micromanagement of every production detail, leaving Carpenter to shy away from the studios to make more personal films, until the he reluctantly helmed the dud, Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992). Carpenter, always candid about himself, was honest in saying that he only took the studio job of Memoirs for a nice payday. The old Hollywood saying, “You’re only good as your last picture kid,” still rings true today, as it always has since the dawn of cinema.
Big Trouble was originally penned by David Z. Weinstein and Gary Goldman of Total Recall (1990), optioned in 1982, before the studio wanted drastic changes made to the script and hired on writer, W.D. Richter of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Carpenter also lent his hand in tweaking some of the narrative as he envisioned Big Trouble as a martial arts western of sorts with the sensibility and dialogue patterns found in Howard Hawks & John Ford projects, in which he was and is to this day, a huge fan of. Carpenter took more charge of rewrites to curb some of the overly brazen racist slurs and stereotypical jabs at the Chinese aspects of the film.
The role of Jack was originally slated for Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson. Both were already busy with other projects, and to be honest, I am glad. They are great actors, but Kurt Russell was perfect for this role with his blow hard attitude and it mixed well with his constant summoning of John Wayne. Russell always a go to guy for Carpenter, shines through once again as a dedicated professional (had a high fever & flu during filming), charismatic as hell, and is just a fun actor to watch. Plus it does help that he is a guy’s guy, very enthusiastic about his work, and rumored to be an all-around good fella on and off the set.
Big Trouble is full of plenty of 80s cheese, action film one-liners, comedy, shoot ‘em up action (body count 46), and special visual effects by Boss Film Studios who took on Ghostbusters (1984), Fright Night (1985), and The Monster Squad (1987), just to name a few before going belly up in the 90s. Overall, Big Trouble is an absolutely fun, cult favorite (thanks to VHS & DVD), a must see for genre enthusiasts, and Carpenter fans alike.
So do yourself a favor and check out the ORIGINAL Big Trouble before you frolic off to see the remake whenever it comes out. Remakes 90% of the time are not needed, are not homages, and only a way for the powers at be to steal more cash from you than they already do. Be a smart cinephile, know your stuff, and don’t let the industry dumb you down into mindless lemmings that will agree to watch any film they release. Remember what John Wayne said, “Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.”
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- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
- Twitter Rick Baldwin@rickbaldwin79 and email@example.com