Nailed It: Big Trouble in Little China   1 comment

by SPAM,  Contributing Writer

Today we have another installment of Nailed It! coming from SPAM!  Nailed It! is our look at movies that we think got everything right. -AS

Seriously, you guys, Director John Carpenter‘s Big Trouble in Little China is a PERFECT movie!



If you haven’t seen this cult classic, (what is wrong with you?!) it’s an 80s action-adventure-kung-fu-ghost-noir-tongue-in-cheek-masterpiece. Released in 1986, it started out as a mystical Western movie, set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1880s, but the script was bad and the studio worried audiences wouldn’t be able to relate. So W.D. Richter (of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension) was brought on to rewrite almost the entire thing and set it in the present. On top of that, the movie was rushed into production so it could come out before an Eddie Murphy picture called The Golden Child, which featured many same broad themes (an American lead, Eastern mysticism, 80’s clichés).

The film starts with a cold open, letting you know some serious shit went down. It piques your interest and gives you a taste of what’s to come. The film proper introduces you to Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), a cocky trucker pulling into Chinatown. Burton and his friend, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), go to pick up Wang’s green-eyed fiancée, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), from the airport, but a street gang, called The Lords of Death, kidnaps her as soon as she gets off the plane. It’s up to Jack and Wang to chase down the Lords of Death and rescue her.

Are these sunglasses racist?

Along their way they get caught in a gang war, and Jack’s truck gets stolen. Our heroes get help from activist lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), and her journalist friend (Kate Burton) who linked reclusive shipping magnate David Lo Pan (James Hong) to The Lords of Death, and a human trafficking ring. With their help, Jack, Wang, and a few more Chinatown locals wind up in the secret underground headquarters of the evil Lo Pan, who may really be a 2,000 year old sorcerer. Our heroes have to fight gang members, ancient Chinese monsters, supernatural martial arts masters and a 7 foot tall James Hong if they want to find Jack’s stolen truck, rescue Wang’s fiancée, and make it out alive.

It’s hard to compare Big Trouble to any other film, but if I had to (aside from the horror-comedy John Dies at the End) it would probably be 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. “But, SPAM!” you say, “That’s a terrible movie!*

To which I respond, “You’re right, internet. But shut up a minute and let me elucidate, expound and make excuses.

I don’t know if it was intentional, or if the mid 80’s was just the adventure-action-comedy movie era, but both Temple of Doom and Big Trouble share a lot of the same elements and tropes. And when you think about it, a lot of the individual components of Temple of Doom don’t suck: the use of practical special effects, the concept, the overall feel of the film… it’s just the terrible supporting characters that suck. Indy is competent, selfless and heroic; but Willie is brash, annoying and dumber than a bag hammers; and Short Round is an annoying child bordering on a stereotype that makes you groan (obligatory George Lucas joke).

Big Trouble’s cast is like the Bizarro versions of the protagonists in Temple of Doom, Bizarro Indy (Jack Burton) has Indy’s confidence and cockiness, but not the skills to back it up. He thinks that he’s the leading man, but he’s really the plucky comic relief. Bizarro Willie (Gracie Law) is rational and worries about others before herself. And Bizarro Short Round (Wang Chi) is the real protagonist. He’s well-rounded, dedicated and can take care of himself.


Dead serious, these guys were the inspiration for Mortal Kombat’s Raiden.

What really makes this movie perfect is the pacing. It’s a sequence of one amazing scene followed by another straight through to the end. Every scene builds on the one before gradually enough so that you aren’t calling bullshit at any one big outlandish twist. I am often critical of movies where you’re expected to “turn off your brain and enjoy.” Things like TransformersBattleship2012… pretty much anything by Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich or their imitators. Those movies use explosions, fight scenes, and car chases to fill time, and distract you from the gaping plot holes and zero-dimensional characters. Carpenter uses those same devices to flesh out characters, move the plot along and as well as for excitement. Big Trouble is cheesy and exciting, but it doesn’t rely on modern “techniques” like rapid cutting and shaky-cam to confuse you into thinking that motion sickness = action. You identify with or even like the characters, so you care about them.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (it’s kinda the premise of these segments, after all), this movie is perfect. It’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s smarter than people give it credit for. If you have the DVD or Blu-Ray, the commentary track by Carpenter and Russell is amazing. The only downside to the movie is that it tanked at the box office, critics panned it and the experience making an expected blockbuster was for Carpenter “the reason I stopped making movies for the Hollywood studios.”

Are you a fan of Big Trouble in Little China? What do you love about it? Do you hate it and want SPAM to know why he is wrong? Is there a different movie you think NAILED IT! Tell us below!

SPAM only took 2 film related classes in college, but he’s seen a lot of stuff and has very strong opinions on everything. He’ll tell you exactly how he feels about something, whether you want to hear it or not.

* SPAM’s opinions are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions  of everyone  at Namely Atomic Sam, who likes Temple of Doom.  Not as much as he likes Raiders or Last Crusade, but way more than Crystal Skull, though.  F**k that movie.


Posted February 27, 2013 by atomicsam in Guest Posts, Nailed It

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One response to “Nailed It: Big Trouble in Little China

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  1. Sam Johnson is right about Spam Johnson being right. I’m so glad that you fully endorse Spam’s opinion.

    Anyway, if people like Big Trouble in Little China they should check out Escape from New York. Escape from New York is up there with Mad Max and Demolition Man on my list of post-Apocalyptic awesome (sorry Tankgirl, but no).

    I have two new questions though:

    What is the perfect Vampire movie?
    What is the perfect Werewolf movie?

    I say John Carpenters Vampires (note: I didn’t say best) and Dog Soldiers.

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