Pulp Consumption: Big Trouble in Little China

What happens when a loud-mouthed trucker decides to help his friend rescue his friend’s fiancée, recently arrived from China? Well, you get Big Trouble in Little China, the 1986 John Carpenter film that follows Jack Burton as a definite fish-out-of-water as he navigates Chinese mysticism in an attempt to rescue Miao Yin from the clutches of David Lo Pan, an mysterious figure in Chinatown’s underworld but whose true nature and powers Jack can’t even begin to comprehend. It’s one thing to go up against a street gang, but something else entirely when you are up against an immortal sorcerer and a trio of storm-related demi-gods.

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Wang Chin (the hero) with Jack Burton (the comic relief)

Along the way, Jack gets his truck stolen, they run into local lawyer Gracie Law and tour bus driver Egg Chen (who happens to be a fairly powerful sorcerer in his own right, but likes to play up the tourism part for the locals).

One of the great aspects of this film is that Jack only thinks that he’s the hero, when in reality he is the comedic relief to the real hero, Wang Chi. Even though Jack is ultimately responsible for Lo Pang’s defeat, it is only through the fact that Jack’s one party-trick skill comes in handy for beating him. Wang does the rest of the heavy lifting in the film, be it defeating the majority of mooks, going sword to sword against Rain (and beating him), and simply knowing who to go to what magic enters the equation. All of this acts as a great subversion of the typical white hero with the Asian sidekick. The movie also knows when to explain and when to just go with it. A whole story could surround why exactly the Three Storms are working for Lo Pan, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. They stand as incredible obstacles for the heroes to face, and allows them to rise to that challenge. It is a good reminder that not everything needs to explicitly stated to the audience, and it can still work within the course of the story.

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When these three show up, the movie takes a hard left into the weird.

The movie also addresses the wide variety of sources it is pulling from, acknowledging that Chinese mythology is such a hodgepodge that they can pick and choose what they want and leave the rest. There’s a moral somewhere in there about stealing from where you want and jettisoning what doesn’t work for your particular story, especially if you are going for a broad stroke adventure story that doesn’t need to get bogged down in reality.

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That’s about all the explanation you are going to get from this movie.

So, while the special effects might seem dated by today’s standards, it is definitely worth a rewatch if you haven’t seen it recently, and if you haven’t… well, what are you waiting for? And while there is talk of a remake starring Dwayne Johnson I somehow doubt it will possess the same kind of charm as the original.

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6 Responses to Pulp Consumption: Big Trouble in Little China

  1. alburke47 says:

    What a great movie. Completely tongue in cheek, but a blast from start to finish.

    Like

    • I think one of the unappreciated aspects is that even if it is tongue-in-cheek all of the characters treat it as life and death and not slapstick. I feel that’s a style of comedy well worth exploring.

      Liked by 1 person

      • alburke47 says:

        I heard author Michael Sullivan talking about humour in the face of danger or tragedy, gallows humour, I guess, and how many fantasy novels lack it, despite ir being a normal human reaction. Interesting point.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. If you want another good example of that, I highly recommend a rewatch of the original GHOSTBUSTERS. We discuss how it really is a cosmic horror film but in a comedy package. https://broadswordsandblasters.com/2018/04/30/pulp-appeal-ghostbusters/ As for fantasy novels that do it, Nicholas Eames’ KINGS OF THE WYLD has moments of brilliant dark humor, and a lot of Joe Abercombie’s books feature quite a bit of it as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Donald says:

    They’re currently doing a comic continuation with a lot of the fun, wuxia-gone-wild feel of the original.

    https://www.amazon.com/Big-Trouble-Little-China-Vol/dp/1608867161 starts you off…

    Like

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