Big Trouble in Little China screenshot

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

four stars

An obnoxious trucker fumbles his way through Chinatown's mystical underworld.


Before Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell had already worked together three times. In both Escape from New York and The Thing, Russell's character is a hardened badass against insurmountable odds. Here, the actor returns as Carpenter's star once more, but with an added twist: he's a bumbling oaf.

The story starts with a green-eyed girl being kidnapped by evil sorcerer Lo Pan. A girl like her only comes around every two thousand years, and marrying her will break Lo Pan's curse. She needs a hero who's willing to fight his way through all sorts of monsters and demons to save her. That hero's name is Wang Chi, and his friend Jack Burton is along for the ride, just trying to get his truck back.

Big Trouble in Little China screenshot

Jack is also heroic, but he falls ass-backwards (at times, literally) into saving the day. He enters the film spouting nonsense into his CB radio, establishing himself as the loud white American who's going to yell whatever he has to say whether anyone's listening or not. He essentially ignores the plot of the movie he's in, never truly comprehending the stakes or what he's up against.

No matter how much magic or how many monsters we see, it feels like we're only scratching the surface of a larger world. There's no time for exposition when a war between rival gangs turns into an attack by a trio of mystic beings, so Wang doesn't waste a lot of time trying to explain the finer details (and when he does, it's not like bullheaded Jack Burton listens anyway). Just like our cocksure hero, viewers never fully comprehend the powers at work in the film.

Big Trouble in Little China is one of John Carpenter's few studio productions. And like his earlier Kurt Russell collaboration The Thing, this was both a critical and commercial failure. Whether the promotion was mishandled or the world simply wasn't ready for Jack Burton, the movie failed to find an audience during its theatrical run. Luckily, the eras of home video rentals and DVD collections allowed Big Trouble in Little China to become the celebrated cult hit it always deserved to be.