Big Trouble in Little China

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"All I know is, this Lo Pan character comes out of thin air in the middle of a goddamn alley while his buddies are flying around on wires cutting everybody to shreds, and he just stands there waiting for me to drive my truck straight through him with light coming out of his mouth!"
Jack Burton

One of John Carpenter's greatest films, written by J.D. Richter and released in 1986.

Kurt Russell is Jack Burton, a long-haul trucker with a penchant for making soliloquies over the CB. He's in Chinatown to meet his buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) and pick up Wang's fiancee Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) from the airport, but David Lo Pan (James Hong) kidnaps her with the help of his Wing Kong street gang and the Three Storms.

Jack, Wang, lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), tour bus driver Egg Shen (Victor Wong) and the Chang Sing street gang join forces to rescue Miao Yin from the deathless Lo Pan, but Jack's really in it to get his truck back.

Subverts a few tropes of the action hero genre. Most notably, as stated by both Carpenter and Russell in the DVD commentary: "This is a movie about a guy who thinks he's the Action Hero when he's really the comic sidekick."

Don't confuse this with Chinatown. Hilarity will not ensue.

Tropes used in Big Trouble in Little China include:
  • Action Survivor: Jack Burton.
  • Affectionate Parody: The film lovingly spoofs action hero and magical martial arts film tropes.
  • Air Jousting: Wang Chi and Rain in an aerial sword duel.
  • Almighty Janitor: To the public, Mr. Shen is just a tour bus driver. He also happens to be a sorcerer powerful enough to stand up to an ancient Chinese demon. Wang points out that Shen is actually very wealthy (owning a whole city block) and panders to the tourists as his way of keeping active after retiring.
  • America Saves the Day: Subverted throughout the movie only to be played straight in the final confrontation.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me
  • Arc Words: "It's all in the reflexes."
  • Attack Reflector: Egg Shen uses a mirrored fan to send Lightning's lightning bolt attack back at him.
  • Audience Surrogate: Jack Burton.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Subverted. Jack is so tense he accidentally throws his knife into a corner, and the fight is over by the time he gets back.
  • Badass: Jack tries... at least his dialogue is badass.
  • Balloon Belly: Thunder, when he inflates himself with air.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Jack and Wang bluff their way into the Wing Kong Exchange building by pretending to be telephone repairmen who'd been called in to fix a problem.
  • Beam-O-War: Lo Pan and Egg Shen duel in this way. The two beams, upon colliding, take the shape of dueling swordsmen. And then they twiddle their fingers like they're using video game controllers to direct the swordsmen.
  • Big Bad: David Lo Pan.
  • Body Horror: Thunder when he inflates himself to huge size and explodes.
  • Bound and Gagged: Gracie Law and Miao Yin.
  • Breath Weapon: David Lo Pan fires a blinding magical blast of light from his mouth.
  • Bring It: David Lo Pan does this to Jack Burton (using his index finger) as Burton is driving his truck toward him.
  • Call Back: The phrase "Cops got better things to do than get killed." is spoken twice by different characters.
  • Catch and Return: Jack Burton after David Lo Pan throws his knife back at him.
  • Catch Phrase: While he may not be badass in the standard sense, Jack certainly had the dialogue down pat.
    • "It's all in the reflexes", which serves triple duty as a Chekhov's Gun and a Bond One-Liner.
    • "You know what Jack Burton always says at a time like this?" "Who?" "Jack Burton. Me."
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: Jack and friends pass a police car and fire truck on their way to the scene during their escape, which have apparently finally decided to respond to the explosions and gunfire.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Jack's knife trick.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Averted.
  • Covered in Kisses: And as a result, Jack has Gracie's lipstick smeared on his mouth when he's facing Lo Pan.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: Jack Burton vs. David Lo Pan.
  • Cutlass Between the Teeth: Jack Burton.
  • Cutting the Knot: In order to get into an elevator, Jack Burton hauls out a knife and cuts through the wall to get in, which works because the wall is made of paper.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Jack has the profile of the standard action movie hero, and anywhere else he probably would be. But he's in Chinatown, where Wang Chi is the real hero. Jack is thus more of a suped-up Audience Surrogate Fish Out of Water.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Jack Burton declines to stay with Gracie Law at the end of the movie.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Justified, as the heroes deliberately wait until after Lo Pan is married to fight him because he'll be mortal afterwards.
  • Diving Save: After kidnapping Miao Yin, the Lords of Death are escaping in a car. Jack Burton pulls a frozen Wang Chi out of the way of the oncoming car.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Two of Lo Pan's Dragons die after he does.
  • Drowning Pit: The elevator in Lo Pan's lair.
  • Elemental Embodiment: Thunder, Lighting and Rain.
  • The End - or Is It?: As Jack Burton drives off, we see that one of David Lo Pan's monsters is hitching a ride under his truck.
  • Evil Cripple: Lo Pan in his "old man" form, restricted to a wheelchair.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Egg Shen invokes this trope when he and Jack are beneath Chinatown.

Jack: That is not water.
Egg: Black blood of the earth.
Jack: What, you mean oil?
Egg: I mean black blood of the earth!

  • Eye Scream: Averted with Lo Pan's sentry monster. Despite being nearly made of eyes, it dies due to a precision sword strike between them.
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: Lo Pan's spherical spy monster has eyes on stalks, on its back, and even one in its mouth.
  • Femme Fatalons: David Lo Pan can grow these at will.
  • Finger-Snap Lighter
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: Jack tries it, and Reality Ensues, with bits of the ceiling falling on his head and knocking him out.
  • Friendly Local Chinatown
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: David Lo Pan's long wispy beard definitely qualifies as Evil Hair.
  • Green Eyes: Gracie Law and Miao Yin. Big Bad David Lo Pan has to sacrifice a woman with green eyes to become whole again.
  • Groin Attack: Gracie Law to Lo Pan's humanoid monster when it grabs Jack Burton.
  • Hand Wave: One of the classics. When Jack asks Egg Shen how he managed to get up above them, Egg replies, "Wasn't easy!".
  • Hellevator: How does it know which way to go without anyone pressing buttons? Ancient Chinese secret.
  • Hero-Tracking Failure: When the security guards are shooting at Jack Burton.
  • Hero Ball: Jack and Wang juggle it. Wang is more martially competent and properly motivated, but Jack is the one who comes up with the ideas and keeps saving everyone else's life.
  • Hey, Catch!: Jack Burton says "It's all in the reflexes."
  • Hooked Up Afterwards: Margo invites Eddie over to her apartment in a very seductive way.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with a lawyer asking Egg Shen to explain what exactly went down in Chinatown. While the film does explain what went down, it doesn't explain what led to the conversation with the lawyer (who never appears outside the opening scene).
    • Well, the lawyer does say that a large segment of Chinatown exploded in green flame and that someone fingered Egg as connected to it. That is generally the kind of thing that could get you in legal trouble.
  • Humble Goal: All Jack really wants is to get his truck back.
  • If I Do Not Return: Jack tells Gracie:

Jack: If we're not back by dawn... (wink) call the President.

  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: David Lo Pan with Gracie Law and Miao Yin.
  • Indecisive Parody: Of martial arts/fantasy/action movies. If one doesn't know a lot about the tropes of martial arts movies (and back when it came out, most potential audiences didn't really), it can easily be mistaken for one instead of a parody of the genre.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Margo wants to be one.

Margo: "I feel like I'm in over my head."
Eddie: [kindly] "You are."

  • Intimidation Demonstration: When the Three Storms first appear to break up the fight between the Chang Sings and the Wing Kong, they give a display of martial arts skills to intimidate the gangs. One of the Storms, Lightning, adds a display of his electrical powers for extra shock value. You can watch the sequence here.
  • Juggling Loaded Guns: Just before the climactic battle, Jack Burton attempts to lead the charge of The Cavalry by shooting upwards dramatically. A chunk of the ceiling lands on his head for his effort, and puts him out of commission until the fight is well underway.
  • Large Ham: Basically everyone expecially Jack himself. The villains are also this.
  • Law of Inverse Recoil: Subversion when Jack fires a machine pistol on full automatic.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to Carpenters other works.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: When Jack finally defeats Lo Pan, his lair starts to fall apart.
  • Meaningful Name: Gracie Law is a lawyer.
  • Me Love You Long Time: Inverted: see Hooked Up Afterwards above.
  • Mighty Whitey: Subverted. While Jack Burton acts like he's the lantern-jawed, All-American hero of the story, he's actually the side-kick of his more capable Chinese-American friend Wang Chi.
  • Mind Control Eyes: When Gracie Law and Miao Yin are under David Lo Pan's mental control.
  • Mirrors Reflect Everything: Egg Shen uses this when Lightning fires some, well, lightning at him. His mirror? A Chinese fan that looks like it's made of aluminum foil.
  • Mooks: David Lo Pan's street gang.
  • Mr. Exposition: Margo Litzenberger, about David Lo Pan.
  • Mundane Solution: Lightning, who shoots lightning bolts out of his hands, is defeated by dropping a statue to his head.
  • Neck Lift: Thunder does this to Wang Chi when Wang and Jack attack him.
  • Nice Hat: Lo Pan has an extremely nice hat.
  • No Man of Woman Born: Lo Pan has to marry and then sacrifice a green-eyed woman to return to human form, but he has to stay married to one in order to regain his full power. The solution: Marry two women and sacrifice one of them.
  • Not with the Safety On, You Won't: The first time Jack tries to fire the TEC-9, he has to be reminded by Wang to take the safety off.
  • Oculothorax: A Beholder-like monster shows up, to Jack's horror. "What it sees, Lo Pan sees." Naturally, he tries shooting it.
  • Oh Crap: Jack and company after the knife he throws at Lo Pan misses.
  • Open the Door and See All the People: Jack Burton opens a door and sees a mob of angry-looking mooks on the other side.
  • PG Explosives: The explosives that Egg Shen uses to blow up multiple Mooks.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Jack Burton, even though he's supposed to be The Hero.
  • Pop Goes the Human: Thunder's demise. Well, human-shaped anyway.
  • Portrait Painting Peephole: The humanoid monster, spying on the heroes from behind the statue.
  • Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: Multiple subversions by Jack Burton.
  • Punch-Punch-Punch Uh-Oh: Jack Burton when punching Rain, one of David Lo Pan's minions. After hitting Rain twice to no effect whatsoever, Jack sort of gives a respectful nod before getting thrown across the room.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: The Three Storms.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: In one scene, Jack is embarassed by having killed someone only for the first time and lies about it so as not to appear dorky to his male friends, who obviously aren't killers any more than he is.
  • Riding Into the Sunset: Name-dropped in the commentary.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: Much of the movie is only tangentially related to actual Chinese mythology, but the "evil boddhisatva" stands out most.
  • Screaming Warrior: Most of the male characters.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man
  • Shock and Awe: Lightning, one of the Three Storms.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Jack Burton shoots off a padlock to free the female captives from their cells in Lo Pan's warehouse.
  • Sidekick Ex Machina: Wang Chi.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter!: During Jack's CB soliloquy.
  • Society Marches On: Imagine the thug pulling out the revolver in an airport nowadays. There'd be a whole army of TSA agents on him in an instant.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Subverted when the heroes must stand by and allow David Lo Pan's wedding to take place so he will become mortal, and thus vulnerable.
  • Summon Magic: Egg Shen and Lo Pan conjure huge spirit-warrior figures to duel one another during the wedding-ceremony battle.
  • Sunglasses at Night: Not exactly night, but barely an hour before it, we see Jack Burton at the start of the film, driving a truck with sunglasses on well after the sun has gone down.
  • Super Serum: Egg Shen provides this in the form of a potion that lets one "see things no one else can see, do things no one else can do." It also provides a good buzz.
  • Supporting Protagonist: As mentioned by Word of God.
  • Tap on the Head: Wang and Eddie to several of Lo Pan's guards, and Jack Burton does it to himself.
  • Tennis Boss: Lo Pan.
  • Theme Naming: The Three Storms: Thunder, Lighting and Rain.
  • Third Person Person: Jack Burton.
  • Throat Light: David Lo Pan.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Wang Chi vs. Rain.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: The Wing Kong and Chang Sing street gangs are explicitly referred to as "Fighting Tongs".
  • Underside Ride: The ending shows the hero happily driving away, only for a last minute Jump Scare revealing a monster hiding under his semi trailer.
  • The Unmasqued World: The first scene (which is chronologically the last scene) implies that the outside world noticed the fight with Lo Pan and wants answers.
  • Wait Here: Parodied when Jack Burton tells this to several of his Sidekicks.
  • Wizard Duel: Egg Shen vs. Lo Pan.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Jack Burton.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Lo Pan has two minor ones at the end of the movie. The first is when he tries to force Miao Yin to love him. When she refuses, he flips out, throws her into Thunder's arms. It gets sated quick when Thunder informs him that the marriage works and he is now flesh and blood. However before they could sacrifice her, Jack Burton shows up, causing Lo Pan to freak out and demand Thunder to kill him.

Lo Pan: Is it too much to ask, Thunder? Kill him for me!

  • Yellow Peril: David Lo Pan.
  • You Do NOT Want to Know: "WHAT WILL COME OUT NO MORE?!"
  • You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: Lo Pan's expression is a mix of shock and this trope when Jack successfully catches and throws his knife into his head. Being killed by a guy he perceives as a great fool, would bring that out in his final moments.