Ooh stargazers, in just three days I will be on my way to Charlotte for the Mad Monster Party! It’s pretty damned exciting, especially since rumor has it one of my all time favorite That Guys, James Hong, will be appearing as none other than Lo Pan! That’s right, Lo-Mutha Fuckin’-Pan! Green-eyed ladies beware!
After making his delivery, Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), driver of the Pork Chop Express, is looking to unwind in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Things are off to a great start as he wins all of his friend Wang’s (Dennis Dun) hard-earned money. He even gets his flirt on at the airport with the lovely Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall). Jack’s good fortune fades when Wang’s fiancee Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) is snatched by a Chinese street gang known as the Lords of Death. In their rescue attempt, Jack lands in the middle of a centuries old turf war and gets his truck stolen, but not before he literally runs into the evil, 2,000-year-old cursed spirit of Lo Pan (James Hong). Now Jack has to help Wang save Miao Yin and Gracie before Lo Pan makes them his brides, lifts his curse, and rules the world. Maybe Jack should have quit while he was ahead.
If you didn’t pick up on it earlier, I love me some James Hong. From Evelyn Mulwray’s butler to Jeff Wong to Po’s father and hundreds of other roles before, between, and yet to come, anyone who’s ever turned on a television or watched a movie has experienced him. But if you haven’t seen Big Trouble in Little China, you have deprived yourself of Lo Pan. Be he decked out to the nines or hunched over in a wheelchair, Lo Pan is menacing, and funny as hell. I love how easily he transitions from barking orders to his minions in a haughty, commanding tone to hissing cheeky comebacks at his minions, his brides-to-be, or Jack and his cohorts.
While Lo Pan is certainly a highlight of Big Trouble in Little China, it would be nothing without its hero, Jack Burton. Russell, with full-on John Wayne swagger, is the ideal protagonist to Lo Pan. Jack, like Lo Pan, has a bark much worse than his bite, making him funnier than fierce. Russell’s bulging muscles and boisterous portrayal creates a loud mouth who, were it not for Wang and Egg Shen (Victor Wong) doing the heavy lifting, would have been dead before the conclusion of the first act. Likewise, Lo Pan brags of his evil deeds and floats around impressively, but were it not for his powerhouses the Three Storms, Thunder (Carter Wong), Rain (Peter Kwong), and Lightning (James Pax), he’d still be pining for a green-eyed bride.
Aside from Jack and Lo Pan’s posturing, Big Trouble in Little China features a ton of solid fight scenes and shoot outs featuring recognizable That Guys like James Lew, Al Leong and Gerald Okamura. Try not to be bothered by the occasional “bouncy” pavement or the wobbly brick walls. The special effects, monster makeup and set designs are so definitively 80s; Lo Pan’s escalator-powered, giant skull trimmed in green neon will forever be my favorite. The dialogue, which mostly summarizes the plot, is delivered at a breakneck pace, as if director John Carpenter was obsessed with bringing the film in under one-hundred minutes. It makes for a fast-paced movie, unless you have to rewind often to comprehend everything that’s happening.
Although Big Trouble in Little China was considered a flop back in 1986, it’s since attained cult status. Unless you have centuries to whittle away like Lo Pan, I suggest you give this a viewing first chance you get.