No Escape from Kurt Russell: Big Trouble in Little China

Siskoid Cinema presents... No Escape from Kurt Russell, the show that explores the filmography of one of American cinema's best leading men and tries to get a handle on his mystique. Why is it we'll watch anything so long as Kurt Russell's name is attached to the project? On this episode, Siskoid and Dr. Anj discuss 1986's Big Trouble in Little China. A box office flop that makes the macho white hero a sidekick? Yeah, but Kurt Russell is in it!

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Bonus clips: "Big Trouble in Little China" by John Carpenter, starring Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, James Hong, Victor Wong, Carter Wong, Kate Burton and Dennis Dun; and "Big Trouble in Little China" by John Carpenter and the Coupe De Villes.

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14 responses to “No Escape from Kurt Russell: Big Trouble in Little China

  1. Happy to hear your feedback and review and trivia on this movie.

    On Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law, I’d like to point out that Law is a common Chinese name. Sure, it’s transliterated from different surnames, but if the name needs to be rendered in the English Alphabet, you do what you need to. She could’ve been a role originally for a Chinese / Asian character or maybe a half-Asian one. It’s a double trope — Asian kids forced to become a Doctor or Lawyer by parents, and the Asian-American activist driven to push for the rigths of their ethnicity.

    As a kid, I remember thinking that Jack was gonna be on a Hero’s Journey. I didn’t know that mythological or storytelling construct yet, but I did feel like he was going to be the naive hero, guided by the experienced heroes, and then become the kick-ass champion at the end (after a compressed amount training and experience). As I began to watch, I did realize that he was less that and more of a sidekick (but one with a sense of justice & loyalty) to Wang and even some of the other characters. To borrow a bit of Siskoid’s terminology, sort of like John Wayne playing the Sam to Wang’s Frodo and Egg Chen’s Gandalf.

    On the friendship between Wang & Jack, I wavered between thinking they were either really close friends (hence the instant loyalty when Wang’s girlfriend gets kidnapped) or not-so-close friends but Jack’s just a stand-up guy who isn’t gonna let his drinking buddy’s fiance get kidnapped right in front of him and let the criminals get away with it. After all, he stepped in to help Gracie’s friend Tara who was being assaulted by a gang member without really knowing Gracie or Tara.

    The movie has a lot of great quotes in it, some comedict, some character building or establishing; I really relish a lot of these lines.

    “I was born ready.” – phrase first came to my attention in this film, and as of Ocean’s Thirteen, it has already been repeated to the point of being ridiculed.

    “I’m a reasonable guy. But, I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things.” – early indications that Jack’s capable of self-awareness and reflection, and sets up the non-kiss at the end.

    “Son of a bitch must pay!” — part of his motivation to help Wang in the first place? They kidnapped Wang’s girl AND almost ran over both Jack & Wang!

    High time for a re-watch with my son, I think. Good ep! See you next time.

    1. While it had appeared in action adventure novels before, the phrase “I was born ready!” in FILM is first attributed to the western Hondo, and was a reference to that movie in the script (which was originally for a western). There, now you have your extra credit assignment. 😉

  2. For years my brain conflated “Big Trouble in Little China” with the Jack Nicholson movie “Chinatown” so when I rented this movie I was *so* confused to the point where I don’t think I finished it before having to return the VHS tape back to Blockbuster. This episode makes me want to find in and watch it again.

    1. Forget it, Brian. It’s not Chinatown. 😉

      (That’s playing with the quote, but I like Big Trouble more than Chinatown and I don’t care if I’m alone.)

  3. Man I love this movie. I love it so much, that I have a hard time trusting people who don’t like it. Like my wife…if that’s even her real name…

    I really enjoyed listening to this episode and Dr. Anj was a perfect guest because he articulated a lot of the reasons why this film is so beloved by it’s fans perfectly. You both seemed so happy to be covering this one, that it made me wish you guys recorded a audio commentary to go along with this because I just never wanted to discussion to end.

    I am pretty sure my first experience with Big Trouble was either a video rental or an airing on one of the non-big three TV networks. And for 12 year old Piney, this was a perfect movie. It had everything you needed a film to have at that time for kids my age. It was action, martial arts, fantasy, comic books, video games, etc. And while Jack was a kind of parody of an action hero, like Dr. Anj pointed out, the movie itself never played as a parody. It never felt like it was laughing at the audience for liking movies like this, but that it invited you in to laugh along with it. And I don’t think the rewatchability survives on nostalgia alone. Big Trouble has the ability to evolve with you as you get older. Now, at my age, instead of the action and spectacle, I can appreciate the humor and, I guess what you could call the deconstruction of the action hero. Plus there are all these great performances in supporting roles that flesh out the movies cast, like Egg (Wong), Eddie (Li), Margo (Burton) and Lo Pan (Hong).

    But I am biased. So, I could just be making an excuse to watch a movie with a guy that has lightning hands.

    Having listened to you both discuss the movie, I started to wonder if Jack was putting on a persona, and behaving in the way he thinks a macho guy should. He is nearly a caricature in a lot of the film. This tank top wearing, John Wayne sounding, knife throwing, speech making truck driver. Almost like a 14 year old’s idea of what tough is. I don’t think the movie goes that deep with it, but it shows us an interesting contrast of what say, Americans (Jack) thinks of as being a “man” and how the rest of the world Jack lives in defines that. Even Jack himself, has moments where things sink in, and his bravado fades a bit as he grapples with some of the stuff that is going on around him.

    Anyway, thanks a lot for tackling this one, really put a smile on my face. So many scenes came to mind as I listened, and one of my favorites, is after they drink Egg’s potion and all start feeling really good as they take the elevator down. Never fails to make me laugh. Things like that popped into my head all day, making it a pretty good day.

    1. I also feel that Jack puffs himself up with a ‘macho persona’, primarily because of two scenes:

      – the “Where’d you get that?” bit shows that, when taken by surprise, the drawl drops along with the volume and the quieter side wins out.
      – when he has to pretend he’s someone else to infiltrate the brothel — he’s a cheesy caricature but stays pretty consistent until stuff goes crazy — suggesting that Jack’s used to putting on an act once in a while (or is it all the time)?

  4. Great discussion. I introduced Big Trouble to my son when he was recovering from pneumonia. He later asked me if the movie was real, because he was pretty sure it was a fever dream. I think that’s a pretty accurate description. As much as a I love it, I’m not sure how anyone could really market this to make it a huge financial hit.

  5. I’m way way behind on my commentary on the F&W Podcasts recently. However I had to comment on this most excellent episode before getting round to all the other shows I’ve listened to recently.

    I don’t ever remember seeing BTILC on a big screen I’m not even sure when it saw it first – was it on BBC2 late one night? Maybe as part of Movie Drome with Alex Cox ? Did someone rent it on VHS and I saw it there? Honestly I can’t piece it together.

    But I do remember this film. I remember Kim Cattrall and her “green eyes” and then realising she didn’t have green eyes. I also remember thinking she’d be a great Lois Lane back in the day so maybe that was who she was channelling in this performance. I remember James Hong and Victor Wong who also both showed up in the Golden Child which I do remember seeing on VHS and regretting it. But most of all I remember Kurt Russell having a blast as Jack Burton.

    Thank you for covering this classic slice of Action Comedy Adventure Fantasy – there really hasn’t been a film like this since – not with the whole drop a character from a completely different movie into a different film and just keep going.

    It was great to hear Dr Anj and Siskoid wax lyrical about this film and the experience of seeing the film over the years. Certainly convinced me to try and watch it again soon as their enthusiasm for the film is infectious.

    However one line that got me thinking was about how Jack broadcasts his thoughts on CB to whoever is listening to him while he’s out trucking… and I realised if they remake this some how – Jack Burton Jr or whoever will be a podcaster!

    1. I was talking to an old friend I did radio with only 20 years ago, and she told me she had to explain to her daughter what our radio show was and the daughter answered “oh it’s like a podcast!”. Makin’ us feel old over hear.

  6. Big Trouble in Little China is, quite possibly, my favorite Kurt Russell film. It’s certainly the one I’ve seen the most times. I really enjoyed both of your insights into the main-character-as-sidekick aspect of the story, which I had never fully picked up on before. One of the reasons that I like Jack is that he always appeared to be such an ineffective hero. I just never made the final leap to realizing that he isn’t actually the hero of the story. So, thank you for that eye opener.

    Now, I just need to figure out a way to trick… I mean convince my family to watch it with me, so that I can impress them with everything that I learned from this episode. I will, of course, cite my references.

    Thanks for another incredible episode.

  7. Has anyone read the comics they made for this series ? I figure I can bring up cause it’s on topic and it even has an old man Logan like sequel with old man Jack . I hope it’s ok to about the comics since there about Jack and movies . I did dress as Jack for Halloween last year . Complete with wig .

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