Pinkie’s Guilty Movie Pleasures: Big Trouble in Little China

It is not that uncommon to list a reputable movie when people ask you for their favorites.  People will tell you their favorite movie is Parasyte, Avatar, 1917, or maybe the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings series. We claim Dangerous Liasons is our favorite movie while it is actually Weekend At Bernie’s .  Pinkie’s Guilty Movie Pleasures is all about celebrating those movies like Weekend At Bernie’s. In this installment I will tell you about my traditional christmas movie since 1998. Big Trouble in Little China!

I love 80’s movie posters! I wish I could be one when I grow up!

The Story about a weird tradition

Yes I said it this movie is my traditional christmas movie. Before I start with the movie a little story on how this came to be. I grew up with catholic teachings, about two years before discovering this movie I stopped believing in god already. I still believed in a supernatural force but it felt like a balance to me. In hindsight kind of like Karma or Yin Yang or something more intangible as a person guiding us. I guess that concept came from bullying or so. Regardless , I still kept up appearances and traditions for my family’s sake.

However that changed when in 1998 I was supposed to take my Holy Sacrement of Confirmation thing.My local minister banned my uncle from church from being gay, (we got warned not to invite him prematurely) and during an Easterlike dinner.. in my mother’s rentable party place he took from the Kid’s Menu. Which was very limited.. for each child they made a snack. They would make new ones.. but that would mean the children would have to move to last in line. The Minister did not take one but FOUR children’s snacks. When my mother said.. those are for the kids .. he basically said that him going first was gods will and thus he was allowed to take these. I heard this and along with the message about my uncle I was done with him.. and that church I was already just pretending to be a part of. I banned everything about it from my life.

So when it was Christmas eve my family would go to the late evening services and wanted me to come along but I refused to ever set foot in that man’s church again. I would listen to a man preach who thinks gay people are bad.. but he who takes stuff that is meant to make children happy .. was send by god and he deserves it more! Dad got very angry with me because he had to play the organ and he wanted me to see. Yet I kept refusing. I told dad that I love him and I would see him play anywhere but in church. He yelled at me a lot and made me very upset.  He went very mean spirited when Mom stood up for me. She told him that if I would stand up to the minister and god for not liking what I saw, I should stick with this. She said she would stay home with me and we did. Still sniffly and upset Mom told me if I wanted to watch a Christmas movie.. but I was not in the spirit… so we looked for the least xmassy thing that was on tv on Christmas eve… and now nearly each holy eve I watch Big Trouble in Little China. Mom would go back to church the next year, yet when the priest began to talk Shiitake about  me as well as slipping into a quite dogmatic approach to Catholicism one by one my family sided in my camp. 

This tradition is only kept up by me though!

Protagonist? Sidekick? Jack Burton!

Having such a victory in fighting for my own beliefs gave this movie a bit of a underlying town for me. I did not have to be so afraid to do my own thing. It was okay to be different. Funnily enough that is in a way what this movie is as well. What based on the poster and the styling should be a generic action flick is in fact one of the most unconventional once I have seen. Nowadays we do have more of this Meta-movie humor but back in 1986 .me and this movie share a birth year, it probably was quite unheard off. It was back in the time we would get a Cis-gender, white , straight male lead with an equally straight but usually less competent minority sidekick.  The white guy knows everything and the minority bumbles around. In the end the white man gets a girl and defeats the big bad and they all live happily ever after. John Carpenter wanted to make a movie for once where everything is not what it seems and than I don’t mean everyone could be an alien venus fly trap thing thing. (Yes double thing)

So he created this movie , allegedly not even caring if the movie would do well or not! He just wanted to make this. That passion can be seen in this movie. That love can be felt in nearly every scene. He wanted to make a movie where the hero.. isn’t actually the hero but the sidekick. He wanted to make a movie where everything goes against what you expect of action movies. Today this movie might not seem like that unconventional.. but this movie is still filled with some delightful anticlimactic moments, side stories that are glanced over and characters that get tossed aside. In the spotlight is one of my favorite action heroes of all time. Jack Burton! A  trucker of his beloved “Porkchop” Express , as American as he can be. Gambler, Seducer and tough guy! He dresses like John Mcclane, is witty like Indiana Jones and spouts one liners faster than Arnold and Sylvester. He is also JUST an american trucker. He doesn’t know how to fire guns, he doesn’t know martial arts, he hasn’t ever killed a man. He’s just a trucker that got in over his head.. and unlike most.. “in over their heads” type action heroes he doesn’t magically get good at this either. He lucks out, muscles his way out or even more oftenly doesn’t do anything to contribute to the plot. I love him!. Not in a romantic way.. even though he is a failure.. he is still way to manly.

The Good Mortal Kombat Movie

Now what is the plot of the movie? It is quite ridiculous as is the rest of this movie.. but with a main character like Jack you might have already figured that out. We see Jack win a bet against Wang Chi.. a gambler and denizen of Little China after he delivered some pigs there. Not good for his money Wang allows Jack to take him to the airport where he meets his fiancé who has his money. In the airport they meet Gracie Law.. a journalist trying to help another chinese girl in this country. During a scuffle these girls get mixed up and a street gang takes the wrong woman.  A chinese woman with green eyes. A evil chinese Spirit named Lo-Pan needs a chinese woman with green eyes to become flesh again.. if he can complete a ritual with her he becomes powerful and eternal and he can rule the earth.
Jack still wants his money though.. only to have his truck stolen by the same supernatural forces that now hold the chinese women with green eyes. So Jack has to save the world.. to get his truck back. What other way can he hook up with Gracie Law anyway? Oh and of course an ancient Chinese Sorcerer joins their side and gets them high somewhere around the midway point of the story.

I doubt that any of this is based on any form of real chinese mythology. This belief is aided by the fact that John Carpenter said he based the character of Lo-Pan on Shang Tsung of Mortal Kombat.. which you can immediately see. His three henchmen called the Three Storms are based on Raiden.. which is SO obvious it almost hurts. Jack Burton walks almost the entire movie with a shirt with the japanese flag on it and while every character is supposed to be a Taoist in this movie, there are buddhas everywhere. Sets all feel very cartoon/comic- or even videogame-ish. Which enforces the feeling like your watching a Mortal Kombat movie.. that is actually better than the other two (though one of them definitely still is a guilty pleasure of mine) . Actors perform in a cartoony way that reminded me of my beloved saturday morning action cartoons. Overacting feels intentional and during my rewatch of this movie.. I really felt like.. darn they should make this into a cartoon.  In a good way! So not like Sindels “To bad… you….r… about.. to die” line but the same goodness from one of the better Turtle Episodes or something. (The old show kids .. not the nickoledon ones) All in all. .we got a live action , Mortal Kombat Kartoon (yes thats how you spell that) 

The art of the Anti Climax

The journey that Jack makes trough this very unique experience is quite unique on it’s own. Why?  Well because Jack has a lot of things to figure out. During one gunfight for example he doesn’t do anything at all.. because he forgot guns had a safety switch.  In yet another he wants to pull a knife from his boot (which holds near infinite knives) but he drops it, while he goes to find it his sidekick mops up everyone in the room. It’s a bit like inspector Clouseau and Cato Fong but way more in your face. We constantly see Jack struggle, like when he is shocked when he kills someone for the first time… but also when he shoots his gun in the air to be intimidating and knocks himself out by the concrete that comes down from the ceiling he shot. This movie resolves most things trough an anti climax which is so much more rewarding than it sounds. We see a new monster for three seconds when it vanishes with a litteral poof. It is set up properly though as if it is about to be something big. Like those tentacles just outside the mines of Moira or even the Balrog. But poof and it’s gone. And just when you start expecting the unexpected.. the expected happens.. just to throw you off again.

It is amazing how entertaining this movie is to me despite that almost not a single action seen leads to a satisfying end. I mean.. these ends are satisfying.. but they don’t seem to be correct.. in a narrative sense. No one liner when defeating the big bad, his generals aren’t even defeated before he goes down and even than they don’t go down by Jack being a badass.  The action is engaging enough on it’s own to justify this weird flow.. and that weird flow is funny enough that you want to see more of it. I’d nearly call this the anti-action genre but it is just shy of being that zaney.. which comes in part due to 20th century fox who did not get that Jack is not supposed to be the main hero and demanded a few extra scenes where he is at least hyped up as one. This movie delivers in not delivering what we always saw up until the late 2000’s and I adore it for that. It is really unique and so zaney.

Surprisingly Real

What gets me most about this situation though is how oddly real it still feels.  I mean I know there aren’t that many evil chinese sorcerers out there that do not realise western girls have green eyes, I doubt chinese gang wars happen in little china on a daily basis and I am pretty sure there are no real Beholder like spy creatures in this world, nor exploding thunder gods.
I even doubt there would be a Trucker who likes his Cabin that much he is willing to risk his life for it, or a reporter who would be that dumb. Yet it does seem to ask some questions when telling its story. How would a real trucker react when he would get dragged into this story. Why would that reclusive character care to know about Western Girls. Why would bad guys just let you walk out if there boss is shot?

Characters usually don’t end up going for the fancy kills, character progress can reset immediately simply because they are in so much over their head. For example when Gracie escapes a trance just to get brainwashed again. She did not know what her assailant would do to  her so she made the best of her situation. Even if it made the seen more futile. There are a few of these scenes in the movie where we are shown “dead attempts”. Not everything that happens succeeds and as such it doesn’t feel like the plot is always moving forward… which again makes it much more real to me. One liners are used to announce a killing blow .. without pay off , kill shots end up being dumb luck or a reflex and even bonds that are forged over the course of this movie are broken by the end simply because of the impracticality of it all.  This is not a realistic action movie by any means, yet at the same time it takes a quite realistic approach to the people in the story, without losing that cartooniness.

I’d say the same goes a bit for the direction. The acting feels hammy .. but it feels like it needs to be as well. It’s spot on for this type of movie. Is it Kurt Russel’s best role? No.. but he IS the best Jack Burton he could be. Is the story sharply written? No.. you could tell this story much crisper and sleaker.. yet this feel like the actual tale.. that later got made greater trough stories… like the one Egg Shenn (the chinese sorcerer)  begins to tell at the very first minute of the movie. Nothing is really wrapped up to nicely..but why finish your opponent off dramatically when you can do it practically. I can’t fully explain what I experience when I see this movie.

I see a incomprehensible mess that really doesn’t do what we expect from our movies, filled with fun but “wrong” characters that seem as if they are in the wrong position.We follow the story of luigi.. that goes to help Mario save princess peach.. but luigi is the main why doesn’t he get to save his princess? Also why is the red guy so more effective? It doesn’t make sense to tell the story this way.. but when you can finally see it from that perspective it makes total sense! Along with what this movie means to me by ritual.. this just makes it something I can’t help but enjoy a little bit more.. every time I see it. If you haven’t seen it yet , I think you should see it too!