On this day in 1986, one of the greatest action movie characters in this history of Tinsel Town made his debut in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China. That man? Jack Burton. “Who?” JACK BURTON. Played by Kurt Russell, Jack Burton was the evolution of a John Wayne Old West hero, which is very fitting, seeing as Big Trouble in Little China was originally intended to be a Western. Alas, the people of 1986 simply weren’t ready for another John Wayne, and specifically one that was set in a modern world that was under attack from ancient martial arts, evil sorcery and monsters rising out of the black blood of the Earth.
Big Trouble in Little China was a box office bomb, earning back a pathetic $11 million of its $20 million budget, but that tends to happen when the studio and director don’t share a vision. The original script was written by Gary Goldman and David Weinstein – again, as a Western – but Carpenter thought it was a mess, as did Russell (and probably the several other actors who were considered for Burton before him), so W.D. Richter was brought in to rewrite the entire idea, and his effort wasn’t considered much better. Ultimately, Carpenter had to take matters into his own hands and turn this attempt at a new twist on the martial arts genre into a blockbuster.
Unfortunately, the studio execs calling the shots for 20th Century Fox didn’t seem to get it either. Clever or not, they didn’t think that Americans would like the idea of Burton actually being the bumbling sidekick while Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) was really the hero. Or maybe they just didn’t want to cede the role of the film’s protagonist to a non-American. Either way, between the script confusion, casting concerns, restricted budget and the fact that the movie was rushed so it could beat The Golden Child to theaters, Big Trouble in Little China was destined to fail at the box office in 1986, and that may have actually been to the benefit of all of us.
BTiLC’s legacy exists in its commercial appeal and success in its life after the box office, as it has become the definition of a cult classic. Yet in this shameless era of box office “safety” with remakes, reboots and sequels galore dominating the studio landscapes, the fact that this movie was a bomb 28 years ago is probably the reason that it hasn’t been brought back to life. Sure, there have been rumors of a remake, especially with the launch of the new comic book series, but there has never been anything substantial to make us think that David Lo Pan would be resurrected. And even when BTiLC is eventually rebooted as a gritty origin story – because it will happen (hopefully with me writing the screenplay) – there’s still a chance that Carpenter could be involved. It could be a true story of redemption, seeing as Big Trouble in Little China made Carpenter loathe the Hollywood experience.
History lessons and fun facts aside, Big Trouble in Little China is, at least in the estimation of this very handsome movie-loving idiot, the greatest movie ever made. A bumbling dipshit who epitomizes the American standard of brawn over brains, Jack Burton is a perfect character, from his flaws to his legendary one-liners, while the soldiers in the eternal war of good and evil that are battling around his arrogant idiocy are far more than just living, breathing set pieces. Burton is a classically-flawed protagonist whose pride won’t let him admit that he’s scared or even in love, but the one thing that the writers never needed to worry about was making him admit his faults. We know they’re there, but we don’t want to recognize them either. We just want to know what’s going to happen to ol’ Jack Burton and the Pork Chop Express. (Hopefully, for his sake, Wang and Egg Shen aren’t far behind.)
That said, there are a lot of people who don’t agree with me about how good this movie is. As with any film that wasn’t made by Happy Madison or Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, I believe in the benefit of the doubt. Just as I’ve tried to consider so many movies that are recommended to me, I’ve long urged people to take advantage of the fact that Big Trouble in Little China is always available on Netflix, so they too can enjoy this brilliant masterpiece of American cinema. Unfortunately, some of the people who have watched this movie on Netflix still don’t “get it.”
Big Trouble in Little China may have been hated in 1986, but today it carries dual Rotten Tomatoes scores of 83%, as both critics and fans have grown to love it. Additionally, on Netflix it has a universal rating of 3.7 stars out of 5. Just 3.7? That’s almost as criminal as this movie only making $11 million when cocaine flowed through American streets like rivers. Seeing that score, I just couldn’t help my natural urge to make people understand the finer things in life, so I have collected some of the worst one- and two-star reviews on Netflix for the sake of talking some sense into these fools.
To be fair, I’m not the only genius who gave this film a 5-star review on Netflix. This might be my absolute favorite praise that BTiLC has earned:
This movie’s awesome for an American movie ’bout Asian stuff cuz the Asian dudes kick @ss and Kurt Russel is mostly useless. Lo Pan, the Storms, the Tong dudes, the Lords of Death, Egg Shen and Wang are all rad. The back alley Tong and Storm fight scene was the best part. The only Asian who wasn’t cool was the girl who was sadly a helpless gimp. This movie does me proud even though I aint Chinese, just like with Bruce Lee who could stomp Chuck Norris’ sh#t. Suck the back seat honkies, power to the people.
Suck the back seat, indeed, you honkies. Now how about some reviews that don’t share that enthusiasm?
What a poor movie. I expected much more with John Carpenter directing and Kurt Russell Acting. I admire both of them. But this was a big zero. The story was stupid and boring! Russell did his usual good job and was funny as well, but that was it. The same old action over and over. Big jumps on obvious wires. The same not very convincing martial arts move. At first I thought it was a spoof but eventually realiized it was supposed to be an actual story. The music was bland while Carpenter usually has interesting themes. It was stupid and didn[t make sense..
Okay, first: The story was stupid and boring? Jack Burton, Wang Chi and Egg Shen have to lead the Chang Sing against David Lo Pan and the Storms – not to mention the Wing Kong and Lords of Death – in order to stop Lo Pan from marrying and sacrificing a Chinese girl with green eyes and thus breaking his curse. THAT is stupid and boring? I’d loooooove to know what is smart and exciting. Second, the music is bland? Carpenter put so much thought into this movie’s music that his band, the Coupe de Villes, recorded the theme song.
Okay, I’ve changed that guy’s mind, who’s next?
I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here, but allow me to add a dissenting view: I thought this movie was just kinda dumb. Not funny, not clever…just not particularly good. That said obviously many other people feel otherwise. I suppose it probably comes down to whether you love 1980s camp movies or not. Personally I don’t care for much that came out of the 80s, though there were certainly some awesome dystopian movies like Blade Runner and the Terminator.
“I don’t like 80s movies, so here’s my thought on an 80s movie.” Great review, Ebert. Your bias really offers a valuable perspective. Next jerk, please.
monumentally bad. tries to be funny, but isn’t. tries to be an action flick, but isn’t. massively boring. maybe alcohol would have helped? i doubt it. on the plus side: it would have been good fodder for MST3K.
Not funny? Have you seen Kim Cattrall act? Better yet, I’ll offer just one exchange that explains how funny this movie is:
Gracie Law: “The Wing Kong Exchange? The most dangerous den of cutthroat madmen in Chinatown, you can’t just waltz in and out of there…”
Wang: “… like the wind. Yes I can, Miss Law. If my mind and my spirits are as one.”
Jack: “As two, I said I was coming.”
Gracie Law: “I’d go with you, but…”
Jack: “I know, there’s a problem with your face. Okay, you people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we’re not back by dawn… call the president.”
That subtle line about her face absolutely kills me every time, and seeing as I’ve watched this movie more times than I could count, I’m better at being resurrected than Lo Pan.
Put me in the camp of people who thought this was absolute dreck. I couldn’t take more than 30 minutes of this film. It gained a cult following with the VHS release. A CULT following, i.e. you have to be slightly off kilter to enjoy this mess. According to Netflix it is filed under campy, goofy, quirky. Sounds about right.
Congratulations, you just explained this movie better in 60 words than I will have in 5,000. Please, go back to enjoying your preferred movies like Casablanca and Ass Galore.
as much as i really really wanted to like it…it was just tooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo campy
This is basically how I feel every time someone complains that a movie is “too campy”:
No, sorry. OK it’s not “Howard the Duck” bad, but comes dangerously close. Both were made the same year, BTW, when it was apparently in vogue to purposefully make your parodies as utterly, self-consciously cheesy as humanly possible, to the exclusion of any other consideration – plot, acting, dialog, you name it. Hey, I occasionally like a “so bad it’s good” movie, but this one, just like “H the D”, tries way, way too hard to be just that. Not even sure why I disliked it so – was it Kurt Russell’s curiously humor-free Indiana Jones send-up, was it the vaguely insulting mish-mash of Eastern mysticism so ineptly exploited, or was it just the complete lack of any kind of suspense, surprise, or thrills? I know, I know, I can hear the fans now – I just “don’t get it”. And oh, how right they are.
Howard the Duck was a movie about an alien duck who comes to Earth, ends up saving the planet and then has sex with Lea Thompson. Also, it had bare duck breasts in it, which confused the hell out of me at an early age. These movies are nothing alike, and comparing them is an ignorant man’s game. If you don’t get Big Trouble in Little China, you don’t get it, fine. But “vaguely insulting”? You definitely didn’t get it.
This is a spoof of kung fu movies with lots of action and some silly humor. Kurt Russell plays the hero who just happens to be a brash, bumbling idiot. Dennis Dun plays the Chinese sidekick who actually does most of the fighting. And the great James Hong plays an evil 2000-year-old magician trying to break a curse by marrying and then killing the heroes girlfriends. Kim Cattrall and Victor Wong also have prominent roles. This has become a huge cult classic, but that does not mean everyone will like it. The acting is not great and the dialogue is terrible (though I imagine that is part of the gag). This is camp with a capital C. If you like camp then you should love this. It just was not my thing. Lots of violence, but no sex or nudity.
“Bro, this shit ain’t got no titties? How the hell am I supposed to take this seriously?” You can complain about nudity until your palms are chaffed, but saying that the dialogue of Big Trouble in Little China is terrible should be considered a crime. Jack Burton is responsible for more catchphrases than almost any other action “hero” of the 80s.
“May the wings of liberty never lose a feather!”
“I feel kind of invincible.”
“Everybody relax, I’m here.”
“We really shook the pillars of heaven, didn’t we, Wang?”
“You know what Ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like this? What the hell.”
And if you haven’t ever asked a bartender what’s in a certain drink and responded, “Good, thought so! What do we do, drink it?” then I’m afraid you’ve never really lived.
I understood going in that Big Trouble in Little China is supposed to be self-parody. I understand the swapped archetypes in the way the characters are presented. What I dont understand was why it was such a bore. Ive never been into kung-fu films, so I suppose I am missing out on a lot of the subversive humor. But 90 minutes straight of silly gags and relentless cheesy fight scenes just didnt do it for me. The moments of clever dialog and Kurt Russels arrogance were welcome but Im afraid this movie tried to put me to sleep even watching it in the middle of the day. Maybe I just didnt buy the b-movie level humor when I knew they were trying so hard to make a b-movie. Maybe it was the way we are thrust into a nonsensical plot that never gave me a reason to care about anything I was seeing. Whatever it was, I can see this being a favorite silly popcorn movie for others, but the moments of amusement were too often followed by eyerolling for my enjoyment.
So you understand what the movie is supposed to be, but you’ve never been into Kung Fu films, and yet it’s a total mystery to you as to why it was boring. Go back to your box set of Two and a Half Men, nerd.
Words cannot adequately describe how stupid this movie was. I couldn’t even finish it.
I wish your parents didn’t finish.
When a movie is described as a ‘cult classic’ what they apparently mean is that the movie stinks, no one saw it in the theatre and that through the miracle of VHS lots of people consuming mind-altering substances now enjoy watching the tripe over and over. Sober viewers, however, will wonder how this trash ever got made since the acting is poor, the plot is without meaning and the ‘special’ effects are not. If this film was meant as satire, it missed; if it was meant as comedy, it failed; if it was meant as a paycheck for Kurt Russell & John Carpenter, it probably was considered a success for them. Ugh.
Remember, if a movie did poorly in theaters, you should never ever watch it on VHS, DVD or Blu-Ray. Ignore it forever so it disappears. Second chances are for assholes and losers.
I’m going to go against 90% of my friends and say, “Meh”. Maybe if I had seen this when it first came out, but I was just as unimpressed with this as I am most of the other garbage John Carpenter turns out. Couldn’t even stay awake long enough for it to reach the so bad its good mark. Although I really love Kirk Russel as the only guy who seems to realize the whole thing is completely ridiculous. Aside from the viewer that is.
Me too, I absolutely love Kirk Russel. He was awesome in Sungate and Admiral Rick.
Wow. An unbelievably bad movie, one that I’m sure Kurt Russell cringes any time it is mentioned. Unless you’re a preschooler don’t rent this one.
Preschoolers shouldn’t be renting movies, you irresponsible jackass. That’s how porn accidentally gets ordered.
I like Kurt Russell alot and i have seen many of his movies, however this movie blows balls. Its not hard to see why this movie was a flop in the box office.
Your mom was a flop in the box office, too.
Entertaining I suppose for those who like films that feature punching, kicking, and shooting without any of that pesky story or characters to get in the way. I however was bored most of the time. There are a few good bits here and there, particularly the climactic showdown, but it’s a long slog through several random fights and inscrutible pieces of exposition to get there. As for Kurt Russell’s broad and silly performance, at least he seems to be having fun, the very least. As is all of Carpenter’s work I’ve seen so far, it’s elegantly filmed, which might make it pretty pap, but pap none the less.
Yeah, there’s no story in this movie about an ancient sorcerer trying to break a curse so he can rule his enemies. It’s sure not as powerful as Titanic or Flubber.
If you are a person that has experienced the 80s in your prime, then you will like this movie. But I who was born in 1989, sat painfully while watching this movie. Every single frame of this movie was unbearable, and I prayed to God that they would change the channel. I would rather bash my head against the wall than watch this movie again.
You were 1 in 1990 and you’re somehow qualified to determine what people liked in the 80s. I can’t wait to see you slinging humor on a VH1 special. “Hey, remember Ishtar? I don’t, I wasn’t born.”
I probably almost crapped myself watching this movie. There isn’t much to say but that this movie has mad it to my dvd collection of worst movies ever made. They include They live, Killer Klownz From Outer-space, and of course this one. Just watch it and you’ll enjoy the spectacular array of bad acting and stupid everything.
Wait, it was so bad that it made you shit in your own pants, so you bought the DVD anyway? I guess it’s probably cheaper than constantly buying Fiber One bars and Taco Bell.
I’m not Chinese, but I feel that this is disgraceful to Chinese legends. This movie begins by making the audience believe that this is simply an action/adventure film, but suddenly it goes kung-fu and then muppets are brought in (?) and the ultimate evil spirit has neon lights around his shrine?? Honestly this movie is ridiculous in a very cheesy way.
It’s absolutely disgraceful the way they made the American into the bumbling idiot and created Chinese characters that were both heroic and menacing.
Side note: If I ever have the chance to purchase a prop from this movie, Rain’s claw things would make awesome back-scratchers.
Im a moderate Carpenter fan, hes made some gems but also some poo. I couldnt get passed about 30 minutes of this one. Maybe it picked up I dont know. Just wasnt my type of film.
Poo. With your poop mouth.
Are you impressed with ‘big’ actors and ‘big’ directors (who score their own music too!)? Do you like watching other people entertain themselves with their extreme cleverness? Then this movie will make you giggle and wish you were just as clever. But if 1980’s cartoonish acting, weird gimmicks, and see-thru plots are not your thing, then move on to something that well keep both you and your significant other in the same room watching the same movie. It’s kinda cute, but it is just not worth the time.
So it’s clever, but not worth your time. Stick to movies that aren’t clever if you’d like to be entertained. Got it.
No offense to all the people who love this movie, but I thought it was dumb. The acting was bad, the dialogue was lame, the special effects were cheesy, and the fight scenes were waaay too long (a la “Crouching Tiger…”). However, if MST3K got hold of it, it’d probably be great! I was just barely interested enough to keep watching even though I felt it wouldn’t get any better. It seemed like the script must’ve been written by a 13-year old (actually I’d be impressed if a teen had written this, but I’d expect an adult to do better work). If you like it, great. But my suggestion is: for a really great action movie, go watch “Indiana Jones” instead, or “The Goonies” or “Ghostbusters” for some 80’s era fun. Skip this one.
Tell me more about Indiana Jones, The Goonies and Ghostbusters. I’ve never heard of these movies, bold critic.
When this movie came out I was a kid, and I recall seeing the preview and not being impressed. But over the last 20 years I’d forgotten those feelings and whenever the subject of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA came up, friends and colleagues would tell me how surprised they were that I hadn’t seen it, and how much they loved the film. I caved and added this movie to my queue. Well, before watching it I took a look at the trailer and ended up having the same feelings I did 20 years ago. The movie is silly and harmless to be sure, but it’s also pointless, stupid and over-acted to the point of not being a spoof or romp, but a cartoon, and a cartoon that takes itself way too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good dumb-fun movie, but BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA was simply dumb…no ‘fun.’ Perhaps that was the intent, but if so, that kind of thing must not appeal to me. I can clearly see how this movie can have such a cult following, but unfortunately or fortunately, I am not going to be a member of that cult. I guess I’ll have to disappoint my friends and colleagues.
Snarf, harrumph, snort, chortle, fart sniff. I just won’t be a part of your silly cult, you brainwashed masses. I only like fun cults that have orgies and ritual suicide.
One of the few I quit watching in the middle. I knew Kurt Russell was a poor actor but thought I would give it a try based on reviews on this site. What a mistake. Not only was he lousy but the plot, believability, and effects were all third rate. Save yourself a wasted hour or two and read a book or take a nap instead.
Look, when I check into a movie that deals with an ancient sorcerer trying to break an eternal curse, while his rivals try to stop him using spells, potions and other magical gadgets, I need to believe that it’s real, okay? I need to really feel like the six demon bag contains wind, fire and all that kind of thing.
You can tell it’s humor from the 80’s. I don’t like to return movies before I finish watching them but this one although it was a bit entertaining in some parts, I just couldn’t do it. I think this is Kurt Russell’s worst movie.
And once again, Poseidon is robbed of the recognition that it truly deserves.
Just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Jack Burton just looks those bad Netlfix reviews right square in the eye and he says, “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.” Happy 28th birthday, Big Trouble in Little China.