13 Things You Didn’t Know About John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China”

The last studio film Carpenter worked on in the 80’s, Big Trouble in Little China, was a commercial failure. Disillusioned with Hollywood and the constant interference of studio executives, Carpenter’s next two films (Prince of Darkness and They Live) were both independently produced.

The film follows Jack Burton, a loud mouth truck driver whose truck is stolen by a San Francisco Chinese street gang called the Lords of Death. They’ve also kidnapped Burton’s friend’s fiance. Together, Burton and Wang Chi must fight gangsters, sorcery, and monsters to save the girl (and the truck).

Carpenter’s foray into the world of martial arts films differs dramatically from other American movies. Even though Kurt Russel is technically the star, his character Jack Burton is portrayed as a bumbling oaf failing upwards, while his friend Wang Chi is the actual hero. Dennis Dun, who played Wang Chi, said of the film: “I’m seeing Chinese actors getting to do stuff that American movies usually don’t let them do. I’ve never seen this type of role for an Asian in an American film.”

In recent years, BTILC has achieved cult classic status. With an amazing cast, a funny and quotable script, and classic John Carpenter special effects, this fantasy martial arts comedy stands alone. Whether you’re a die hard Carpenter fanatic or just curious, these weird facts are sure to electrify you.

  1. John Carpenter originally intended the film to be a western. Instead of having his truck stolen, Jack Burton would have lost his horse. In the end, Carpenter decided he wanted it to take place in modern times.
  2. During shooting, Kurt Russell had a bad case of the flu, which explains the exorbitant amount of sweat on his body in so many scenes.
  3. Carter Wong, who played Thunder, was a martial arts instructor for the Hong Kong police.
  4. Jackie Chan was Carpenter’s first choice to play Wang Chi, but a producer shot down the idea. He was concerned that Chan’s English wasn’t good enough. In the end, Chan turned down the role anyway, and it was given to Dennis Dun.
  5. The studio pressured Carpenter to cast Jack Nicholson or Clint Eastwood as Jack Burton, even though Kurt Russell was the director’s first and only choice for the role. Luckily, both actors were unavailable so Carpenter got his way.
  6. During the wedding scene, James Hong (Lo Pan) actually stabs Suzee Pai (Miao Yin) with the Needle of Love by accident; when she flinches, that is a genuine pain response.
  7. When Jack Burton attempts to infiltrate the White Tiger brothel to save Miao Yin, the suit he is wearing is the same suit Kurt Russell’s character wore in the film Used Cars, where Russell plays a sleazy car salesman with dreams of becoming a State senator.
  8. The studio wanted to cast a rock star in the role of Gracie Law, but Carpenter’s only choice was Kim Cattrall. Fox wasn’t too keen on his decision, since Cattrall was mostly known for her raunchy films at the time, like Porky’s. Cattrall herself was excited to play the spunky lawyer, saying: “I’m not screaming for help the whole time.”
  9. John Carpenter recorded all of the music for the film himself. The closing credits song was also written and performed by John Carpenter’s band, The Coup De Villes.
  10. Egg Shen’s office is Fire Station 23, which was also the headquarters and main office in Ghostbusters.
  11. Kurt Russell turned down the lead role in Highlander to be in Big Trouble in Little China.
  12. Lo Pan and the Three Storms both inspired Mortal Kombat characters: the sorcerer Shang Tsung and the thunder god Raiden, respectively.
  13. The opening scene in the lawyer’s office with Victor Wong (Egg Shen) was added after Fox executives requested a scene that would make Jack Burton look more heroic. They didn’t get that he wasn’t supposed to be the hero; Russell and Carpenter both described Burton as an inept sidekick.

Queerdo. Writer. Gamer. Witchy. She/They. https://linktr.ee/eewchristman

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store