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Why ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ (1986) and the Three Storms Arrival Moment Matters

While in San Fransisco’s Chinatown, truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) visits his best friend, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) who invites him to go to the airport and pick up his green-eyed fiancée Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). Once there, a Chinese gang, who work for a powerful sorcerer named Lo Pan (James Hong), kidnaps her after Jack and Wang thwart them from taking a different girl. Time to mount a rescue.

Directed by John Carpenter, Big Trouble in Little China is an action comedy that reveals a whole second world living under the busy streets of San Fransisco, with vast underground tunnels and temples that are home to mystical Chinese magicians and sorcerers, brought to life in some amazing sets and hi-tech special effects by the man who made The Thing. Kurt Russell leads the mostly Asian cast, with a kind of big American cowboy Western swagger though is never quite as suave or assured as his old-time movie counterparts, instead filled with good intentions and bravery but saddled with clumsiness and bad luck as he risks it all to save Miao Yin and a lawyer they met at the airport named Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), another green-eyed beauty who Lo Pan (who needs a green-eye girl to sacrifice in order to break a two-thousand year old curse and take physical form) decides to sacrifice instead, making him able to marry Yin.

That Moment: Jack and Wang jump into the truck and are able to follow the Chinese gang, known as the Lords of Death to the backstreets of Chinatown where they run smack into what appears to be a funeral procession but suddenly turns into a massive gang battle between warring factions Chang Sing and Wing Kong, two ancient societies that are embroiled in a blood feud. Watching while in the cab of the truck, Jack and Wang are shocked when a smoke-filled burst of emerald green fire erupts in the street, with one man emerging while two others drop from the sky, all in impressive looking dǒulì conical bamboo hats and demonstrating powerful martial arts ability. The fighters huddle together in fear while three take a stand and attempt to fight the imposing invaders, though they are not long for this world as daggers thrown by the intruders find their mark quickly. Outmatched, confused, and scared, Jack steps on the gas and tries to drive through them, making a run that ends when another ornately dressed Chinese man appears, though right in front of the truck and is run over. Jack slams on the breaks, but when he pops out to see what he’s done, the ancient looking man is on his feet and firing blue bolts of energy from his eyes and mouth directly at Burton.

Why it Matters: Jack is an average trucker looking to have some fun with his friend, but thrust into a sudden caper when the Lords of Death kidnap the girl. What he doesn’t know is why, and who needs her, though he hardly cares at first, simply trying to get the girl back. That changes in the alley when first, he comes across the gang fight, and then, when supernatural powers seems to be in play. The arrival of the supernatural Three Storms marks the introduction of magic and an element beyond anything Jack has ever encountered, leaving him and Wang nearly speechless. The Three Storms represent Thunder, Rain, and Lightning, and are Lo Pan’s bodyguards, unyielding warriors that have no equals in combat, or so Jack (and we) are to believe. In this moment, they create the new obstacle, as Jack believed it would be the gang he’d have to face, but instead is against something far more dangerous. The powers are too strong for Jack when they meet, and when they simply deflect bullets, it’s clear no mortal man can defeat them. It’s important that they appear so now, and while there is no actual fighting in the scene, just the promise of it is enough to propel out interest. It quickly establishes that this is not the typical white man hero movie, but instead one with a charming but bumbling protagonist that ends up missing most of the real action as his skills and understanding of Chinese mysticism leave him practically out of the fight as the Asian characters dominate the show.   

Five-Word Review: Unique adventure story with heart.

Clip courtesy Movieclips



John Carpenter


Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein


Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun

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  1. theipc January 27, 2016
    • David January 27, 2016