In 1986 the world just wasn't quite ready for Jack Burton. "Big Trouble in Little China" didn't exactly set records at the box office during it's theatrical run, so like many people, I didn't see the film until it became a regular part of the cable TV rotation a year later. Even then it just seemed like a weird action movie. But as the years have moved on, it is clear that this action / adventure kung-fu ghost story monster movie was ahead of it's time.
Director John Carpenter was most associated with horror movies, having directed films like "Christine," "The Fog," "The Thing," and the film that redefined horror for a generation "Halloween." So Big Trouble was a bit of a departure for him. Ultimately, the film is a comedy, but that was lost on most audiences in 86.
The story centers on Jack Burton, a tough-talking truck driver played by Kurt Russell. On a visit to San Francisco's Chinatown, Burton gets caught up in a strange battle between the forces of good and evil when the fiance of his friend Wang is kidnapped by the immortal LoPan and his three henchmen, the Storms. Along the way they encounter kung-fu battles, sorcerers and monsters.
Jack Burton is the ultimate non-hero. Though the lead in the movie, he is clueless to absolutely everything that is going on around him. He thinks he's John Wayne, but he reminds me more of Link Hogthrob, hapless captain from "The Muppet Show" sketch "Pigs in Space."
The story gets more ridiculous with every passing minute. Less than 15 minutes in we have kung-fu fighting street gangs and are well on our way to encountering 7-foot tall ghosts, a guy who shoots blue lightning from his hands, giant underground bugs, and a drooling hairy monster. By the film's climax we've progressed to a floating head with 20 eyes. In a way, Jack represents the audience when he reacts to this strange creature with, "My God no...please...what is that...don't tell me." Yet, everyone around Jack completely buys in to everything that's going on.
"Big Trouble in Little China" has to be one of the most bizarre mainstream movies of the 80's. A mix of action, comedy and hocus pocus that, as long as you don't take it too seriously, is more fun than a six demon bag.