Hilarious stunts and dazzling special effects by Richard Edlund highlight this tale of a 2,000 year old sorcerer rounding up young, nubile victims for human sacrifices. Carpenter once described this film as a "Chinese Wizard of Oz" and you can clearly see how he was influenced by MGM's 1939 masterpiece. Big Trouble in Little China is also full of countless movie in-jokes, parodying everything from Akira Kurosawa's Ran to Carpenter's own Starman to the climatic duel between Boris Karloff and Vincent Price in Roger Corman's The Raven.
[TNT Weekly Weird News description of this week's movie]
Director John Carpenter cast Kurt Russell as a delightfully blow-hard trucker, taking on centuries of Chinese black magic and monsters under San Francisco's Chinatown. Making a delivery, he drives a friend to the airport to meet a mailorder bride from China. But before Kurt can say What the Hell, she's kidnapped by a Chinese street gang. A 2000-year-old black magic wizard is behind it all (James Hong), with his kung-fu minions (played by the best martial arts actors Carpenter could get from Hong Kong) in and below San Francisco where monsters dwell. And watch out for the upside-down water Hell - the Chinese have a lot of Hells. Studios didn't have a clue how to promote this action/horror/thriller/ghost story, and yanked it from wide release too quickly. Over the years, it just gets more and more popular on tv and cable, including the commercial-free pay channels. Kurt Russell says things like this in the movie. And Carpenter sings the opening Big Trouble themesong.
Leonard Maltin calls it "high-tech Indiana Jones-style adventure." As with most Carpenter films, it also has a good electronic score by the director hisself. Kim Cattrall, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Dennis Dun, Suzee Pai. 99 minutes, originally rated PG-13 for use of the F-word by Kurt in one scene -- edited out of broadcast versions -- now let's see what Joe Bob Briggs said when it ran on MonsterVision October 19, 1997, along with his famous Drive-In Totals.
Big Trouble In Little China intro
Hey, I'm Joe Bob Briggs, and in just a minute now, some
goons in San Francisco's Chinatown are gonna steal Kurt Russell's truck, and shoot fire out of their fingernails and turn a whole heck of a lot of 30-foot somersaults in the air for no reason. You know what I'm talking about don't you? I'm talking about Big Trouble In Little China, with some of the best kung fu footage ever shot, also a hysterically funny movie. And the second movie tonight is "Theodore Rex" starring Whoopie Goldberg, but we won't dwell on that, OK? Big Trouble In Little China, roll it.
Commercial Break #1
Is that some great fantasy kung fu, or what? Those three guys who come down out of the sky with lamp shades on their heads; they're named Thunder, Lightning and Rain. And Thunder, the main guy, is played by the great Carter Wong. He's a household name in Hong Kong, he's a great martial arts star; he's right up there with Jackie Chan. But this was the first time he was ever seen on the American screen. But anyhow, Carter Wong is one of those guys, he is the real deal. He was born in Macao, and when he was ten years old, he was sent away to one of those Shaolin-Kung Fu temples, you know, like they have in the movies, so he could be disciplined in the fighting arts.
And he studied with the Grand Masters of the Dragon style, the White Brow style, Chow Kaquin, Hung Car Quell, and Choi Lee Foot; you think I'm making this up, don't you? He studied all those styles and then at the age of 17 he went to Okinawa to practice under a 10th Red Belt Grand Master, resulting in a guy who is himself -- Carter Wong is a Grand Master himself -- in 4 different martial arts forms: karate, kung fu, tae kwon do, and hapkwido. I think he's the only guy who's a Grand Master in all four. And he's been the Chief Martial Arts Instructor for the police departments of Hong Kong, Singapore, Macao, and New York City. He taught kung fu to the New York City cops. He invented and teaches his own style of kung fu, "Patient People Kung Fu," is this a tough guy, or what? And then in 1986, he made this movie for John Carpenter called Big Trouble In Little China, where he takes on -- Kurt Russell! And guess which guy gets his butt beat in the movie. OK, roll it.
[fading] But the fight choreography in this baby is amazing. You know, I invented my own style of martial arts. It's a fairly complicated style, though. What you do is, you have to show your opponent your backside while leaping in the opposite direction. I call it the "Hiney Removal" form of kung fu.
Commercial Break #2
Whoa! I'm already out of breath and we're only on the second commercial break! This is an interesting John Carpenter movie. Instead of being suspenseful like most of his movies, like Halloween, and "The Thing," he just makes everybody out of breath, for the whole movie. This is the fastest movie ever made, there's a new plot development about every 30 seconds, so I'm not going to even try to figure it out. In fact, the funniest parts to me, are when the Chinese guys keep trying to explain to Kurt Russell all the weird Chinese mythology, like they've known it all since childhood and they understand it all perfectly well, even though it doesn't make a lick of sense. So...you know what I forgot to do though? What is wrong with me tonight? Did we do the Drive-In Totals on this baby? Let's do it now. We have:
57 dead bodies 1 kidnapping 4 motor vehicle chases 1 wheelchair chase
1 white slavery ring...no, wait a minute...yellow slavery ring 1 machine gun massacre 1 machete battle Multiple blue finger flame 1 zombyfied levitating 2000-year-old man with really bad fingernails Exploding building Exploding temple Knife to the forehead (removed in TNT version) 1 ocean of chained skeletons 1 palace of golden Buddhas Poison gas 9 kung fu scenes and good ones they are. 4 stars . OK, got that done, let's get back to it.
[fading] Time for the exposition scene. I hate the exposition scene. You know, where they all sit around and they all talk about what the meaning of everything in the plot is. With Kate Burton as the nosey crusading reporter, this is Kate Burton's big film debut. Kate Burton. Best known for...being the daughter of Richard Burton!
Commercial Break #3
No wonder Lo Pan is cranky, he hasn't had a woman in 2000 years! He's gotta have a green-eyed one. I gotta friend like that. You go, "Hey man, where's that girlfriend of yours?" And he says, "Oh that one, I got rid of her 3 months ago because she wore red nail polish." You know, one of those guys who has to marry a perfect woman. You wanna go, "Hey man, Paulina Porizkova is taken, Charlie." Anyhow, Lo Pan is played by James Hong, the veteran Chinese-American character actor. He actually started out as a standup comic back in the '50s. But he was so bad as a comedian, that he had to give that up, and he went to U.S.C., and he got an engineering degree. But he was bored by that, and then he started acting, and he's been in more than 300 tv-shows and films and commercials.
You know what I can't believe though? This movie's got more great Oriental actors than you'll ever see in one place: James Hong, Carter Wong, who we mentioned before -- great martial arts star from Hong Kong -- Victor Wong as the guy who's telling the story, the bus driver Egg Shen in the story, I don't think there's any relation between Carter Wong and Victor Wong. And also, another one of the three Storms, the guy who plays Rain, is Peter Quan, who's a karate champion and a dancer. So we've got Hong, Quan, and two Wongs, and one of the Wongs is from Hong Kong.
Anyway, what I was going to say is, this movie drew protests from Asian-American groups who said it "reinforced negative Asian stereotypes." Do you see any stereotypes in this movie? I've never seen any of this stuff before. They just made this stuff up, and 20th Century Fox was hiring umpteen-jillian Oriental actors to be in this thing. What are people thinking?
[fading] And besides, the two Wongs make it right [crew laughs]. That was a lot of work just to get to that one line.
Commercial Break #4
Kurt Russell is great in this movie. I really think this is one of his best movies, even though people don't normally mention it when they're talking about Kurt Russell, but he's doing that fake John Wayne thing and that just cracks me up. This was the fourth movie that Kurt made with John Carpenter. The first one was "Elvis," the tv-movie with Kurt as Elvis, which is a little ironic because Kurt's very first film role was a bit part in "It Happened At The World's Fair", an Elvis movie that came out in 1963.
But Kurt's an interesting story. He basically got into acting because his dad was an actor, his dad was Bing Russell, best known as -- the Sheriff on "Bonanza." Remember Lorne Greene would always be tryin' to get him to do stuff, you know, "Ben we've got to talk." Remember that guy, OK?
Anyway, Kurt started acting at 9-years-old and became a contract player at Walt Disney Studios, and he was in a whole slew of Disney films including The Absent Minded Professor, Flubber, and the immortal The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. And at age 12, he had his own TV series, "The Travels Of Jamie McPheeters" (1963, starring Dan O'Herlihy of RoboCop as his scalawag dad, based on a Robert Lewis Taylor novel), also starring Charles Bronson of Death Wish, and the Osmond Brothers. But he always wanted to be a baseball player, so he never did any acting jobs during baseball season. And he worked his way up the Minor Leagues until he was the #1 hitter in class Double-A baseball, and then he injured his shoulder at the age of 25 and his athletic career ended, and that was in the '70s, and that's when he really pitched in with the acting -- he was Charles Whitman in "The Deadly Tower," and then he did "Elvis", and then he did one of my favorites, Used Cars, very under-rated movie. Escape From New York, The Thing, Swing Time where he met Goldie Hawn, and now he's a big major huge serious money movie star.
But at this moment, he's sitting in a sewer, somewhere in Chinatown, trying to cop a feel with Kim Cattrall. Back to the movie.
[fading] Kim Cattrall. She also, defined the '80s, in cinema, I think. 'Cause she starred in both "Porky's" and the original "Police Academy." Now, that's what I call range.
Commercial Break #5
[commenting on the latest celebrity brouhaha] Alright, you can print 12 pages of totally nekkid pictures of me, just don't use my name [crew laughs]. And speaking of people I'd like to see totally naked, it's time for Joe Bob's Advice To The Hopeless. And to help us out, it's the very alluring TNT Mail Girl. Would you pose for Playboy or Penthouse if they asked you?
Reno: I don't think so
Even if they gave you, like, $40,000 or something?
Would you pose for a guy named Stan, with an Instamatic, if he gave you $40,000? 'Cause only he would see it
Reno: It's not a matter of money Alright, what if you got a million dollars to sleep with Robert Redford, like in the movie, while Marv Albert watched?
Rebo: Can we change the subject?
I don't know, I kind of like this subject. Your naked body. It's a good subject.
Reno: Well, this is about as much as you're ever going to see, so why don't you go and have yourself a party?
Are you in a bad mood?
Reno: No, but I'll be in a better mood if we just go ahead and read this. It's from Jay Lucas of Oakland, California
You're in a bad mood. Maybe the letter will cheer you up. We'll see if it will
Oh, God, I hate it when they start out, "Dear Sirs"
"I was appalled this evening at the so-called comedic comments of the host of your Friday MonsterVision Movie."
How come when people write to bitch at us, they always use the word "Appalled"? Why don't they ever just say "Upset"?
"I was appalled this evening at the so-called comedic comments of the host of your Friday MonsterVision Movie, a man who portrayed himself as the epitome of the brainless gun-loving white man, neo-Fascist, made light of the poor, demeaned public education, and ended with the solution to all ills in society by urging everyone to kill a Liberal. This ignorant buffoon knows nothing of education personally, quite obviously, and reveals the heart and compassion that are more in tune with Adolf Hitler than any other public or private figure I know."
I'm thinking this guy doesn't like me
"It seems sheik these days to spout hatred and blame those in society least able to defend themselves, and turn a hard, unfeeling and deaf ear to those about us. It appears to me that this "host" must have stepped directly out of his white sheet and into his chair in front of the camera. It would appear that the FCC might need to investigate speach such as this on the public airways, and I doubt if it would be considered protected under the First Amendment, since it espouses the murder of persons solely on the basis of their social and/or political views. I would close with a comment to your "host," there are many Liberals who would eagerly meet with him face-to-face, but I assume that he, like most cowardly bullies, would defer.
"Carbon Copy FCC"
And there's no return address, like most cowardly bullies, you know? But he does send a copy to the FCC, I guess we'll be having a hearing, an FCC hearing, any day now. What do you think, Reno? First of all, why did you choose this letter?
Reno: Because I thought it was really interesting that he thought that you were in the Ku Klux Klan.
Well, I didn't say go kill anybody. Or maybe I did say go kill...You know, it would help if I could remember exactly what I say on these shows. Alright, Mr. T. Lucas, thank you for your letter. But what are you saying here? That liberal intellectuals would like to beat me up? "Cause what would we do, go to Harvard Square and have an Elizabethan Sonet-Writing contest? "Whoops, Joe Bob, you lose. That's an iambic hexameter, not a pendameter."
Reno: What are you talking about?
I'm trying to figure out what this guy wants from me.
Reno: I saw the show that night. You said, "Kill a Liberal."
I think I may have said that, and I immediately said, "Only kidding." And besides, this network is run by Liberals. So. I was talking about killing members of my own family.
Reno: You're only making matters worse.
Would you pose naked if I didn't put any film in the camera and it was just me in the room?
Reno: So much for politics, I'm outta here.
Better get back to the movie, we're wasting too much time. I just didn't understand what the guy's talking about, was my point.
[fading] I'm not in the Klan, how could he say that? Go ahead, roll it. They kicked me out of the Klan in '87. They thought I was an extremist.
Commercial Break #6
I can't believe we're breaking for commercial in the middle of the most amazing kung fu sequence ever filmed! This thing goes on forever, and it has every kung fu trick I've ever seen, and a lot of them I've never seen. This is where they spent about half of the $23,000,000 budget of the movie! So let's get back to it, now! Go!
[fading] How does stuff like that happen? I mean, they hire these kids outta college, they stick 'em in the editing room, and they go, "Oh, it's just a bunch of colorfully costumed Oriental guys flying thru the air and flinging swords, and leaping and tumbling and sucking blood and kicking one another in the head. We'll cut it off right here and put in some commercials." You know? These kids, they have no cultural training. That's the problem. They think kung fu started with Rumble In The Bronx." It's pathetic.
Commercial Break #7
[Announcer, during closing credits] Now, the world's toughest cop just got a new assignment, and a brand new partner, who just happens to be a dinosaur. Go back to the original Lost World for Whoopie Goldberg in "Theodore Rex," next, on Joe Bob's Last Call.
Commercial Break #8
Joe Bob Briggs, still here. "Big Trouble In Little China," a great but under-rated John Carpenter movie. Critics just hated that movie when it came out. They acted like it was supposed to MAKE SENSE! But it was obviously a parody of Hong Kong movies. In fact, Carpenter said that one of the films that influenced it was "The Swordsmen Of Mount Shock," and it was definitely shot in the Hong Kong style. They used the huge Stage Six on the 20th Century Fox lot, and they built every single set. Even the out-door scenes were done on a big soundstage. I think it's hysterical, but it didn't do that well in 1986. It's one of those movies that people started watching later on, on cable. I hate that, when that happens, 'cause by then it's too late. You can't help the film makers, it's too late to help the actors. If the movie doesn't succeed at the box office, it's always considered a failure.
Alright, I want to remind you that next week we have Wes Craven's New Nightmare, an excellent flick, the one he made right before Scream. Wes directed the original Nightmare On Elm Street, and then there were all those sequels, which he did not direct, and then he directed this one, which is the most recent one. We'll follow that up with Halloween 2, which is also not bad. Usually, Part 2 of anything is horrible, but this one's pretty dang decent. Jamie Lee Curtis came back for the sequel, Donald Pleasance was back. And of course, Michael Myers was back, so it's a pretty dang terrifying pre-Halloween party. Not too shabby a week. OK
The second movie tonight is "Theodore Rex" starring Whoopie Goldberg...Whoopie Goldberg on MonsterVision. I need a cigarette. Only kidding. Ted doesn't like cigarettes. Theodore Rex, MonsterVision page and Joe Bob's opening rant about quitting cigs, continued
Past (2007) broadcasts:
Big Trouble In Little China
Wed July 4 12:00A on Actionmax
Backdraft (1991, as a heroic fireman)
Sat Aug 4 07:00A on TNT
The Barefoot Executive (1971 comedy, a pet monkey picks the TV network's new programs)
Sun, Sep 30, 7am/10am EST on Turner Classic Movies
Breakdown (1997, rated R)
A trucker terrorizes a couple whose vehicle has broken down
Thu Aug 2 03:00P on USA Network
Captain Ron (1992 comedy in the Caribbean)
Wed, Sep 26, 8:20 AM on Starz
Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (2005, father & daughter nurse a racehorse)
Mon July 2 07:20A on Cinemax
Tue Aug 28 12:30P on HBO
Mon Sep 17 03:00P on HBO Plus
Thu Sep 20 04:45P on HBO Family
Escape from New York "Call me Snake"
Mon Sep 3 10:15P & 2am on HD Movies
Escape from Los Angeles (sequel) "Call me Plisskin"
Dec 1, 2006 01:00P on USA Network
Executive Decision (Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, Halle Berry)
Tue Aug 7 11:15A & 11:20P on Starz
Sun Sep 2 04:00A on Starz in Black
Wed Sep 5 04:20P on Action
Overboard (comedy, with Goldie Hawn)
Sun Apr 1 06:00P & 11:00P on TNT
Poseidon (Kurt's 2006 remake of 1972's Poseidon Adventure)
Tue, Oct 2, 2:00 AM on Cinemax
Making of “Poseidon” (15 min, 2006)
Fri Sep 21 05:45A on HBO Family
The Quest (1976 TV-movie/western pilot)
Sat July 7 06:15P on Encore Western
Sky High (2005, Kurt Russell as a superhero whose son may be demoted to sidekick at super-school)
Thu Apr 12 11:35A & 11:45P on Starz Comedy
Thu Jul 26 06:00P & 3:00A on Wam!
Thu Aug 2 06:15P & 5:50A on Encore
Mon Aug 27 06:00A, 1:05P & 7:40P on Starz Kids and Family
Wed, Oct 3, 8:00 PM on ABC's Family Channel
On the Set of Sky High (20 min, 2005)
Fri Jul 27 04:45A on Wam!
Soldier (1998, Kurt as an obsolete genetic model marooned on a planet when new soldiers are created)
Sat Sep 22 Noon/3pm EST on WPIX New York
Fri, Sep 28, 5pm/8pm EST on WGN Chicago
Sat, Sep 29, 10:30pm/1:30am EST on WGN
Stargate (1994 movie, Kurt & different cast than current TV-series)
Sat Sep 15 10:30A on USA Network
Tango & Cash (1989, Stallone & Kurt as cops who hate each other, framed for murder)
Tue Sep 18 02:00P & 10:00P on Action
Sat, Oct 6, 1:00P on CinemaxThe Thing (Kurt's remake of the 1951 scifi movie)
Fri Jul 6 02:00A on TNT
Tombstone (1993, shootout at the OK Corral, Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday)
Sat Jan 13 10:30A & 8pm on The Movie Channel
Tue Feb 27 11:30P on Flix Movie Channel
Sun Apr 1 04:40A on Showtime
Tue Apr 24 01:00P on Starz Edge
Mon Aug 6 10:45pm/1:45am EST on Turner Classic Movies
Used Cars (1980, directed by Robert Zemeckis)
Farce about feuding Arizona auto hucksters (Kurt) who happen to be twin brothers. Jack Warden,
Gerrit Graham, Michael McKean, Al Lewis
Sun Aug 26 03:10A on Encore
Vanilla Sky (2001 Tom Cruise film, as Kurt's psychiatrist, last major movie showing Twin Towers)
Mon Mar 12 01:00A on USA Network
3000 Miles to Graceland (2001, rated R)
Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, Howie Long, David Arquette, Christian Slater & Bokeem Woodbine
have a plan: rob a Las Vegas casino dressed as Elvis
Sat Jan 13 07:00A on TNT
Biography: Kurt Russell, Hollywood's Heavy Hitter (1999, 60 min)
Sat Feb 24 10:00A on A&E channel
Hollywood Hotshots: Kurt Russell (2007, 60 min. profile)
Mon Apr 9 09:00A, 3pm & 4am on Biography Channel
More recently, Kurt Russell and Steven Seagal took on terrorist hijackers in mid-air in Executive Decision. Kurt's latest movie is a remake of Irwin Allen's Poseidon Adventure (2006). This time around, it's a terrorist explosion that flips the ship over, directed by Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm)
, and remember: under the Chinese Zodiac, if you are a Horse, don't marry a Rat. Good advice.
Please note: There are no midgets, Nazis or Amazon warriors in "Big Trouble In Little China." If you are looking for MonsterVision host segments of a movie with kung fu (by Bruce Li), midgets, Nazis and Amazon warriors, you want Future Hunters
In the August 6, 2007 issue, TV Guide asked James Hong, "You have a rich career that spans 50 years. Which parts stand out?" "Definitely foreign films, "Blade Runner," "Chinatown"...David Lo Pan in "Big Trouble In Little China" fit like a glove. In "Wayne's World 2," the role I did with Mike Myers (in that) is wonderful. There's something magical about that silly kung-fu fight." "You're in a new comedy called Balls Of Fury. Interesting title." "We had a lot of fun. I'm the blind Ping-Pong master, which was not easy to play. I teach the game to a nerdy kid." "What's it like to be a part of such an iconic piece (the "Chinese Restaurant" episode of Sienfeld) of TV?" "It surprises me that it keeps playing. I hope it plays forever. I get more residuals! But everybody knows that line, “Seinfeld--Four!” People want me to repeat it."
Real news items:
In March 2008, a 58 year old construction worker in China was buried alive when a ditch they were digging collapsed. It took 2 hours to find him and dig him out, yet he was still alive. He said he used the air trapped in his helmet (about 5 minutes worth) and went into a meditative trance until rescued.
The word "ping" in ping-pong means "thunder" and the Chinese character takes 52 strokes to make. If your opponent in a ping-pong match looks anything like Thunder in the above movie, run!
Shi Yanwu has come up with a martial arts video promoting his version of Tiedang Gong (Iron Crouch Kung Fu) in which he has another monk kick him in the groin, and is shown hanging by a rope from his reproductive organ. He claims he learned this art at a Shaolin temple. They admit he was there but deny any connection with him and say that real Tiedang Gong has "to do with health, not sex."
Though most Americans would never think of drinking blood, blood sausage and blood pudding are common in Europe, and dried blood is a common food item in China, though the Chinese think it is equally repulsive to drink a cow's milk. That's why Lo Fat is only a person's name in Chinatown...the drive-in will never die!
Fun fact: A resturant in New York's Chinatown had a chicken and egg dish titled "Mother and Child Reunion." It made such an impression on Paul Simon that he used it as a song title.
"To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice." Confucius
Albert Zugsmith's shining moment in an amiably disreputable career that nonetheless included producing pix by Sirk, Welles and Jack Arnold. Only Fu Manchu is missing from this hypnotically retrograde yellow peril hallucination starring Vincent Price and half the Asian actors in Hollywood.
WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may make you think you have mystical Kung Fu powers.