Welcome to Your Favorite Film is Trash, YFFIT for short, a weekly look at the severe flaws in some of your favorite movies. This week’s film: Big Trouble in Little China. This entry is written by: Jonathan Spruill (@JLspruill) and the rest of the words going into your eyes are from him. Enjoy!
There are plenty of nice things to say about Big Trouble in Little China. It’s imaginative, funny, and full of buoyant visuals. A wide aspect ratio, or “thicc video 😩,” its technical term within the industry, can bolster any movie’s photography, and director John Carpenter made a great decision to shoot in a beautiful 2.35:1 ratio. There are worse ways to spend 100 minutes. It’s still trash tho. In fact, here are 3 reasons why:
1. This movie is mad racist
This post would’ve been three times its current length if the topic was “Your Favorite Film is Problematic.” Movies starring, written by, and directed by white guys usually contain racist and/or sexist undertones. Many times these problematic depictions are benign, and the damaging images they produce are a result of a misunderstanding of cultural– *SEES UNDEAD CHINESE SORCERER DRINKING A WHITE WOMAN’S BLOOD*… hmmm, yea never mind, I got nothing.
Anyway, the story follows Jack and Wang, who are tracking down the latter’s kidnapped fiancee. That would make this Wang’s movie, right? You know, considering that he’s Chinese with a Chinese accent and knows about all the ancient Chinese lore and mysticism in Little China and is a Chinese martial arts dynamo who literally flies through the air kicking the Chinese asses of undead Chinese sorcerers with the heels of his Chinese boot. This is his movie right??!?
See… Wang is… how can I put this… Wang’s a minority. And he’s short, and devoid of facial hair, and not white. But Jack, ya see, Jack’s white. He’s a white, 1980s Caucasian masculine man with stubble who drives a big truck. You’re Wang Chi, while Jack Burton is the guy your girl told you not to worry about. He’s irresistible. Even the zombie Chinese warriors want a piece of Jack.
2. …it’s also crazy sexist
And of course, where there’s sex, there’s sexism. Wang’s girlfriend, Miao Yin is coveted and commodified for her green eyes. She maybe has six unique lines in the whole movie. Gracie Law is awkwardly glued onto the story, spouting nothing but exposition, and actually becomes a redundant character by the time we reach the wedding scene. Margo isn’t really needed either. And Tara, Gracie’s Chinese friend, the one that almost gets kidnapped at the airport, disappears because her skin isn’t white nor are her eyes green. We assume she goes to a Niners game or something. Point being, Big Trouble in Little China’s female characters suck.
3. Jack is able to kill Lo Pan, for some reason
Lo Pan is the film’s main villain. He’s an immortal, spectral-type thingy with supernatural powers. In the climactic scene, he marries Miao and regains his mortality. Cool. Fine, whatever. We know he’s going to die now, either by having someone use his own powers against him, or something like that. But, all he has to do is throw a few Hadoukens at Jack and Wang and call it an evening. Right?
Well…it’s hard to say. Lo Pan wants to make it hard on himself and throw a knife at Jack. Why? Because Chekov’s Gun says so. In one of the earlier scenes, we find out that Jack has a talent for catching things thrown at his face, even from point blank range. With that lingering in the back of our minds, it should make sense that Jack is able to catch a flying dagger with his bare hands. We’re supposed to be fine with him flinging the same knife right back into the middle of Lo Pan’s skull.
And it isn’t just Lo Pan’s death that’s stupid. All of the ultra powerful villains in this movie die ridiculous, slapstick deaths. Lo Pan’s henchmen, Thunder, Lightning, and Rain, respectively die from a stabbing, being crushed by a rock à la Wile E. Coyote, and suicide via a rapidly-expanding full-body gout.
Big Trouble in Little China is a cult classic in the truest sense of the term: only someone crazy enough to join a cult would deem this a good film. If you want to watch a great, 80s cult classic about Asian culture and a truck driver, don’t watch this movie. The movie you actually want to watch is called Tampopo. Big Trouble in Little China is trash.