If you’ve never seen Big Trouble in Little China then you really are missing out on a brilliant 80s cult classic. Directed by John Carpenter and starring the brilliant Kurt Russell, the tongue-in-cheek 1986 adventure tells the story of Jack Burton, who helps rescue the fiancée of his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dunn) when she is abducted by evil forces in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Below are 10 things you might not have known about a film which was once described by its director as an “action adventure comedy kung fu ghost story monster movie!”
10. It was originally going to be a period Western
The original script for Big Trouble in Little China was written by Gary Goldman and David Z Weinstein. It was rather different from what ended up hitting screens, as it was a Western set in the 1880s.
Another screenwriter named WD Richter (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension) was hired, and given the task of updating the script to modern times.
9. It was a rival production to Eddie Murphy movie The Golden Child
Before signing on to direct Big Trouble in Little China for 20th Century Fox, John Carpenter was offered the chance to call the shots on another action-comedy fantasy with Eastern elements: The Golden Child. When Paramount pushed ahead on The Golden Child with Eddie Murphy in the lead, Fox got nervous, anxious to make sure Big Trouble in Little China was a bigger hit.
Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson were both considered for the role of Jack Burton, before Carpenter’s regular collaborator Kurt Russell signed on instead. In the end, The Golden Child wound up the bigger hit by far, earning almost $150 million at the box office.
8. Jackie Chan was offered the role of Wang Chi before Dennis Dun
While Russell’s Jack Burton is presented as the lead, the real hero of Big Trouble in Little China is Burton’s Chinese-American buddy Wang Chi. As they needed a heroic Asian male with martial arts skills, John Carpenter’s first choice for the part was Jackie Chan. However, the producers worried Chan’s English wasn’t good enough, and Chan himself wanted to concentrate on his Hong Kong film career at the time.
Carpenter instead chose Dennis Dun for the role, based on his performance in Year of the Dragon. Remarkably, Dun was not an experienced martial artist, but with his skills in dance and limited fight training, he proved more than up to the challenge.
7. John Carpenter lost his cool on set
It was reported that a special effects coordinator got yelled at by director John Carpenter when a blood squib on the wall went off too early.
Kurt Russell (who had already worked with Carpenter three times previously on Elvis, Escape From New York and The Thing) played the situation down, saying it was one of only a few times he had ever seen Carpenter get angry.
6. Neither Kim Cattrall nor Suzie Pai actually have green eyes
A key plot point in Big Trouble in Little China is that both Kim Cattrall’s Gracie Law and Suzie Pai’s Miao Yin have green eyes. This makes them both potential brides for the cursed sorcerer David Lo Pan, who must marry a girl with green eyes to regain his full power.
In reality, though, both actresses have brown eyes, meaning they both had to wear coloured contact lenses for the movie.
5. James Hong was terrified shooting the escalator scene
Considering all the high-flying stunts in Big Trouble in Little China, you might not have thought that one of the most dangerous moments would be something as simple as coming down an escalator. However, when Lo Pan actor James Hong had to do this in the climactic wedding scene, he was terrified.
Hong recalls, “It was a very narrow escalator, and I was on lifts, 12-inch lifts. All of a sudden, John said, ‘We don’t have time, we’ve got to do it right away.’ I said, ‘Can’t you get a stunt man… It looked like I was fierce, but I was trembling.”
4. Carpenter performs the title song
Director John Carpenter generally provided the musical score for his own movies, but on Big Trouble in Little China he goes one better. The filmmaker’s singing voice can be heard on the film’s title track, which plays over the end credits.
The Big Trouble in Little China theme song is composed and performed by Carpenter with his friends (and fellow filmmakers) Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle, who together called themselves The Coupe De Villes.
3. The Chinese characters in the title card don’t translate literally
The film’s title screen also displays some Chinese writing alongside Big Trouble in Little China, but the translation from Chinese into English is not what you might think.
The Chinese writing actually translates as ‘Evil Spirits Make a Big Scene in Little Spiritual State,’ which isn’t quite as snappy as the English title!
2. The film was a huge box office failure
Sadly, Big Trouble in Little China was a big commercial failure on release. Having an estimated budget of $20-$25 million, it wound up only making making around $11 million at the US box office. This proved a significant blow to director John Carpenter, who had already made a number of major films which flopped (most famously The Thing).
Disappointment over this and tension with executives led to Carpenter walking away from the major studios. His next films, Prince of Darkness and They Live, would be independently produced.
1. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson announced sequel plans in 2015
Back in 2015 it was reported that Dwayne Johnson would star in a new Big Trouble in Little China movie. Originally it was thought the wrestler-turned-blockbuster action hero would play Jack Burton in a remake, but Johnson’s producer Hiram Garcia later explained it would instead be a sequel: “You can’t remake a classic like that, so what we’re planning to do is we’re going to continue the story… there’s only one person that could ever play Jack Burton, so Dwayne would never try and play that character.”
However, since Garcia’s comments on the matter in 2018, there has been very little word on the film. Nonetheless, James Hong (now in his mid-90s and enjoying a career resurgence after appearing in multi-Oscar winning hit Everything Everywhere All At Once) has said he would like to be involved.