BIG JOURNEY IN LITTLE CHINA: The hidden hero amidst the trouble

The stories that many movies tell contain the ever lasting figure of the Hero. They are stories that gravitate around a protagonist embarked on a journey that will lead to a gratifying end. Action/adventure films follow this path, where the central character accomplishes a goal that would save the day.

“Character arcs are not limited to Drama, Romance and Thrillers. Although the recurring or series Action Adventure Hero does not require internal character change.” — Stuart Voytillia

In “Big Trouble in Little China”, John Carpenter makes a funny and wacky movie. Thrilling and mysterious at times, at others it is straight up silly and erratic, which personally makes it part of the fun.

Stuart Voytillia denotes the presence of the Hero’s Journey on movies from different genres in his book “Myth and the Movies”. That can be done to most movies, but now it’s the time for “Big Trouble in Little China.” Although it may have slight divergences from a traditional Action/adventure, the blueprints are still there and they can be dissected out of it. This would let us know how does this movie relate to the Journey and how it moves it away from the conventional.

  • Ordinary World: Jack Burton, Kurt Russel’s character, is a truck driver that arrives to San Francisco’s Chinatown and meets with Wang Chi. Wang drags along Jack after loosing a bet to him.
  • Call to Adventure: It is until this point when things start to go down. Jack drives Wang to the airport, expecting to pick up Wang’s green-eyed fiancée. Waiting for her at the airport, Jack notices the nerviosism on other green-eyed girl, Gracie. Some armed thugs try to kidnap the girl Gracie is waiting for. Jack intervenes helping Gracie but instead dooms Wang’s fiancée, since she is the one who is kidnaped instead.
  • Refusals to the Call: On the Chinatown alleys, our protagonists encounter a show down between two secret societies. The Three Storms disperse the battle with their might. Wang and Jack try to escape, it is here when Jack encounters the main antagonist, Lo Pan, an ancient sorcerer. You could say that for the rest of this movie, Kurt Rusell’s character would have refused the call if his truck had not been stolen. It is heavily crucial because this is what drives Jack’s motivation it ill the end of the movie.
  • Meeting the Mentor/Test Allies and Enemies: Wang and Jack decide to head back to the restaurant ‘The Dragon of the Black Pool’. Here they officially meet Gracie, Wang’s friend, Eddie and Egg Shen, a magician and knowledgeable on Lo Pang. They come with a plan to infiltrate into a brothel. Here the Three Storms show up again and take Wang’s fiancée. We also see an older Lo Pang.
  • Crossing the Threshold: This section interlaps with the previous scene, as they cross that threshold when break in the brothel. There they have the first taste of what there is to come. Our protagonists are taken hostage and patented to an older looking Lo Pang. He reveals his plans to them.
  • Approach the Inmost Cave: Following the previous action, Jack and Wang get simbolicaly locked away in a confined cell. They manage to escape not after a confrontation with one of the Stoms, Rain. Here, Wang also tells Jack about Lo Pang’s curse.
  • The Ordeal: At this point, our protagonist faced death agsinst Rain. They manage escape not before Gracie is captured by a wierd yeti monster. Then she is taken Lo Pang. They guys realize she is missing and now is also Gracie who they should recuse, plus Jack’s truck.
  • Reward: Now that Lo Pang has the two green-eyed girls, in order to fulfill his prophecy he must marry the green-eyed girl and kill her. Lo Pang decides to marry both girls, killing Gracie and staying with Wang’s fiancée. This is part of the reward or and elixir, yet not for our protagonist but for the villain. This “elixir” would play a bigger part on the elixir of both of our protagonist.
  • Resurrection: It is also worthy to point out that the actions following this, our protagonists decide to go back to Lo Pang’s domain and retrieving the girls with the help of the mentor and his group. Egg, the wizard and mentor gives them an elixir which makes Jack feel ‘kind of invisible’. This is right before the last final show at Lo Pang’s wedding. Jack knocks himself out missing half of the action. Denoting clearly now that the main protagonist is Wang. Fortunately, Jack comes back to life. Another worthy thing to note is that Lo Pang manages to get rid of his curse, making him have a mortal body again. He kind of come back to life as well. Want
  • Return with Elixir: Wang fights with the last Stom, while Gracie and Jack stabb the now mortal Lo Pang. The Hero’s elixir is the antithesis of the Antagonist elixir. Lo Pang dies. They retrieve the girls. The last remaining Storm explodes and the gang is saved last minute by the mentor, Egg.

The end of ‘Big Trouble’ is the most obvious divergence with the more traditional Journey. Wang gets the girl, Wang’s friend gets a girl, Chinatown and perhaps the world is saved, yet the Jack, who seemed like our Hero at the beginning, leaves the girl behind and goes back to the road with his loved truck and no actual internal change(Following the shallowness of many action Heros without their awesomeness). In the end, one could say Wang is the true hero.

In the heart of the eighties, Carpenter presents a film that plays with the established form and esthetics of the Action/adventure genre at the moment. At the same time, this movie breaks out of the standards for such genre, playing with the expectations, yet not taking itself to seriously. This creates an underlying sense of light-hearted mock to the movies where the big, buff and tough hero saves the day and gets the girl. “Big trouble in Little China” does this differently by letting some stablished situations play along the viewers and their expectations.