FLM 244 Blog #1 — Action/Adventure
Joseph Campbell’s 12 steps of the hero’s journey correlate with John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986) in the following ways…
- Ordinary World: Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is set up as a trucker that hauls large deliveries around the country. He is introduced to us through a routine delivery to Chinatown in San Francisco, where he meets up with an old friend named Wang Chi (Dennis Dun).
- Call to Adventure: Wang and Jack go to pick up a girl from the airport named Maio Yin (Suzee Pai), but she gets kidnapped by a group of martial artists. Wang tells Jack that they have to save her.
- Refusal of the Call: Jack initially refuses, but eventually is pulled in to helping out Wang after the two of them witness a massive street fight altercation between multiple mystical groups of martial artists and a mysterious figure named Lo Pan (James Hong).
- Meeting the Mentor: Jack meets Wang’s father, who explains how ancient Chinese forces have been at war within Chinatown for as long as the city has stood.
- Crossing the Threshold: Jack and Wang go to Lo Pan’s brothel in order to try and rescue Maio Yin. Their plan doesn’t go as they thought it would and they end up being transported to a world of strange magic beneath the streets of Chinatown.
- Tests, Allies & Enemies: Jack and Wang encounter various mini-bosses/henchmen while trying to escape. There are various physical obstacles they have to overcome while trying to find Maio Yin.
- Approach: Jack and Wang end realize that there is a whole group of girls that Lo Pan is holding, including a girl Jack likes named Gracie (Kim Cattrall), so they make a plan to free the girls while still trying to find Maio Yin.
- Ordeal, Death & Rebirth: Jack and Wang free the girls from Lo Pan and escape in an elaborate chase sequence. Unfortunately, Maio Yin is still trapped under Lo Pan’s control and Gracie is also kidnapped by one of Lo Pan’s monsters.
- Reward, Seizing the Sword: Jack, Wang and an elder named Egg Shen (Victor Wong) sneak into Lo Pan’s underground fortress to take back Maio Yin as well as Gracie.
- The Road Back: Even with the girls saved, the fortress starts to crumble and put more obstacles in front of Jack.
- Resurrection: Jack and Wang finally confront Lo Pan head on, Jack is able to take him down with a simple trick that he explains is “all in the reflexes.”
- Return with Elixir: Jack and Wang return to the surface with their women, having stopped an ancient force that terrorized Chinatown. Wang plans to marry Maio Yin, while Jack choses to leave Gracie behind for a continued life on the road. The only catch is that one of Lo Pan’s monsters stows away in Jack’s truck.
As a film that lives in the pantheon of the action/adventure genre, Carpenter’s totally wacky and off-the-walls movie lives up to the name. Kurt Russell’s character is the guy that every straight adolescent male wants to be; tough, brash and not afraid of anything.
The film also has a very literal sense of the “ordinary world” and the “special world” with Chinatown being ordinary and the mystical world beneath it being extraordinary. This clear difference makes the physical path that the characters take feel like a genuine adventure since it shows the audience worlds it hasn’t seen before.
On the topic of action, the fight choreography is easily the most impressive part of the film. Each action set-piece is bigger than the last and the action is comedically over the top from square one.
Overall, this is a very fun genre flick. While there is little-to-no substance to the story, the earnestness of the adventure is what ultimately redeems it. The film is so jam-packed with insane fights, weird monsters and corny one-liners that at a certain point, you just have to give into it and enjoy the ride. Just bring nachos, because there’s plenty of cheese.