John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China is one hell of a cinematic ride which turns the conventions of the action genre on its head. Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton sees himself as the alpha-male, the hero who can handle every situation. He’s all swagger and one-liners, a modern day John Wayne. There’s just one problem – Burton is an idiot, and everyone knows it but him. The real hero is Dennis Dun’s sidekick Wang, who is at the centre of every action set piece, while Burton is usually indisposed.
The heads at 20th Century Fox flipped when they saw what Carpenter and Russell did with the 1986 release. It wasn’t the Indiana Jones and Rambo crossbreed that they had expected. They didn’t know what to do with the movie and buried it on its release with a low-fi marketing effort. Like the previous Carpenter/Russell collaborations Big Trouble In Little China become a hit on home video, becoming a cult classic. The movie was ahead of its time (the Asian cinema boon was another 15 years away), and it’s Carpenter’s assured grasp on the material by W.D Richter, Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein that makes it work. John Carpenter was so disillusioned with how he was treated by the studio that he retreated back to the world of low budget independent cinema.