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Adventures of Jack Burton

Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

enik1138-at-popapostle-dot-com
Adventures of Jack Burton: Big Trouble in Little China Adventures of Jack Burton
Big Trouble in Little China
Movie
Written by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein
Adaptation by W.D. Richter
Directed by John Carpenter
Released July 1986

 

Trucker Jack Burton bites off more than he can chew in the mystic underworld of San Francisco's Chinatown.

 

Read the summary of this movie at IMDB

 

Characters appearing or mentioned in this film

 

Pinstripe lawyer

Egg Shen

Jack Burton

Jack's ex-wife (unnamed, mentioned only)

Wang Chi

Miao Yin

Gracie Law

Lords of Death

Tara

Lo Pan

Lem Lee (seen in photo only, deceased)

Chang Sing

Wing Kong

The Three Storms (Thunder, Rain, and Lightning)

Uncle Chu

Eddie Lee

Mrs. O'Toole

Margo Litzenberger

White Tiger 

 

Didja Know?

 

The original script was set in the Chinatown of the old west. When John Carpenter was brought aboard to direct the film, he felt it would work better set in the modern day and the script was re-adapted by W.D. Richter, best known as the director of the 1984 film, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

 

The actor playing the unnamed lawyer interviewing Egg Shen at the beginning of the film is Jerry Hardin, who went on to become known for his portrayal of Deep Throat on The X-Files. He is identified as Pinstripe Lawyer in the credits.

 

The film takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown. Chinatowns exist in cities throughout the world and are sometimes referred to as Little Chinas, inhabited by largely Chinese or Taiwanese expatriates. 

 

The character of Lightning here (one of the Three Storms) seems to have been the inspiration for the hero of the Mortal Kombat video game series called Raiden.
Lightning Raiden
Lightning Raiden

 

Actresses Kim Cattrall and Suzee Pai (as Gracie Law and Miao Yin) both have brown eyes. They wore green contact lenses in the film. During close-up shots of their eyes, the brown of their eyes can be seen along the edges of the green lenses.

 

 

 

Didja Notice?

 

At beginning of the movie, the lawyer is astounded when he asks for proof of magic and Egg Shen makes small bolts of lightning appear between his hands. But we don't see the reaction of the stenographer sitting behind Egg in the office. Was she not just as shocked?

 

If you listen to the way actor Kurt Russell speaks when delivering much of Jack's dialog, notice that the seems to be doing a bit of an homage to actor John Wayne (1907-1979)!

 

Jack's truck, the Pork-Chop Express, is a 1985 Freightliner FLC-120. It has the iconic trucker's "mudflap girl" on the front grill, along with the words "Haulin' Ass" (later we also see the truck has the actual mudflaps with the girl on them as well). The truck is named the Pork-Chop Express because Jack uses it to haul pigs to the slaughterhouse.

Mudflap girl

 

The Chinese characters in the middle of the "Big Trouble in Little China" title logo supposedly read "Evil Spirits Make a Big Scene in Little Spiritual State".
Big Trouble in Little China title logo

 

Jack's baseball cap has a Harley-Davidson logo on it.

 

Apparently Jack has been married at least a couple times. As he's talking on his CB radio, he remarks, "As I told my last wife..." (Later stories confirm that Jack has had at least four wives thus far.)

 

At the beginning of the movie, Jack refers to the evening as "a dark and stormy night". This line is often used to mock turgid writing or storytelling (as much of Jack's boasting is), used as the opening line of English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 novel Paul Clifford. The comic strip character Snoopy from Charles Schulz's Peanuts, seemingly began all of his alleged novels with the phrase. The full sentence from Bulwer-Lytton's novel is "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

 

Jack's opening monologue opens in a manner similar to his closing one at the end of the film with "You just listen to the ol' Pork-Chop Express and take his advice on a dark and stormy night..." and then goes on with "When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against a barroom wall, looks you crooked in the eye and asks you if you’ve paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker back in the eye and remember what Jack Burton always says at a time like that." At the end of the film, Jack gives a brief description of actual events that just happened to him, so it seems quite likely that he is describing an actual recent altercation here at the beginning as well.

 

At 3:50 on the DVD, Jack is crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.

 

At 3:57 on the DVD, Jack is eating an apple fruit pie packaged dessert/snack. The wrapper looks to be a generic version of a Hostess Fruit Pie wrapper from that time (mid-1980s).

 

At 4:21 on the DVD, Sunkist packing boxes are seen at the wholesale market in San Francisco's Chinatown.

 

At 4:28 on the DVD, a sign for Curtin Produce is seen. As far as I can tell, this is a fictitious company.

 

At 5:30 on the DVD, a man at the gambling table is wearing a t-shirt with what may be a logo for Tsingtao Beer. The men at the table are actually drinking Peking Beer though, also an actual beer brand in China.

 

The game being played at the gambling table is the ancient Chinese game of fan-tan (see Wing Kong Exchange website).

 

Packing boxes for Butterfly Apples are seen at 6:24 on the DVD. This was a real brand at the time.

 

At 6:35 on the DVD, we see the gambling table Jack and Wang are playing at is apparently at Lee's Citrus Exchange. This appears to be a fictitious business.

 

At 7:58 on the DVD, a Coca-Cola refrigerator unit is seen at Lee's Citrus Exchange. Coke must have been a sponsor for the movie because its logo is seen all over the film.

 

Packing boxes for Cal-Oro fruit are seen at 8:32 on the DVD. Cal-Oro is a brand of Villa Park Orchards, an agricultural cooperative association in California. Seconds later, packing boxes for Tres Amigos produce are seen; I've been unable to confirm if this is or was a real company.

 

Wang's pick-up truck seen at 8:51 on the DVD is a 1960 Ford panel truck.

 

At 8:55 on the DVD, we can see that the doors of Jack's semi read, "Jack Burton Trucking, Visalia, Calif." Visalia is a city about 230 miles southeast of San Francisco.

 

Wang tells Jack that his fiancé, Miao Yin, is from Peking. Peking is the city of Beijing in China.

 

Jack and Wang go to the airport to pick up Miao Yin. This would be San Francisco International Airport.

 

At the airport, Miao Yin carries her stuff in a packing box for Peony Mark baking powder. Peony Mark is an actual Chinese marketer of food items.

 

Gracie is not too impressed with Jack when he first approaches, saying, "You should try standing downwind where I am. It's Miller time." The phrase "It's Miller time" was an advertising slogan for Miller High Life Beer in the 1970s and 80s.

 

One of the Lords of Death street gang members has the Chinese yin-yang symbol on his headband, a Chinese symbol of the interconnectedness of opposites.

 

At 12:53 on the DVD, a 1978 Chevrolet Corvette C3 is seen in the parking garage at the airport.

 

At 13:04 on the DVD, we can see that Wang wears a jacket that advertises his restaurant, Dragon of the Black Pool.

 

Gracie drives a 1971 Chevrolet van.

 

At 13:11 on the DVD, the car driven by the Lords of Death members is a 1986 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, with license plate IE49942.

 

The Mariposa Street off-ramp is seen on the freeway at 13:32 on the DVD. Mariposa Street is a an actual road in San Francisco. The scene in the film seems to be on the I-280.

 

When Jack asks Wang why anyone would kidnap his fiancé, part of Wang's response is, "How come it's not safe to walk in Central Park?" Central Park is a public park in the center of Manhattan and one of the largest urban parks in the world.

 

At 13:49 on the DVD, a Puma truck cuts in front Jack's cab. At this same moment, a freeway sign for the Bay Bridge is seen.

 

The gateway seen at 14:04 on the DVD is the Gateway Arch (Dragon Gate) on Grant Avenue at Bush Street in San Francisco's Chinatown.

 

Egg Shen's bus for his Egg Foo Yong Tours is a 1936 White Model 706, CA license plate A31864.

 

At 14:43 on the DVD, Egg's tour bus drives past the Far East Flea Market and Four Seas Restaurant. Both businesses are real, though the Four Seas apparently closed just recently, in 2016.

 

When Jack turns the  Pork-Chop Express into a Chinatown alley at 15:20 on the DVD, a business called New Hoa Thai Trading Company is seen. I've been unable to confirm if the was a real business at the time. Seconds later, Ng Hing Kee is seen; this is a real world bookstore in Chinatown.

 

At 15:33 on the DVD, Su Ling Imports is seen. This appears to be a fictitious company.

 

Notice that the man who watches Jack and Wang drive by at 16:04 on the DVD is Lo Pan.

 

In the alley, Jack and Wang are caught in the middle of a Tong war between the Chang Sing and the Wing Kong. Tong are Chinese secret societies, sometimes benevolent, sometimes questionable, with connections to crime. The Chang Sing and Wing Kong tongs are entirely fictitious, as far as I can tell.

 

At 17:09 on the DVD, a Wing Kong member pulls out a Webley "WG" Army Model revolver.

 

At 17:24 on the DVD, another Wing Kong member wields a Thompson submachine gun, known as a Tommy gun during the gangster era of the 1920s-1930s.

 

The twin gold-plated pistols wielded by another Wing Kong are Smith & Wesson Model 19s.

 

Some of the Wing Kong use Norinco Type 56 assault rifles.

 

One of the Chang Sings uses a MAC-10 during the shootout at 17:42 on the DVD.

 

A couple of the Chang Sing members wield Beretta 92SB pistols.

 

At 17:46 on the DVD, a Chang Sing uses a Heckler & Koch HK94A3 submachine gun.

 

A sign advertising "Ice cold Nehi" is seen at 18:36 on the DVD. Nehi was a U.S. soft drink company known for its fruit-flavored sodas from 1924-1955. In 1955, the company changed its name to Royal Crown Company. Nehi is now a brand of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

 

At 19:24 on the DVD, an advertising sign for Camel cigarettes is seen. The slogan used here, "Have a real cigarette" is one that the Camel brand used in the 1950s and '60s.

 

At 20:28 on the DVD, the China Palace Art Company is seen. This appears to be a fictitious business.

 

Notice that both the Chang Sing and Wing Kong tongs appear to be afraid of the Three Storms.

 

At 21:25 on the DVD, one of the Chang Sing fires a Micro Uzi against the Three Storms. The general Uzi line of weapons was designed by Israeli Captain Uziel Gal in the late 1940s and named after him.

 

At 24:13 on the DVD, as Jack scuttles through the crawlspace, he kicks up a piece of trash in the form of a Lipton Hot Spiced Cider box. Notice that Jack ditches his pullover sweater for some reason in this shot.

 

After losing his truck, Jack calls his insurance company, Mutual Fidelity Insurers of Sacramento. This appears to be a fictitious company. Sacramento is the capital city of California, in central California.

 

At 24:48 on the DVD, a sack of Iris Salt is seen sitting on top of a Chinese Coca-Cola box in the kitchen of Dragon of the Black Pool. Iris is a private label food brand of the Smart & Final food and supply store chain in the western United States.

 

At 25:36 on the DVD, a can of Folgers coffee is seen on a shelf in the background of the kitchen.

 

At 25:50 on the DVD, notice that Jack's clothes (tank top and jeans) are drying on a line in the middle of the kitchen! He is walking around in a blue Chinese robe.

 

At 26:05 on the DVD, a bag of C&H sugar and Swanson canned broth are seen on a shelf in the background.

 

At 27:17 on the on the DVD, two cans of Crisco are seen on the kitchen shelf. Crisco is a brand of vegetable oil shortening.

 

Eddie's pink car is a 1959 Cadillac Series 62 Flat Top.

 

Margo's car is a 1972 AMC Gremlin.

 

At 32:00 on the DVD, notice that Lightning is lowered into the brothel through the hole in the roof by a writhing electrical bolt from the sky he clutches in his fist, then he leaves in the same manner.

 

Margo says that David Lo Pan is the chairman of the National Orient Bank and owns the Wing Kong Import-Export Trading Company. These are both fictitious institutions.

 

Margo tells Jack that she's with the Berkeley People's Herald. This is a fictitious newspaper.

 

The Wing Kong delivery truck seen at 34:54 on the DVD is a Ford Econoline E-350. The larger delivery truck that drives past seconds later is an International Harvester S-Series.

 

At 35:28 on the DVD, notice that the wall mount that Wang walks past is the same one that the monster looks through the eye sockets of at 59:00.

 

At 35:29 on the DVD, Wang walks past a small statue of Buddha holding a lotus blossom. The lotus flower is one of the prime symbols of the Buddhist religion, signifying good fortune and the progress of the human soul.

 

At 36:18 on the DVD, Egg Shen and Uncle Chu are drinking Sun Lik beer. This is a Chinese beer brewed in the UK under license from Hong Kong Brewery Ltd.

 

When Jack and Wang are captured inside the Wing Kong warehouse, they are secured to a couple of old wheelchairs. Presumably, these are wheelchairs once used by Lo Pan in his frail, old man body, who is seen currently using a motorized wheelchair.

 

Lo Pan asks Wang which province Miao Yin is from, suggesting Hunan. Hunan is a province in south-central China.

 

Lo Pan needs a girl with green eyes to appease the demonic god he worships, Ching Dai. As far as I can tell, Ching Dai is a piece of mythology made up for this film.

 

Wang tells Jack that the first sovereign emperor of China defeated Lo Pan and imposed upon him the horrible curse of no flesh in 272 BC. The first sovereign emperor of China was Qin Shi Huang, but he did not become emperor until 220 BC and was not born until 260, well after the 272 BC date of Lo Pan's defeat. Wang says the emperor federated the Seven Warring States; the Seven Warring States were Qin, Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, and Wei. Qin, ruled by Qin Shi Huang, finally conquered the six other states from 230-221 BC, "federating" them. Qin Shi Huang is the same emperor who is resurrected as the villain of the 2008 film The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

 

At 43:45 on the DVD, four security monitors are seen outside of Lo Pan's office. But just minutes earlier, there were only two monitors!

 

After an exchange of weapons at 49:36 on the DVD, Eddie has a Smith & Wesson Model 36 pistol, Jack an Intratec TEC-9 submachine gun, and Wang a 12 Gauge Double Barreled Shotgun.

 

Despite the driver's side of Egg's tour bus having just been shot up by the Wing Kong security guards, no damage is seen as it races away at 59:55 on the DVD.

 

Margo describes the events she and her cohorts have been caught up in as "some radical Alice in Wonderland." Alice in Wonderland is an 1865 novel by Lewis Carroll about a girl transported to Wonderland, a hidden, surreal, and semi-mystical world that does not run by the same rules the normal world does.

 

The pistol Egg shows to Jack at 1:02:31 on the DVD, saying it will make him feel like Dirty Harry, is a Smith & Wesson Model 29. In the Dirty Harry series of films of the 1970s and '80s, the police detective character of "Dirty" Harry Callahan (portrayed by Clint Eastwood) carried a Smith & Wesson Model 29. Like Big Trouble in Little China, the Dirty Harry films take place in San Francisco.

 

At 1:07:59 on the DVD, Thunder sets his blades down in front of Miao Yin and Gracie. But, seconds later at 1:08:04, the blades have vanished!

 

Egg shows the group a gourd container holding a potion that he says "will be our only hope against the Bodhisattva of the underworld, the ultimate evil spirit." In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhisattva is an old Sanskrit term for someone who has attained Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings; the term is never used to describe an evil spirit as it is here.

 

Egg also has what he calls the Six Demon Bag, filled with magical tools, powders, and potions with which to fight Lo Pan. The Six Demon Bag appears to be a fictitious element of Chinese mysticism made up for the movie.

 

Notice that, after Egg explains loosely what the magic potion and bag will do for the upcoming confrontation with Lo Pan, Wang raises a toast to the U.S. military and "the colors that never run". I think he did this in order to inspire Jack, who was not particularly responding to all the talk of magic and spells; Jack is inspired by simpler things like patriotism, even though the Lo Pan battle does not really have a patriotic element in it.

 

Lo Pan's hidden elevator to the underground temple opens from a large Buddha statue at the destination.

 

Is it just me, or is it bit odd that an underground Chinese mystic temple for an evil spirit would have neon lights accenting its sculptures?

 

At 1:21:27 on the DVD, Thunder shatters Jack's TEC-9 submachine gun with a single blow of his fist.

 

As Lightning is destroyed, the last glimpse of electricity from his body at 1:31:19 on the DVD form the Chinese characters for "carpenter", a nod by the special effects team to the film's director, John Carpenter.
carpenter Chinese symbols for "carpenter"
"Carpenter" in electricity Chinese symbols for "carpenter"

 

At the end of the movie, Jack has his pullover sweater back, even though he ditched it earlier in the crawlspace under an old tenement. I guess he went back for it after the escape from the Wing Kong Exchange!

 

At 1:34:05 on the DVD, the gang appears to be drinking Miller High Life beer during their celebration.

 

Jack's monologue at the end of the film includes oblique references to the Three Storms (Lightning, Thunder, and Rain) he faced earlier: "You just listen to the old Pork-Chop Express here now and take his advice on a dark and stormy night when the lightning's crashing and the thunder's rollin' and the rain's coming down..."

 

The song heard during the closing credits of the film is "Big Trouble in Little China" by the Coupe de Villes, a band made up of John Carpenter himself with his frequent film collaborators, Nick Castle and Tommy Lee Wallace. Carpenter sings the lyrics heard here, in a deeper voice than his usual.

 

Notes from the Audio Commentary by John Carpenter (Director/Co-writer) and Kurt Russell

 

John Carpenter is one of the men walking across the scene at the wholesale market at about 6:07 on the DVD.

 

Notes from the Cinefex article included on the DVD Special Edition release

 

The writhing electrical bolts produced by Lightning have Chinese characters subtly formed within them (including the "carpenter" mentioned earlier in the study). 

 

Unanswered Questions

 

Why is Gracie less under the spell of Lo Pan than Miao Yin (she is seen to awaken briefly at 1:10:33 on the DVD)? Is it because she is Caucasian? What brings her back under the spell as seen later? 


Memorable Dialog

you leave Jack Burton alone.mp3
do you really believe in magic?.mp3
this is Jack Burton in the Pork-Chop Express.mp3
I never drive faster than I can see.mp3
a dark and stormy night.mp3
the check is in the mail.mp3
some kind of fool to think we're all alone in this universe.mp3
I picked up girls from everywhere else.mp3
son of a bitch must pay.mp3
I'm going home.mp3
China is here.mp3
with light coming out of his mouth.mp3
don't panic.mp3
just happened to be in the neighborhood.mp3
the Hell of Being Cut to Pieces.mp3
she can't get enough of me.mp3
I'm feeling a little like an outsider here.mp3
look stupid.mp3
monumentally naive.mp3
there's a problem with your face.mp3
if we're not back by dawn.mp3
I was born ready.mp3
just like your salad bar.mp3
a ghost who plays at being a man.mp3
in deep shit.mp3
in and out like the wind.mp3
Hell of the Upside Down Sinners.mp3
you are not brought upon this world to "get it".mp3
in a life as short as yours.mp3
the Hell Where People are Skinned Alive.mp3
a girl with green eyes.mp3
check into a psycho ward.mp3
this really pisses me off.mp3
I have no idea.mp3
will you stop rubbing your body up against mine?.mp3
everybody relax, I'm here.mp3
we may be trapped.mp3
some radical Alice in Wonderland.mp3
she's not even your type.mp3
see things/do things.mp3
the six demon bag.mp3
the colors that never run.mp3
I feel kind of invincible.mp3
is it getting hot in here?.mp3
is it too much to ask?.mp3
who?.mp3
couldn't have that on my conscience.mp3
rub everybody the wrong way.mp3
see you around.mp3
we really shook the pillars of Heaven.mp3
I can take it.mp3

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