It's like ol' Jack Burton always says . . .
Loved this article, it is honestly almost as hilarious and entertaining as the actual film. I love this movie and watch it when sick (it is a comfort film for me).
Though that said, I like that it combines mysticism with western. I also like that Burton thinks himself the hero, but I think he does shine as one hero; the sort who would risk his life for another without any hesitation.
The truth is that the ethos of brotherhood that cuts across two such different cultures as the 'Anglo' one of America and the Chinese culture to which Wang belongs to, is the heart of the movie. As Burton and Wang show themselves to be total opposites in where they come from save in that they climbed up from nothing and both are successful, and defiant of the Globalistic, corporate force as represented by Lo Pan.
In my view Lo Pan represents rot in society, whereas the working-class men are meant to represent the stable force of the lower classes who are supposed to check the excesses of the upper-classes and whom are the true forces that compose society.
Another great essay. My restack mentions the slow death of high proles in the UK. It used to be the case that 3 to 4 pm was the best time to drink in most pubs. It was the time when semi-retired and self-employed blue collar entrepreneurs would come out to play. Most could have easily had a sideline in stand-up. The overproduction of elites comes at the expense of blue collar entrepreneurs. Mass migration slashes labour rates. One can still find rare pubs where this is still true, but both the pubs and the men are a dying breed.
Big Trouble in Little China is one of my favourite movies.
John Carpenter is a national treasure. His name says it all.
I am the type of person (nerd) who listens to commentaries on DVDs, and I found the commentary track on Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST with distinguished film historian Christopher Frayling and Carpenter to be very revealing.
Frayling is a theorist; he concentrates on the high-flown, the abstruse, What Leone Meant By This. Carpenter is a mechanic, completely devoted to the hard business of filmmaking; where the nitrate meets the road, as it were. Camera placement, interior and exterior lighting, the things one needs to do to get the shot just right.
It's here if you have 3 hours to burn; I suspect not many of us do. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4J84o986fU
I've long called myself a philosophical as opposed to political anarchist, searching after meaning and myth. Glad to have found the dissident right on substack.
This is a great article, thanks so much. "All it needs is a smoke machine and whoever the Asian version of Slayer to come out and you have a video." The Asian version of Slayer is Baby Metal.
Sort of like ol' Jack Burton, I suspect that your students have no idea what a treasure they are spending time with in you. (sorry for the schmaltz; I was more of a Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley kid).
"Yessir, the check's in the mail!"
Absolutely brilliant article on one of my favorite films.
Now do Tremors!
People who regard this movie as an attack on traditional male heroism don't know John Carpenter and should read more CS Lewis.
This is a movie about how Friendship works, specifically between men.
Stellar flick. True Classic.
Its all in the reflexes.
A common saying at my school in the 80s :)
Thank you so much for writing on this movie. Growing up it was one of my favorites and I've watched it at least a dozen times already. I learn something new every time I explore the movie. My parents took me to watch the movie when it first came out in the 80s and I was a kid back then, so it took me several decades to learn about things like Asian Tongs in American cities and then that part of the movie clicked for me.
Regarding Lo Pan's corporation. The company's involvement in import/export is intriguing, considering that the protagonist, Jack Burton, is a truck driver. A truck driver is also a crucial link in the import/export process.
So in this light Jack symbolizes the ordinary individual who becomes entangled in extraordinary circumstances, while Lo Pan represents the hidden networks that possess control over global economic and resource matters. By contrasting their roles, the stark difference between mundane existence and the clandestine realm of magic and secret societies is emphasized.
A thematic link can be observed through Jack's occupation as a truck driver, representing the continuous transportation of goods between different countries. This serves as a reflection of the film's exploration of globalization and cultural exchange. Furthermore, it emphasizes how seemingly unrelated worlds are interconnected.
Jack's profession as a truck driver is a fundamental cog in the international trade machine. He physically transports the goods that flow through Wing Kong Exchanges' import-export network, unwittingly becoming a vital part of their intricate operations. This parallel underscores the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate worlds, showing how even seemingly mundane tasks contribute to the larger forces at play.
And even when Jack goes back to his blue collar profession at the end of movie we are left with a cliffhanger as the ape-like creature he fought at Lo Pan's dungeons is still after him; seeking vengeance for Lo Pan. Perhaps this is a commentary that even in the simplest of blue-collar ventures one cannot fully escape the evil multinational corporatism as it eventually finds its way in.
Many people have perceived Jack's role as a truck driver to be a discreet criticism of the current crony capitalism system and its exploitative characteristics. In this perspective, Wing Kong Exchange, with its extensive wealth and influence, may be regarded as an emblem of corporate avarice and its detrimental consequences on individuals such as Jack.
I originally asked as a kid viewing the movie if whether Jack inadvertently was shipping for Wing Kong. The movie is vague on this, but there are some interesting clues:
- Delivery Destination: In the film's opening scene, Jack is transporting crates labeled "Green Jade Imports" to Chinatown, where Wing Kong Enterprises has a significant presence from San Francisco to Chicago. However, the nature of the cargo remains ambiguous, and the suspicious behavior of the clients raises questions about its legitimacy.
* The film doesn't explicitly mention Jack's regular delivery routes, but it's reasonable to assume he might transport cargo to and from Chinatown, where Wing Kong Exchange operates.
- Mysterious Contents: The film never reveals the contents of the crates Jack delivers. This ambiguity allows for speculation that they might hold illegal or mystical items related to Wing Kong Enterprises' activities.
- The Cargo Switch: In Chinatown, the original cargo Jack was transporting gets switched with mysterious crates. While the contents of these crates are never revealed, their sudden appearance and the secrecy surrounding them suggest a connection to Lo Pan's nefarious activities.
- Unwitting Involvement: Jack's simple delivery job quickly becomes entangled with the supernatural forces surrounding Lo Pan. This unforeseen involvement suggests a connection between his seemingly ordinary task and the clandestine activities of Wing Kong Exchange.
- Visual Clues: Truck's Condition: Jack's truck, the Porkchop Express, appears battered and worn down, suggesting numerous long-distance trips and heavy loads. This could imply frequent deliveries related to Wing Kong Enterprises' import-export business and because he's obviously not a stranger to this area of San Francisco nor most its residents/businesses. I can't think of anything else related to "porkchop" other than Wang having a restaurant and one of the Elementals, IIRC, brandishes two chopping blades like he's about to slice up some pork chops or some other meat.
- Wing Kong's Resources: Wing Kong Exchanges' vast resources and connections could explain why Lo Pan is aware of Jack's involvement, even though he appears to be a simple truck driver.
- Irony and Subversion: The idea of Jack, an unsuspecting truck driver, unknowingly contributing to Lo Pan's operations adds a layer of irony and subverts expectations. This reinforces the film's theme of hidden forces and the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate worlds. Much like Tongs originally were set out to protect and structure the Asian community but many found themselves devolving into criminal enterprises. In the movie we clearly see a good Tong vs a criminalized Tong.
- Economic Critique: If Jack was unknowingly working for Wing Kong Enterprises, again this could be interpreted as a critique of our economic system, where individuals become unwitting pawns in the pursuit of profit and power.
Aside from I caught on pretty quickly to the connection between Jade=Green Eyes. In Chinese culture, jade symbolizes purity, virtue, and immortality. These qualities might also resonate with the prophecy's requirements, making jade a symbolic representation of the ideal possession/sacrifice for Lo Pan.
Some believe that jade possesses mystical properties like healing and protection. Lo Pan, obsessed with immortality and power, might see jade as a tool to enhance his magical abilities or even extend his life. But jade also serves as Lo Pan's corporation greed. Jade is a valuable stone, as one of the commodities they deal in. So there is an interest in pure financial gain in trading jade rather than appreciating it for its cultural significance.
Jade could be used in rituals or crafting mystical objects to enhance Lo Pan's magical powers or potentially be part of the sacrifice required to appease the God of the East.
As an aside, the character with green eyes, Miao Yin is an interesting name. I don't know the full significance of that name but when I looked it up online I got this result: yin miao (Chinese:陰廟; pinyin: Yīnmiào; lit. 'dark temple') are temples dedicated to wandering and homeless spirits, as opposed to yang miao, which are dedicated to deities. I don't know if that was intentional or not.
As a final note, I'm a big fan of movie fan edits. There does exist a fan edit out there which gives you the extended version of the movie https://ifdb.fanedit.org/big-trouble-in-little-china-fully-engorged-edition/ I've been meaning to check that version out.
I have not seen this movie, but now that I've read this essay I'm going to watch it. My wife and I watched "Band of Brothers" not long ago. What struck me at the end was all the survivors, almost to a man, went on to spend their working lives doing things live driving a taxi or working in a factory. The world's academic and economic elites hold no monopoly on competency and courage.
What an absolute treat it was to wake up to this fantastic essay. Me and my brothers watched this movie as often as possible. Jack Burton was one of our heroes with all of his bluster and humor and bravery.
I spent years being a self-employed, working class vagabond and wonder, as I read this, how much of an influence ol' Jack Burton had on my world view. Thank you for this reminder.
(I watched They Live at the height of the Covid hysteria and marveled at how prophetic it was and recently rewatched Halloween. John Carpenter is awesome.)
Dark Proletaria, Dark Academia -- both supposedly representing/possessing an enchanted world of ancient secrets hidden behind a facade of normalcy. Eh? What? What? That sounds like everyday, normal reality to me.
I have long considered writing a suitable review of this shining masterpiece. I am happy to say, I no longer see any need to. This one is a masterpiece in itself.
You had me at Junger. And that quote is a banger.
Terrific essay on one of my favorite movies. I hadn't made the connection wrt to the fight against the globalist bad guys, but the "all in" brotherhood theme always resonated. Thank you for this one.
I just watched it, very fun movie. I really miss the 80s movies!