Six Degrees of Schwarzenegger Podcast – Big Trouble in Little China Ep. 6


Highlights from this section of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA

  • Wang, Jack and Eddie bust loose
  • Lo Pan’s transformation
  • Wang shows his skill and Jack’s makes a kill
  • The guys free Gracie, Margo, and the other slave girls

John Carpenter: the overlooked auteur

John Carpenter was among the initial wave of filmmakers who emerged after the collapse of Hollywood’s “studio system” at the dawn of the new era of “blockbuster” films during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  But with such legendary contemporaries as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Ridley Scott and others, John Carpenter is often lost in the shuffle.

Wiktionary defines an auteur as “A creative artist, especially a film director, seen as having a specific, recognizable artistic vision, and who is seen as the single or preeminent ‘author’ of his works.”  In other words, you can see the filmmaker’s influence in practically every aspect of the film.  This is perhaps even more true with John Carpenter than with most of his contemporaries.

John Carpenter puts his own unique touch on almost every area of his movies.  Aside from directing, Carpenter often pens his own screenplays, frequently makes on-screen cameos, and almost always composes his own music.  Some of Carpenter’s films’ trademark qualities are pulpy subject matter, long tracking shots, point-of-view camera, synthesizer musical scores, gore/creature effects, dark humor, and “B-movie” genre-filmmaking.

Carpenter’s 45-year legacy of fimmaking continues to influence contemporary Hollywood, as his style and techniques have inspired future generations of filmmakers.  Den of Geek has written about Carpenter’s lasting impact on modern filmmakers, as has Entertainment Weekly, which called Carpenter the most influential director of 2014.  1978’s HALLOWEEN, 1981’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and 1982’s THE THING are still viewed as genre masterpieces. 

Carpenter’s mark on Hollywood is undeniable, as many of his films remain viable commodities in Hollywood.  1974’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and 1980’s THE FOG were both remade in 2005.  Dwayne Johnson is reportedly circling a continuation of 1986’s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.  And of course 1978’s HALLOWEEN is the grandaddy of all slasher franchises, having spawned 10 subsequent films including the 2018 sequel HALLOWEEN which is on track to be one of the most successful movies of the year.


Controversy over Asian representation in BTILC

During filming and when it was released in summer of 1986, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA was met by backlash from Asian advocacy groups who felt that the story of a white man coming along to save the day in Chinatown from ancient and evil Chinese forces was far-fetched if not downright offensive, as this article from LA Times reported at the time.  But many Asian actors, crew members, and the film’s marketing coordinator take issue with characterizing BTiLC as racially insensitive.  It seems that the perspective from those working on the project was one of an environment more inclusive and respectful than most film sets.

Protesters distributed flyers summarizing the characters of Jack Burton and Wang Chi as “a macho, smart-aleck white truck driver and his Chinese ‘yes’ man,” and while the assessment of Jack might be accurate, the reduction of Wang Chi to a “Chinese ‘yes’ man” seems misinformed.  If one ignores the fact that Kurt Russell was a bigger star than Dennis Dun and focuses strictly on the story, it would be easier to argue that Wang is the movie’s hero and Jack his bumbling sidekick than the other way around.

Daniel Kwan, the film’s marketing coordinator says most of the complaints were coming from people who hadn’t read the script and did not offer any specifics of what they wanted to see changed.  Peter Kwong, who played Rain in BTiLC feels that attacks on the film are unfair.  In an interview with Uproxx, Kwong celebrated John Carpenter for being inclusive from the beginning and working tirelessly with the Asian cast and crew to try to make the film more authentic and less offensive.

Dennis Dun, who starred as Wang Chi in the film, had just come off his film debut in YEAR OF THE DRAGON, a film featuring Chinese street gangs that many thought portrayed Asians in a very negative light.  Dun told Uproxx that Carpenter approached him early in the production to share a letter from protestors and make Dun aware that there was a lot of scrutiny on the project.  Like his castmate Kwong, Dun praised Carpenter for calling meetings and soliciting input from the Asians on set and promoting many of the Asian crew members to higher profile roles in the production.  Both Dun and Kwong stated that Carpenter brought a feeling of family to the set that was uncommon to other projects they had worked on.  


Further reading: Kurt Russell looks back at BTiLC