Six Degrees of Schwarzenegger Podcast – Big Trouble in Little China Ep. 7


Highlights from this section of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA

  • Jack and Wang rescue the women
  • Gracie is captured by a monster
  • The good guys regroup
  • Lo Pan plans his wedding
  • Wang, Jack, and the rest go underground

Kurt Russell: breaking the 1980s action mold

By 1986, action films had graduated from pulpy exploitation to glossy Hollywood blockbuster fare with slick and stylish heroes who were almost too cool for the world they inhabited.  Other big action hits that year included TOP GUN, ALIENS, COBRA, and THE GOLDEN CHILD just to name a few.  And then there was BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA and its “hero” Jack Burton, played by Kurt Russell. 

Kurt Russell (especially when working with John Carpenter) carved out his own unique 80s action niche by playing a series of gritty and scruffy reluctant heroes.  He didn’t have the glamour and polish of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, Eddie Murphy, or even Chuck Norris.  Instead Russell comes off as a blue-collar, rough-around-the-edges guy who would prefer not to be mixed up in whatever mayhem is unfolding. 

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA provides the best example of Russell’s willingness to subvert the expectations of the action hero of that era with his character Jack Burton.  Burton is a swaggering loudmouth, long on bravado but short on skill.  When he finds himself swept up in an ancient conflict beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown, Jack Burton is in way past his depth.  He spends the bulk of the movie taking pratfalls and struggling to comprehend what’s going on around him.  Even in his most heroic moment of the movie, Jack Burton saves the day with a face smeared with lipstick.

Russell’s work with John Carpenter in the 1980s provided three great examples of heroes that broke the mold of the 1980s action hero.  Over the course of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE THING, and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, Russell provided us with a trio of aloof loners dragged into conflicts they want nothing to do with.  It’s a credit to Kurt Russell’s incredible charisma and charm that each of these movies is now considered a classic, and Russell’s characters in them have become cult heroes.

Read more about Kurt Russell’s legacy with John Carpenter at Den of Geek.

YouTuber Oliver Harper put together a great retrospective on BTiLC, which you can watch here:

Further reading: The lunkheaded genius of BTiLC