Six Degrees of Schwarzenegger Podcast – Big Trouble in Little China Ep. 8


Highlights from this section of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA

  • The burning blade ceremony
  • The good guys trek through the Bog of Dead Trees to infiltrate Lo Pan’s lair
  • The wedding begins
  • Jack and Wang get patriotic

Aaahh!!! Real Monsters 

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA being a John Carpenter movie after all, kung fu and sorcery alone simply didn’t provide quite enough insanity for the director’s taste.  So more than halfway through the film, outright monsters are introduced to the story.

This turn in the plot must have come as a welcome surprise to make-up and special effects guru Steve Johnson.  Johnson was already know as one of the best in the business at that time.  He had previously worked on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE HOWLING, VIDEODROME, and GHOSTBUSTERS, and had worked earlier with John Carpenter on THE FOG.  Johnson was already afforded the opportunity to do amazing make-up effects on “old man” Lo Pan and on Lo Pan’s transformation, but adding a variety of monsters to the mix really let Johnson access his full arsenal of talents. 

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA provided a creature and make-up effects paradise, and Johnson said as much in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.  In EW’s oral history of BTiLC, Johnson said, “My first thought was, this script is loaded with all kinds of animatronics and makeup effects and a smorgasbord of everything that we people, you know, get erections over.”  The creature effect from the film that probably sticks out most to audiences is Lo Pan’s eyeball monster, which Johnson said may have been one of the most complicated effects ever at that time, as each movement of every eyeball on the thing was controlled by an individual motor.

In a wide ranging interview with We Got This Covered, Johnson goes into some detail about the working conditions on BTiLC.  Johnson says that John Carpenter was under such pressure to get the movie finished and released ahead of Eddie Murphy’s similarly themed THE GOLDEN CHILD that Carpenter “could not be bothered with the FX aspects,” leaving Johnson largely to his own devices on the film.  This may explain the rather scattershot nature of effects on the film.  The effects range from the amazing (such as old man Lo Pan and the eyeball monster) to the bizarre (like exploding Thunder and the furry monster) to the downright cheesy (like the subterranean monster that pops out of the wall to pick off a nameless good guy).

But it’s a credit to the skill of Steve Johnson that, in a film with such a tremendous range of movie magic, all of the effects – the amazing and the goofy alike – are memorable and lovable in their own way.

On a more meta note… 

In episode 8 of our breakdown of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, Kevin spends almost an equal amount of time tearing the movie down as he does professing his love for it.  It’s just that kind of love affair.  So in an effort to prove our affection for the movie, we’d like to share this amazing love letter to BTiLC written by Roby Duncan for Trunkworthy.  Rest assured, Kevin and Mike LOVE this movie


Further reading: One brave writer takes on negative reviews of BTiLC