Trivia Nuggets – Big Trouble In Little China

The 1986 film was definitely not a major hit at the time, but has continued to grow a cult following over the years.

Big Trouble in Little China ranked just 71st in box office totals for 1986, during a year best remembered for Top Gun, Platoon, Aliens, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

And yet Big Trouble in Little China has not only gained a cult following over the years, it has also become something of a cultural icon. Jack Burton is one of Kurt Russell's signature roles, the relationship between him and John Carpenter is legendary, and contemporary pop culture has come to be peppered with ongoing references to this offbeat comedy that was so far ahead of its time.

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Whether you already love this movie, or are just now getting acquainted with 80s cinema, here are some fun and interesting facts about Big Trouble in Little China:

  • The film was originally written as a western, set in the 1890s. John Carpenter liked the script, but brought on a new writer to set it in contemporary times. Its origins and themes as a western are reflected in Kurt Russell's portrayal of Jack Burton, with elements of a John Wayne-inspired performance.
  • The Chinese characters in the main title translate to "Evil Spirits Make a Big Scene in Little Spiritual State"
  • Kurt Russell turned down the lead role of Connor MacLeod in Highlander to appear in this film. Both movies were made and released by 20th Century Fox in 1986.
  • The Three Storm characters were partly inspired by characters in 1980’s Shogun Assassin. They went on to become the inspiration for the popular character of the thunder god Raiden from the Mortal Kombat fighting video game series, while David Lo Pan was the inspiration for the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung.
  • In the final scene that has the Lightning character, the last shot of CG lightning shows a Chinese character for "carpenter," a reference to the director.
  • The ending song is written and sung by "The Coupe De Villes", a band formed by John Carpenter, Nick Castle, and Tommy Lee Wallace (Second Unit Director on Big Trouble in Little China)
  • The interior of Egg Chen's garage/office is Fire Station 23, the same building used as the business interior in Ghostbusters. Boss Film Studios, the visual effects studio for Big Trouble in Little China, also did the visual effects for Ghostbusters, and at the time these were Boss Film head Richard Edlund's two favourite films.
  • The t-shirt Kurt Russell wears as Burton can be seen hanging in the bar behind the girls in Quentin Tarantino's Deathproof.
  • The film was accelerated into production when the studio discovered that Eddie Murphy's Golden Child, a movie with similar settings and themes, was slated to hit theatres at the same time. Big Trouble in Little China was pushed to finish five months earlier than Golden Child, leaving only four months for post-production, with just $2 million for visual effects.
  • John Carpenter was frustrated by ongoing studio interference in the film during production, with studio heads requiring extensive changes and interfering in casting, writing, and shooting the film. When it was complete, Carpenter was proud of the film. Based on test screenings, Carpenter and Russell were under the impression they had a blockbuster, being told by the press that it would be the biggest movie of the year. When the studio failed to follow through with promised advertising and the film flopped at the box office, Carpenter swore off of studio films and returned to independent film-making.

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If you watch Big Trouble in Little China for the first time today, you will be amazed at how many of the jokes and memes you recognise have their origins in this film. If you are watching it for the 50th time, this list will help you pick up and appreciate even more little details, and add to your appreciation for a movie that was so under appreciated in its day.

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