Photo: Photo by Silver Screen Collection (Getty).
As it is with most remakes, I was nervous to learn that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson might star as Jack Burton in a remake of the horror-comedy cult classic Big Trouble in Little China. According to The Wrap, multiple people, including screenwriters Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz, are in talks with 20th Century Fox to make a new one. Frankly, we feel the original was enough. If you like martial arts, monsters and magic, there is perhaps no greater example of such celluloid badassery than that portrayed in Big Trouble in Little China. That’s why we were curious to see where the hell some of our favorite ’80s kung fu characters were now.
**Warning: The following will make you want to watch the movie again.**
The Cast Of ‘Big Trouble In Little China’ Then And Now
James Hong (Lo Pan)
James Hong played David Lo Pan, the eternally living sorcerer who has a fetish for green-eyed girls. In Big Trouble Little China, he sicks the Wing Chong clan on Wang Chi’s lover, whom they kidnap and take back to the underground Chinese wizard society. Their goal is to sacrifice her so that Lo Pan breaks his ancient curse (you might remember him shining blue light from his mouth and generally causing mayhem with black magic).
After 60 years in the industry, Hong is still killing it. He recently attended the premiere of Kung Fu Panda 3, in which he plays Jack Black’s character’s dad, Mr. Ping. Here he is signing autographs at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, where I’m sure he was asked a lot about this little low-budget cult classic. He’s been in Balls of Fury, The Day the Earth Stood Still and even Drunk History. The guy is a living legend at 86.
Kurt Russell (Jack Burton)
Kurt needs no introduction. Director John Carpenter absolutely loved him in the ’80s, casting him as Snake in both Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. Today, he is Quentin Tarantino’s darling: He was Stuntman Mike in Deathproof as well as John Roth in this year’s The Hateful Eight. He lives in Vancouver and is still with Goldie Hawn. The 64-year-old recently weighed in on the gun debate: “I am a libertarian, a hardcore one, and of course I have guns. I shoot things with them. I hunt game.” Pimping out the 2nd Amendment hard, along with The Hateful Eight, probably didn’t hurt when it came to landing a starring role in the 2015 horror-cowboy flick Bone Tomahawk, either.
Victor Wong (Egg Shen)
Victor Wong died on September 12, 2001. To millennials, he will always be remembered as the wise grandpa in 3 Ninjas. You might also remember him as the local authority on Lo Pan, the knowledgeable one, in BTLC. He showed some bouts of wizardry, just like he did in 3 Ninjas. Along with these roles, Wong had small parts in Seven Years in Tibet and Tremors. But how, oh how, did one man with such a small portfolio become such a memorable face? He retired from movies after suffering two strokes in 1998. The day two planes struck the World Trade Towers, he was glued to the television all night long. His heart failed the next day.
Carter Wong (Thunder)
In 1986, the same year Carter Wong was the Muy Thai Champion of the World, he starred as Thunder. If you watched BTLC back in the ’90s or even the ’80s, to this day, you still probably remember his head exploding upon learning of Lo Pan’s death. After work in 70 martial arts films, as well as teaching Matt Damon, William Shatner and the Hong Kong police department a thing or two about fighting, he is now 68. Here’s a badass reel of his life’s work.
Dennis Dun (Wang Chi)
Dennis Dun never took martial arts lessons before the film. And it’s surprising that he’s seemingly vanished from Hollywood because he played the part so convincingly (originally, the role was offered to Jackie Chan, who turned it down.) If you remember, Wang Chi is Jack’s old friend, and they begin the movie by playing a quick round of poker. Jack then accompanies Wang to the airport to meet his fiancee, who is then kidnapped by henchmen of Lo Pan, the 2,000-year-old sorcerer.
Although he appeared in Luck on HBO in 2012, it’s apparent that he’s fallen off the radar since the ’80s. Some Asian-American actors did, however, feel director John Carpenter overdid the Fun Manchu stereotypes, and this may or may not have had something to do with him pulling a vanishing act. If the character Wang Chi was any indication, he could’ve had a bright future in the industry.
Kim Cattrall (Gracie Law)
Kim Cattrall played Gracie Law, whom Lo Pan tries to marry after discovering that she, too, had green eyes. In the end, Kurt Russell saves her ass and she loves him. But Kurt mannishly turns her down before the credits roll. She’s best known for her iconic role as Samantha Jones in Sex and the City. Today, she stars as Davina Jackson on HBO Canada’s Sensitive Skin (she’s a Canadian citizen).
Peter Kwong (Rain)
BTLC was a comedy, but Peter Kwong didn’t know that when he was filming his scenes as Rain. This is what gave The Three Storms their intensely chilling effect. Only later would Kwong learn that it wasn’t your average martial arts horror. You might remember the famous clip in the alley between Lo Pan’s henchmen and Chinatown street gang Chang Sing. They fall from the sky, lighting raining down, and do a front flip and throw knives at the three gunmen spraying bullets at them.
Though it’s still Kwong’s most memorable role, he’s appeared in indie films as recently as 2014. He also had parts in TV series JAG, My Wife and Kids and General Hospital. He can be found on the Board of Governors for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences — or teaching Tai Chi Chaun at 24 Hour Fitness.
Fun fact: After the filming of this movie, he bought James Hong’s (aka Lo Pan) house in Eagle Rock.
Additional Fun Facts:
1. Kurt Russell isn’t sweating in BTLC because he’s a great actor; he’s sweating because he had a bad case of the flu.
2. At the first screening, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell thought the movie was going to be a big hit due to the overwhelmingly positive response. But 20th Century Fox — dummies that they are — barely promoted it, so it bombed at the box office. It became a classic through VHS.
3. Kim Cattrall and Suzee Pai actually have brown eyes.
4. Suzee Pai didn’t have enough available news about her to include above, but she was the 1981 Penthouse Pet of the Month. She was the first Asian-American on the cover of the magazine.
5. Listen closely to Jack’s final words as he rolls down the highway in his semi: “You just listen to the old Pork-Chop Express here now and take his advice on a dark and stormy night when the lightning’s crashing and the thunder’s rolling and the rain’s coming down…” He mentions the names of Lo Pan’s bodyguards — Thunder, Lightning and Rain.
6. John Carpenter recorded the musical score.
7. In the main title, the Chinese writing translates to “Evil Spirits Make a Big Scene in Little Spiritual State.”
8. The studio wanted Jack Nicholson or Clint Eastwood (who if I may say so, would’ve been epic as well) for the lead role, but Carpenter had his eyes set on Kurt Russell from the beginning. Luckily for him, both Nicholson and Eastwood were unavailable.
9. Lightning is crushed to death and the lightning he emits creates a Chinese symbol. That Chinese symbol translates to the director’s name, “Carpenter.” Clever editing.
10. According to Carpenter, Jack Burton is his favorite Kurt Russell character, second only to Captain Ron.