We then cut to Jack Burton (Russell), the man who would be hero, cracking wise over the CB radio and the opening credits as he steers his rig (The Pork Chop Express, registered out of Visalia, California) across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. He parks his truck on a rainy Chinatown street and quickly partakes of all the neon-lit nightlife has to offer: namely, steamed buns and gambling with his old pal Wang (Dennis Dun).
The next morning, Wang and Jack head to SFO to pick up Wang's betrothed, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), remarkable for her "jade green" eyes. Also meeting the arriving flight from China is Gracie Law (Cattral), a local attorney picking up her friend Tara, and -- uh oh -- members of the Lords of Death gang, outfitted in the most audacious and drastic eyewear fashions of the day.
When Miao Yin steps off the plane, the Lords of Death rush in and snatch her! Jack and Wang chase after them but lose them, heading back to Chinatown to find the Lords of Death's HQ and, hopefully, Miao Yin.
After narrowly avoiding a collision with Egg Shen's tour bus, Jack quickly steers the rig into an alleyway, rumbling into an open plaza where a fighting tong funeral is taking place. Without warning, the funeral procession is attacked by a rival tong, and what starts as a shoot-out turns into a kung fu melee. Just when you think things can't get any more intense, three supernatural beings (The Three Storms) materialize, manipulating the elements and heralding the arrival of Supreme Bad Dude David Lo Pan (Hong). Lo Pan shrieks a banshee scream and shoots lasers out of his facial orifices, causing Jack and Wang to ditch the truck and run for their lives.
In short order we meet Eddie, who works in Wang's restaurant, and Margo, a journalist working with Gracie to expose human trafficking in Chinatown. Eddie, Margo, and Egg Shen join the group hoping to liberate Miao Yin. Jack visits a Lords of Death-run brothel under the guise of hapless tourist in the hopes of finding Miao Yin, but narrowly misses saving her when she is kidnapped from her kidnappers in grand surrealist style by The Three Storms. Jack and Wang then go to Wing Kong Trading, Lo Pan's business facade, to renew their search for Miao Yin. They gain entry by pretending to be maintenance men, but are quickly and predictably caught in the subterranean mazes by Lo Pan. The villain reveals that marrying the green-eyed Miao Yin will fulfill an ancient prophecy and grant him eternal youth. Also, right now, he is possessed by a demon or something. It's complicated.
Meanwhile, the crew waiting at Wang's restaurant, worried that they haven't heard back from Wang and Jack, head to Wing Kong Trading. They are promptly drugged and taken captive themselves. When Eddie is placed in a room with Jack and Wang, the three of them take the chance to escape. They find the Sexy Girl Level of the Wing Kong warren, and after fighting with Sexy Guards, release Gracie, Margo, and a number of trafficking victims from their prison. As they all flee towards freedom, and Egg Shen's waiting bus, Gracie is sidetracked by a large hairy monster (picture the result of an embarrassing one-night stand between Predator and an orangutan) who delivers her to Lo Pan.
Upon returning to the safety of Wang's restaurant, they realize that Gracie has been left behind, as has Miao Yin. With the help of some Ninja Turtles (or maybe just some of the dudes from one of the tongs), Wang and Jack return to Wing Kong via the famous and non-existent secret Chinatown tunnels. Despite searching for 2,000 years for a green-eyed Chinese woman, Lo Pan decides that a green-eyed Caucasian woman probably couldn't hurt his odds, and at the last minute throws Gracie into the mix as well.
The end of the movie is a whirling, colorful pageant: there are some gross and horrible monsters, feats of magic and strength, and both Gracie and Miao Yin get extravagant bridal makeovers. There's an extensive fight involving a lot of explosions, defiance of gravity, and whipping fabric noises. Egg Shen and Lo Pan go head-to-head with laser holographic battle bots. Lo Pan grabs Miao Yin and stages a hasty getaway on a slowly-moving escalator. Jack, Gracie, and Wang go after them and, contrary to all character expectations, Jack manages to kill Lo Pan, whose toady then literally explodes in grief. With Egg Shen's help, the four of them escape to the surface and, conveniently, right to Jack's pilfered truck. They drive off to safety and a happy ending.
Jack and Gracie do some flirting, but a guy like Jack, he can't be tied down by no dame, so he hits the CB comedy circuit once again. The film ends with Jack Burton, American Hero, drinking and driving. The orangu-predator monster crawls out from the undercarriage of the rig and towards the truck cab as it trundles down the road.
Like pretty much any other movie/TV show purporting to take place in San Francisco, Big Trouble in Little China was stymied by the fact that our Chinatown is aggressively condensed into a labyrinth of steep and narrow one-way streets and dead-end alleys. However, unlike most other productions, which flee to more sprawling Chinatowns in Vancouver (The X Files), Los Angeles (48 Hours), or a sound stage, Trouble actually did film some establishing scenes in San Francisco.
The film's first scenes in Chinatown, where Jack arrives during a rainy evening, are definitely not from San Francisco- simply put, there's too much space. The atmosphere of outdoor food vendors and open-air gambling on a wide street looks more like the Hong Kong night markets portrayed in the hysterical Stephen Chow film God of Cookery than the intersection of Washington and Grant.
The first shots of the real San Francisco Chinatown begin with Egg Shen's tour, about 14 minutes in. Egg drives his tour bus first through the Dragon's Gate at Grant Avenue and Bush Street. As the vacationers aboard happily snap photos, Egg supplies some interesting factual tidbits about San Francisco, including the fact that it was once known in Cantonese as gam san, 'gold mountain' (today it is known by the more phonetic saan fan si).
When Egg and Jack nearly collide, it is on Commercial Street between Kearny Street and Grant Avenue- and, it should be noted, had they collided, it would have been Egg's fault: he was driving the wrong way on a one-way street.
After the near-miss, Jack is shown executing a sharp turn on Weng's frantic instruction, from Jackson Street onto Ross Alley. Many websites erroneously list dead-end St. Louis Alley, a few yards west of Ross Alley, as the setting for this impressive improvised switchback, but take it from a local. Ross Alley is a tiny little strip that connects Jackson Street to Washington Street one block south. Getting a big rig down Jackson Street is an awesome enough feat, so it speaks to John Carpenter's commitment, not to mention the skills of the stunt driver, to have the semi also execute a hairpin turn and begin trundling down Ross Alley.
From this point until the film's parting shots, the action unfolds on various soundstages. Which underlines my most important safety announcement of this post: one should never, even after being blinded by an ancient demon's face lasers, splash Chinatown puddle water directly into one's eyes or other mucous membranes. When Kurt Russell performed this action at the 22-minute mark of Big Trouble, he did so as a professional on a closed set under the supervision of stunt experts. Should you attempt to recreate this in real life, you may well be taking your life into your own hands. In fact, it might rationally be argued that all the fantastical action that unfolds from this point on is merely a figment of Jack Burton's hallucinating mind, as his body works feverishly to rid itself of Puddle Contaminant.
The scene of Egg and Jack's near-collision is on Commercial Street, a narrow, one-way (got it, Egg?) alley that flits behind the TransAmerica Pyramid before ending at Grant Street in the heart of Chinatown's tourist strip.
SF Authenticity: 7/10- A bit like Chinatown itself- a little bit fake but so fantastic you don't care.
Zeitgeist: 9/10- One-shouldered sweatshirts and synthesizer guitar solos.
Verdict: Like eating a dozen donuts in one shameful sitting and then finding out they're only 20 calories each.