Why Big Trouble in Little China needs to be a reboot, not a remake

Last week, I finally caved and went to the theatre to check out a certain post-apocalyptic film. I have to say, I really enjoyed watching Mad Max: Fury Road. As a reboot of the film series, I think it is a stirring second look and there’s high hopes that a second film will be out in the near future.

Mad Max showed us what can be done with modern technology, a nuanced script, and some raw action. But how would the movie have turned out if it was a remake rather than a reboot? What if Max went through the same character arc as he did in the first movies first being with the Main Force Patrol and then slowly deteriorating into the long-haired crazy guy we all know, and guiltily love?

Instead, we got a high-octane movie that seemingly did away with everything from the past to bring us a progressive and new look at the universe while establishing new characters like Imperator Furiosa – who quite possibly has the best name, ever.

It is a great reboot, but as a remake it could have failed.

Recently there’s been some news that John Carpenter‘s Big Trouble in Little China (1986) has a remake in the works. It’s set to star Dwayne Johnson as Jack Burton and in a recent post online the movie star stated that he knows how concerned fans are about the new movie.

According to Johnson, the movie is currently in its planning stages and he want to bring on John Carpenter onto the project. To what degree the legendary director, whose last film was The Ward (2010), will be involved… we don’t know; however, if he comes onto the project maybe there’s hope. However, Johnson still made some comments about the negative fan reaction to the proposal.

“I loved reading the reactions from the fans, that they were so polarized – I’m the same way. My response is: know that I come to the project with nothing but love and respect for the original, which is why we want to bring on John Carpenter,” Johnson said according to CinemaBlend.

“Let’s see what feels good, what we can come up with and then go from there,” Johnson said. “And as we write it, if the whole thing starts to stink up, then we thank everybody for their efforts and accept this just couldn’t make it.”

Johnson has said that he is a huge fan of the movie, but we all say that. There’s a huge contest online with bloggers saying that they are the true Big Trouble in Little China fanboy/fangirl. I’m here to tell you that I am the biggest fan… wait, no, that’s not what this article is really about. Most people don’t want to see a remake or a reboot, but I would be open to latter option.

The problem with Big Trouble in Little China is that the original movie doesn’t exactly have a deep lore. I can see them making the exact same movie as the original with just different actors and having send ups with people like Dennis Dunn and James Hong showing up at some point to say a line. The trouble is there isn’t enough real estate to make the same kind of movie today.

Unlike Mad Max that takes place in an entirely fictional universe, Big Trouble in Little China is a cemented in reality. They have to play by the rules of engagement, but with a little Chinese black magic thrown into the mix. And what parts of Chinese mythology does the original get right? Probably nothing, and I’m not an expert on Chinese mythology.

Big Trouble in Little China existed in a time where schlocky directors like Andy Sidaris were able to get away with making movies that had horrible Asian stereotypes. Why? Well, it was a different time as many people would say.

And as much as John Carpenter made his original film with reverence to San Francisco’s Chinese population, I can’t see any director today being able to make the same kind of film. The result will be a whitewashed movie that avoids Chinese history, actors, and actresses as much as possible to avoid controversy, yet that’s controversial in and of itself.

There’s also the problem of Hollywood’s lack of interest in using Asians in films. How many Chinese actors can you name? It’s a tough question and here’s a good read from PRI on the topic.

So a remake is bound to fail, so what about a reboot? Here’s a few ideas:

1. Dwayne Johnson is John Button, a truck driver. He lives in a time far into the future from the original movie’s time and demons have taken over the Earth. Now he has to team up with Egg Shen’s (Victor Wong) son to turn the tide in the war in the ruins of San Francisco. And it turns out the leader of the demons is Lightning who was never confirmed to have died in the first movie.

2. Dwayne Johnson is James Barton, a truck driver in the 1980s who is headed to San Francisco’s China Town. On his way there, he passes by the driver of the Pork Chop Express, Jack Burton, only to see him ripped from his cab and taken into a hellish dimension. Barton witnesses his abduction and seeks the advice of China Town’s mystics to save Burton from his fate. (Based on Egg Shen being unable to say where Jack Burton is in the intro to the original movie).

3. Dwayne Johnson is Jonathan Bender, a truck driver. While in San Francisco’s China Town, he encounters an old man who notices his green eyes. He ignores the old man who says that he is condemned to die by the hand of Qin Shi Huang. It turns out that Bender is the son of Lo Pan who magically impregnated Miao Yin in the last film. Now, Bender has to fight his fate and try to convince the protectors of San Francisco that he is on their side as Qin Shi Huang appears to take over the Earth.

4. Dwayne Johnson is Johnny Burton, a truck driver. Years ago his father Jack Burton disappeared from their home in Hawaii. One day, Johnny uncovers his father’s leather satchel and a cheque given to him by Wang Chi. This is the start of Johnny’s investigation into his father’s disappearance where he encounters the hidden demon-infested underground world of San Francisco’s China Town.

5. Dwayne Johnson is Jake Bonder, a truck driver. At a bar in San Francisco’s China Town, he meets Wang Chi, an owner of a local restaurant. After shooting the breeze, the two decide to go over to the Dragon of the Black Pool for dinner. On the way there, Jack Burton appears in a doorway covered in blood and holding a decapitated demon head. He tells Jake and Wang that the demons are coming, and that they need to prepare for an invasion. Unable to understand what’s going on, Jake becomes the Jack of this movie constantly questioning everything only to have it explained poorly by Jack and properly by Wang. They battle Qin Shi Huang for the control of the Earth. (Really depends on Dennis Dunn and Kurt Russell signing onto the project).

***

So that’s five ideas how the series could be rebooted without having to go back to the events of the original movie. And that’s really the strength of a reboot, to create new material, but there needs to be something to work with before the new movie can happen. I think a good move for Dwayne Johnson right now would be to speak with John Carpenter and invest in a comic book series to expand on the universe in the direction they want to take the new movie.

I think Big Trouble in Little China has a lot of content to work with, but it’s not enough to really make something like Mad Max: Fury Road that has years of work and design documents behind it. As far as I’m concerned, Big Trouble in Little China hasn’t seen anything new since the 1980s making it a dated movie that’s still adored by fans.

Also, Asian actors! There needs to be a lot of attention paid to making sure that the Chinese aspects of the new movie aren’t simply washed away to avoid controversy. Hire Chinese-American actors, engage the community in San Francisco’s China Town, learn the language, have a scene where a tonne of traditional food is served, and try your best to give this new movie’s subject matter the same reverence that the original one had, but with modern sensibilities.

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