Kurt Russell Looks Back at 'Big Trouble in Little China': Studio Execs "Did Not Get It"

The star also weighs in on the Rock's upcoming version: "I don't think there's anything too precious to make a remake of. However, you have to have a pretty good reason for making it."
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James Gunn and Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell spent Wednesday evening looking back at one of his all-time classics.

Director John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China has become a cult classic in the 30 years since its original theatrical release. Hollywood festival BeyondFest screened the movie Wednesday night to an audience that knew the film by heart, cheering and laughing the whole way through. Russell, who played bumbling hero Jack Burton in the film, said reactions were different when studio executives watched the film for the first time in 1986.

“It was just too cool for school. It was literally terminally hip,” said Russell in a Q&A after the screening, moderated by James Gunn, who directed the actor in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. “It’s just great to see it, because, man, they did not get it.”

In the film, Russell’s macho truck driver Burton arrives in San Francisco’s Chinatown and gets involved in a mythical battle between ancient spirits after his friend Wang Chi’s wife is mysteriously kidnapped. Burton and Wang, played by Dennis Dun, set out to save her and battle monsters, Chinese street gangs and sorcerers along the way.

Gunn and Russell credited the movie with introducing Hong Kong cinema to American audiences. Russell was one of the few white actors in the film, alongside Kim Cattrall and Scandal’s Kate Burton, and he defended early criticism of how the film portrays the racial divide.

“It was a tribute to it! It was John bringing it to America,” he said. “I always saw Wang sort of as the lead. And I thought that could be fun, because then we could have the guy who’s usually the sidekick really doing all the things that the lead does, but what really makes it fun is that the lead doesn’t know that.”

When asked about a potential remake of the film — with his Fast 8 costar Dwayne Johnson in the role of Burton — Russell said they had not discussed the character on set, but predicted a remake could be successful if the director had the right vision.

“I don’t think there’s anything too precious to make a remake of. However, you have to have a pretty good reason for making it,” said Russell. “I think there’s a lot more of a challenge on the director than on the actor. There was a lot of innovation here. There was a lot of firsts, and again, all John Carpenter.”

Russell reminisced about his career working with Carpenter on films like Elvis, Escape From New York and The Thing. He said the director gave him the freedom to create characters that have become classic to audiences like the one at BeyondFest.

“I can’t tell you how much fun it is to watch that movie with this audience! I hope John Carpenter does that sometime because — I haven’t seen John for a while — but it’s just all John,” said Russell. “If you like that movie and if you have as much fun as you did, that’s all John.”

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