Monday, July 15, 2013

Vamp or Not? Big Trouble in Little China

The 1986 cult movie Big Trouble in Little China was directed by John Carpenter and several people have, over some time, suggested that I look at the film in terms of a ‘Vamp or Not?’.

I am sure that most people will know the film, for those that don’t it involves an incredulous truck driver, Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), being drawn into the seedy underbelly of gangsters, sex trade and mysticism in San Francisco’s China Town area.

Having made a delivery there he manages to fleece an old friend and restaurant owner, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), in a gambling session. Owed money, he drives Wang Chi to the airport where he is due to meet his fiancé Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). Also at the airport is campaigner and lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall, Modern Vampires) who is there to meet a girl who is coming from China also. Now my first reaction was that a gang of street thugs who come in were after Gracie’s ward, though little is said about that afterwards. However they end up kidnapping Miao – her green eyes will make her valuable in the sex trade.

James Hong as Lo Pan
Jack and Wang chase after them and end up caught in a gang battle down a China Town alleyway , the battle turns decidedly mystical when three magical warriors called the Storms appear. Jack tries to drive away but a figure appears before his truck, a figure that doesn’t move and passes through his vehicle. This is Lo Pan (James Hong, The Jitters, Exit 38 & Forever Knight) and Lo Pan is the focus of the ‘Vamp or Not?’.

As David Lo Pan
Lo Pan is a sorcerer and Godfather of China Town. He kidnaps Miao from the brothel she is held in and, later, kidnaps Gracie because both women have green eyes. In 272 BC Lo Pan was cursed with immortality but “no flesh”. He essentially has two forms. When he is corporeal (or I assumed he was, the film isn't explicit) he takes the form of a withered old man. In this form he is known as business man David Lo Pan. His other form is non-corporeal and he seeks corporeality as he will be able to rule the world in that form.

Kurt Russell as Jack
To achieve this he must marry a girl with green eyes, one who is brave enough to “embrace the burning blade”, which is a mystical ritual. The length of time that he has been incorporeal is put down to the rarity of green eyes amongst the Chinese people – of course the use of Gracie tells us that the bride does not have to be Chinese. Once married, he must sacrifice his bride to the Demon God of the East to appease him. Having two women who pass the test and have green eyes is a bonus and he intends to marry both, sacrifice Gracie and keep Miao. So where does the alleged vampirism come into this?

drinking blood confers corporeality
Lo Pan uses a “needle of love” during the wedding ceremony. He sticks the needle into Miao and he starts sympathetically bleeding. Then he opens he wrist and drinks the blood. This makes him corporeal. In many respects this makes him a vampiric ghost as seen in the films Castle of Blood and its remake Web of the Spider, where the ghosts must drink blood to continue their existence, and also la Vendetta di Lady Morgan, where regular blood drinking confers corporeality to the ghosts. However there are some important differences. Lo Pan does not need blood to maintain his existence, he is immortal but non-corporeal. Also we do not hear that he has to continue imbibing blood after the ritual to maintain his corporeality – the sacrifice should do that permanently.

Yet despite this I am tempted to suggest that he is a vampiric ghost as the element of imbibing blood to gain corporeality is there and he also suggests that, when corporeal, he will rule the world from beyond the grave indicating that he is undead rather than simply immortal but incorporeal – corporeality, incidentally, brings with it the danger of being vulnerable to corporeal weapons. The imdb page is here.

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