Big Trouble in Little China (1986) – Esoteric Analysis

"Have ya paid yer dues?"
"Yeah, the check's in the mail!"

By: Jay

 Big Trouble in Little China is another one of those goofy 80s films that you’re presently assuring yourself has no deeper relevance. You’re smugly saying, “Oh come on Jay, seriously? Another 80s esoteric analysis of something completely silly, like BTILC?” Well, dear reader, let me assure you of your error, and further promise to deliver juicy esoteric tidbits to sate your hunger as you journey on. Consider the opening scene that Fox mandated be added (where Egg Shen recounts the adventures of Jack Burton).  The actor is Jerry Hardin who played “Deep Throat” early on in the X-Files. Interestingly, the ambiguous government agent played here is similar to Deep Throat. What is also interesting is the obelisk on the desk behind him, initiating the viewer into what will be an occult journey.

Egg Shen reveals that the tale ahead will be one of Chinese “sorcery and black magic.” As proof, Egg Shen offers typical 80s blue lightning, of the Force variety. According to IMDB, the Chinese script in the beginning title sequence reads, “Evil spirits make a big scene in little spiritual state,” meaning the film will feature the primeval ancient religious tradition of the higher aeons or gods incarnating themselves in lower, visible, solid forms. This is almost universal in ancient cultures, from Greece and Rome, to China, and lends credence to the view that polytheism and monotheism come from a single religious tradition, as described in Genesis 1-12.

Note also that Egg Shen conceives of the usage of good and evil magic by both sides. Magic, in this view, may be used by the dark side and the light side, in what the dualistic scheme of most world religions views as the ultimate template for all reality. Eastern religions in particular have this dualistic focus, with the binary opposition never being transcended in this life, apart from “enlightenment” that results in some kind of dissolution or absolving into “pure being,” “thusness” or “nirvana,” or some state of being beyond the present world, which is often identified as “evil” and the domain of the fallen spirits and demons. The problem with this type of worldview is that it is self-defeating and contradictory. It claims to seek transcendence of the material and of all binary opposition, but its answer is to seek it in absolute impersonality. Since particularity and form in this world are the sources of “evil,” all particulars must dissolve. The result is monism and collectivism, and the history of eastern cultures demonstrates this enslavement clearly.

I also came to the same conclusion one writer for Huffington Post did: Jack Burton represents Amerika in its modern, aberrant and excessive forms. Jack Burton drives a truck—nothing is more typical of the blue-collar Amerikan man—and is not very intelligent. In fact, in production he was described as a moronic John Wayne. He is self-absorbed, had several wives, eats junk food and acts more or less like a pig, which is why he drives the “Pork Chop Express.” Consider as well that the pig is, in Jewish law, unclean: A perfect image of unbridled consumerism whose worldview is based on cliché one liners and catchphrases. As Jack arrives in Chinatown, director John Carpenter shows several shots of animals (humans are often likened to animals before the gods), calling to mind that Jack is in the wild. And not only is he in the wild, leaving civilization, he is about to enter the Underworld. Not just the Underworld of Asian crime, but the actual Underworld of the dead, as is often found in myths like Orpheus or the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or even the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

"Deep Throat" has a Masonic obelisk. The beginning of a series of occult/phallic references.

There are also plenty of stereotypes and phallic references, such as “Wang” and “Jack.” Butterfly imagery appears early on in the background cluing the viewer into the transformational nature of the coming journey. Not only does alchemy have an ancient pedigree in the West, it has just as elaborate a history in the Orient, and here we will see Jack engage on a transformational odyssey of his own. Does this signal Amerika’s own alchemical journey into a hellish control of the Underworld as an alchemical purifying process? Indeed, we do see Amerika collapsing into just such a situation.

At the airport, Jack and Wang bump into a version of the Triads, the “Lords of Death,” emphasizing the spiritual nature of the Underworld journey Jack is about to embark on. The Lords of Death are the gods who rule in this dual nature Underworld: of both crime and hell. In the airport, Jack meets “Gracie Law,” played by Kim Cattrall. The dualism present in her name is evident, as Amerikan Christian religion, especially in the Pauline tradition, has always been in a state of binary oppositional tension between “grace” and “law.” Wang is there to pick up Miao Yin, his bride, and synchronicity ensues in the fact that Gracie Law also has green eyes. Miao Yin is kidnapped by the gang and taken into Lo Pan’s sex trade operation, we later learn. Her name is interesting in that it also hearkens to dualism, while Miao recalls Mao Tse Dong, the communist leader who utilized dialectics, and “yin” which refers to the feminine, unseen principle, and “yang” to the complimentary masculine principle. It also refers to earth and sky.

The common symbol of Eastern religions signifying dualism/dualties. The dualism theme is common in Hollywood films, as well as in the occult.

Next, a seemingly incoherent scene happens where two rival street gangs based on actual Chinatown gangs (the Hip Sing and the On Leong Tong gangs), wherein Lo Pan appears in his “atomized” form and sends blinding light into Jack Burton’s eyes. Lucifer is spoken of in Christian Scripture as appearing as an “angel of light,” as well as the “bright and morning star.” Following upon this scene, Jack and Wang enter a succession of events that seem to not make sense chronologically. There isn’t much coherence, as they seem to walk in and out of the spiritual world, with demons and spirits appearing and disappearing on a whim. Jack has been blinded by Lo Pan in order to have his eyes opened to the spiritual realm—something also very similar to the tradition of Paul the Apostle in Acts.

References are also made to Dante’s Inferno and/or Purgatio, as Jack and Wang begin to encounter different sins or vices on their journey into the Underworld. Wang had described to Jack that there are different Chinese levels to hell, including the “hell of boiling oil,” “upside down sinners,” etc., all of which hearken to Dante’s different levels of hell and purgatory. In fact, the journey is very similar to two Chinese tracts that describe the journey into the Underworld: The Jade Record and Journeys to the Under-world. First, however, Jack and Wang encounter Lust in the whorehouse, which is very similar to Dante’s first level of hell. In the whorehouse, Jack requests a green-eyed girl, and instead, a massive green supernatural storm arises. This storm is in fact a gateway where Lo Pan’s three lesser gods, who resemble characters from Mortal Kombat. Jade is relevant, as it is associated with the Jade Emperor in the Jade Record, and thus has associations with the Underworld. Burton, it turns out, had led the three gods to the cat house.

"You were not put upon this earth to 'get it' Mesta Burton!"

Following this madcap madness, Gracie Law appears at Egg Shen’s and says Lo Pan is a banker. Gracie says she is interested in protecting the girls’ civil rights, and thinks with her journalist friend “Margo Litzenberger” that Lo Pan should be exposed in the media. Oddly, this has also transpired in the U.S. presently, as the middle strata begin to catch onto America’s problem as “bankers,” and the media begins to expose such nefarious activity amongst the elite. Egg Shen and friends then engage in divination to see what Lo Pan and the gods are up to: the result is that the “goat’s horns are entangled.” The goat is also associated with the devil: in Chinese folk religion, the creator god is “Pangu,” a hairy beast-like creature. Pangu is also believed to have created earth (yin) and sky (yang). Think as well of Pan, the satyr of similar Greek mythology—but not only Pan, Aleister Crowley had a fascination with Pan, and one of his more famous poems, the Hymn to Pan, contains “Io Pan, Io Pan…” and which likely had reference to gay sex with a companion:

Thrill with lissome lust of the light,
O man! My man!
Come careering out of the night
Of Pan! Io Pan!
Io Pan! Io Pan! Come over the sea
From Sicily and from Arcady!

Keep in mind as well that Hollywood writers and directors are often well-versed in Crowley and gnosticism, and written I and O look like “LO.”  So Lo Pan is a reference to Pan, the goat-devil, and Egg Shen explains that the meaning of the divination was “Ordo ab Chao,” that Lo Pan’s desire was to bring order out of chaos—Egg then explains that all movement is caused by “positive and negative furies,” and in Lo Pan the furies are imbalanced, and cause him to be a devil in human form. Lo Pan pretends to be a man, but is actually a dark spirit of lust. As Jack and Wang re-enter Lo-Pan’s Underworld, and are caught and placed in the “hell of upside down sinners.” Lo Pan threatens them with the hell where people are “skinned alive,” which is the special level run by Lo Pan. We discover that Lo Pan was once a warrior emperor who has now become a demon subservient to Ching Dai, the demon god of the East who rules him and whom he must appease to become flesh again.

33rd Degree of Masonic Scottish Rite: Order out of Chaos. Note as well the dualism of the two heads.

Gracie and Margo are now enslaved in the Underworld sex slave prison, and Margo says it’s as if the entire experience isn’t real, while Gracie is tied up in a sexual bondage pose. Margo mentions that the entire experience is like Alice in Wonderland, keying the observant viewer into the elite mind-controlled nature of the film. Alice in Wonderland has meaning on several levels, from the MKULTRA brainwashing programs, to the occult Underworld and the actual underworld of crime and the sex slave trade. In actual fact, this underworld is run by gangsters who are in turn run by higher-level interests, who are in turn run by the gods and demons. The earthly hierarchy mirrors the heavenly hierarchy, as does the Underworld’s hierarchy. The idol of the god of death even has a third eye – the eye of the so-called “Illluminati,” whose philosophy is “ordo ab chao,” or order out of chaos.

This may sound far-fetched, but Lo Pan actually does mind control on Gracie and Miao Yin. Through “magic,” Lo Pan brainwashes them both into loving him through some kind of bizarre chi ceremony that places them both in a trance state. The focus is on their eyes, which them become blank, showing they are mind-controlled. The ritual has a sexual component to it, as the “sword” is a classic phallic image. Both Gracie and Miao levitate and touch the “burning blade,” which “tames the savage heart.” Since there are two girls, one will be sacrificed to the god of the East, and the reincarnated David Lo Pan will be enfleshed once again to experience sexual pleasure. Meanwhile, Egg Shen tells Jack and Wang that since Lo Pan inhabits a dream world, only entering a dream can kill a dream. In order to enter the archetypal dream world, they must ingest a powerful hallucinogen. Here we meet with Jungian concepts, where the dream world is identified with the inner psyche and subconscious, which are also linked to the Underworld. All three are linked, in other words, in the spiritual realm.

The god of death idol has a 'third eye' of Illumination, or the all-seeing eye.

Lo Pan then performs a ritual sexual marriage, where they invoke Ching Dai, the demon god of the East. Lo Pan pricks both Gracie and Miao with his “needle of love,” and has what appears to be an orgasmic spasm. This brings to mind Crowley again, and his version of Tantric sex magick. Energies are transferred in sex as well as in liturgical rituals, and here we have the combination of both. See The Shadow of the Dalai Lama for an indepth treatment of occult “Illuminism” and Tantric traditions, where it is common to find marriages or sexual unions being performed through union with a deity through possession of the sexual partner. After this, the battle that ensues is utterly laughable, and very much like a video game, but the climax shows Jack’s “knife” stabbing Lo Pan in the third eye.

"Oh Ching Dai, extend my Needle of Love."

Replete with sexual and occult imagery, Big Trouble in Little China does operate on numerous levels, despite its very silly elements. It also operates on a level of exposing a very real trend of foreign-run sex slave trade that does exist in the U.S. and in San Francisco in particular.   But the deeper meaning is one of commentary on Amerika, as well as occultic ‘Illumination’ and alchemical transformation. Jack remains Jack, but has been enlightened after his descent into the Underworld. The final scene, though, has one of the demons attached to Jack’s Pork Chop Express, leading the viewer to wonder if Amerika will survive its haunting, psychologically traumatic trip to the Underworld.

“Run into the mystic night….” Whatever this means…..

12 thoughts on “Big Trouble in Little China (1986) – Esoteric Analysis

  1. Pingback: News Roundup 3/25/12: Fast Food, Big Brother, Student Debt, B-Shoc « Jay's News and Satire

  2. Great analysis Jay! Who knew these corny 80’s flicks were loaded with occultism and philosophy. I’m eagerly anticipating Wayne’s World–The Esoteric Analysis

  3. Dude another bang up job. But you did forget to mention ‘the black blood of the earth’ reference. What do you mean oil Egg? I mean black blood of the earth!

  4. This analysis sounds pretty fitting. I’ve always been a great fan of this movie, in particular I was caught by the subtle slipping from a daylight world to a dreamy one, a underworld (somehow and sometimes literally). The feeling that Carpenter was able to reproduce was exactly that: a trip to a different reality, through a Dantesque enlightening (and a sorf of coming-of-age too) voyage into the unknown – or simply the sheer human unconscious. Thank you so much for this! A last question… I could not identify Ching Dai in any of my researches… does this god really exist in the Chinese pantheon?

    • PS – I strongly believe that Lo Pan as a banker is a powerful hint about how the banks nowadays are the real demons of our society – Carpenter was slightly moving in that direction, which was completely embraced in “They Live!” some years later.

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