Honoring Jack Burton: A Man of (Some) Principle

They just don't make movie heroes like they did in the '80s.

Choosing a role model can be difficult.  After all, you’re choosing someone to emulate and that can have dramatic effects on multiple aspects of your life. If you’re lucky, you have a great dad, uncle, or brother to guide you along.  If not, then you may look to outside sources. Heck, I think you should have multiple role models anyway just so you can have that many more positive influences to pull from.  If you are interested in adding another “good guy” card to your deck, allow me to suggest a personal favorite, Jack Burton.

If you’re not familiar with the 1986 classic Big Trouble in Little China, you need to set aside 99 minutes of time as soon as possible to watch it.  Jack Burton (played by Kurt Russell) is an all-American truck driver who smells like Miller High Life and dresses like a slob. While helping his friend Wang with a simple errand, Jack ends up becoming part of an adventure that really shakes the pillars of heaven.  No horse shit.  Although he may not look the part, it’s what’s inside Jack that makes him a good role model.

(Warning: If you’re worried about spoilers for this 27 year old movie, there are plenty of them coming up.)

Have you paid your dues Jack? Yes sir, the check is in the mail.

Confidence helps us in everything we do. Relationships, work, sports, everything.  If you’re confident in your abilities, you stand a much better chance of being successful.  True, sometimes Jack’s attitude borders on arrogance, but whose doesn’t from time to time.  What’s important is that no matter what type of predicament he finds himself in, he never loses his confidence. Throughout the film Jack is consistently faced with things he absolutely does not understand.  He says some variant of “What the hell is that?” or “Who the hell was that?” about four dozen times.  However, he never loses his confidence.  He just keeps on facing whatever comes next with a smirk and cocked eyebrow.  Even when David Lo Pan threatens to send him and Wang off to the hell where people are skinned alive, Jack just leans forward and asks “Are you crazy? Is that your problem?”.

Takeaway: No matter what you face, be confident in yourself.

Son of a bitch must pay!

Let’s say you’re out somewhere, speaking with a nice attractive woman, and three punks rudely push by you. Then, just a few minutes later, those same punks attempt to abduct some innocent girl.  Do you? A: Stand idly by and not step in because there are three of them and hope the cops will show up soon. Or, B: Step in to have a little conversation with them because what they’re doing sure as hell isn’t right.

Jack Burton does B.

Commitment to doing the right thing, even when it means you could get your butt kicked, is one of the definitions of courage. Jack Burton, as we learn from Mr. Egg Shen, showed great courage.  Nothing stops Jack from doing the right thing. His friend’s fiancée has been kidnapped, his truck gets stolen, he gets caught in the middle of a centuries old turf war between the Chang Sing and the Wing Kong, and then this Lo Pan character comes out of thin air in the middle of a goddamn alley, while his buddies are flying around on wires cutting everybody to shreds, and he just stands there, waiting for Jack to drive his truck straight through him, with light coming out of his mouth! And never once does Jack think of anything other than helping his friend…and getting his truck back.  It gets him beat up and almost killed several times in the course of a day but, by doing the right thing, Jack saves his friends and likely the world.

Takeaway: Always do the right thing. It may not be easy, but it will pay off in the end.

It’s all in the reflexes

Even though his job transporting pigs (that’s why his truck is named The Pork Chop Express) keeps him sitting for many hours a day, Jack still manages to find time to work out.  The body composition revealed by his ludicrously tight jeans and tank top tells us that he engages in full body workouts, not just curls and bench presses.  He also has astonishingly quick reflexes. Not only does he catch a bottle being rocketed at his face from just three feet away, he also catches a knife thrown at him by a freaking demon! Granted, that second one was after drinking Egg Shen special potion.

While he doesn’t perform any superhero-grade feats of strength, he is able to hang from his hands while he traverses a one-hundred foot catwalk, and leverage the wheelchair he’s in from falling into a near bottomless pit after it has already fallen most of the way in.  Also, no matter what they do, he never seems to be out of breath.

Takeaway: Keep yourself healthy.  You never know when it will come in handy, and it does you nothing but good.

What the hell is Gracie Law doing here?

Ok, so this is an area where we probably shouldn’t take any pointers from old Jack.  He’s been divorced at least once, probably multiple times (during his CB broadcast in the opening credits he say “Like I told my last wife…”).  He falls into the role of Henry Swanson, potential prostitute customer at The White Tiger, a bit too easily.  He even tells the girl there that his wife gave him the tie he is wearing for Christmas…even his alter-egos cheat! Heck, the second sentence he says to Gracie (Kim Cattrall’s character) is about jumping right into the sack.  Obviously, Jack Burton has issues when it comes to healthy relationships.

However, as the movie progresses, he becomes more and more caring for, and concerned about Gracie. By the end, with his winnings of $4,592 in hand, he even offers to sell his truck so that they can settle down together. Although they end up going separate ways, it’s obvious that Jack has grown emotionally during this short adventure. He also does not kiss her goodbye, leaving the door open for their paths to cross again.  Note: The only hero/heroine non-kiss exchange cooler than this is Han Solo’s “I know” response to Leia’s “I love you.”…and that’s just because it’s Han Solo.

Takeaway:  Treat women with respect. And, although you should never give up on romance, make sure you are in a good place with yourself before you start a relationship with someone else.

I feel kind of invincible

The last lesson we can learn from Jack Burton should be painfully obvious to anyone who watches this movie.  Jack Burton is flawed.  He makes mistakes.  He drops his knife.  He gets knocked out. He is real.  Mistakes happen in life.  We screw up.  The important thing is that we recover from them and move forward.

Takeaway: If you make a mistake, move forward.

So there you have it.  Life lessons from an unlikely source.  Until next time, you people sit tight, hold the fort, and keep the home fires burning. If we’re not back by dawn…call the president.

Adam currently serves as the supervisor of Student Services for Columbia Southern University. His hobbies include adventure racing, anything involving the outdoors, and zombies. He spends his free time enjoying all of these things with his wife and two dogs.

  • kryogenix

    Greatest movie ever made. Excellent write up.

  • Ron

    This was amazing. Ha. I grew up watching this movie and have other friends who share a mutual admiration for ol Jack. I’ll pass this onto them. Well done infusing movie quotes throughout.

    • Kurt Russell Anderson

      I am one of those friend. My name is Kurt Russell Anderson. Named after the actor, as this movie was my parents favorite. When i asked them originally why they named me after Big Trouble in Little China all they said was that it was something about the way i was conceived.

      • Jackson

        Best thing I’ve heard/read all day.

  • Chris

    Perfect timing! This movie recently showed up on Netflix!

    • Rob

      Classic!

  • Tom

    His best movie in my mind. Definitely played a factor in making me the man I am today.

  • Jano

    Found this as a pretty fun yet meaningful article. Always been a big fan of this movie. Remembered when they would consistently play this movie as well. I also loved him in Death Proof.

  • Steven Akers

    best movie ever. And a role model for all men.