Even though the recent rumors that a remake of Big Trouble in Little China starring The Rock himself have died down, the original remains one of the most memorable cult classic movies of the #80s. The over-the-top campy romp through the underworld of San Francisco's Chinatown still maintains a strong fan base, though it could be a US Senator at 31 years old. Even though the onscreen action takes place in the '80s, the fictional events that set off the plot occurred in the 200s BCE, as they are based on some of what we know about ancient China and its first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.
Lo Pan And Qin Shi Huang
In Big Trouble in Little China, the mysterious David Lo Pan has kidnapped Miao Yen, Wang's fiancee, and Jack Burton is helping Jack to rescue her. Over the course of the movie, it is revealed that David is actually a demon who goes by the name of Lo Pan. He claims to be an ancient warrior and wizard who was defeated by the first Emperor of China, who subsequently placed the curse of No Flesh on Lo Pan, preventing him from retaking his human form permanently. To break the curse, he must marry a woman with green eyes and then sacrifice her. Miao Yen is the intended sacrifice, but Gracie Law, who also has green eyes, gets caught up in the scheme. Nevertheless, Jack, Wang and their crew save the day in the end and kill Lo Pan for good.
Lo Pan Fan Theories
Browsing the internet for connections between the story of Lo Pan and Chinese history or myth, there are claims that Lo Pan was a real person. On the Villains Wiki page, Lo Pan's origin story as an adversary of the first Emperor of China is claimed as based in history. It states:
Lo Pan is a famous legend in Chinese history. He was a "shadow emperor" appointed by the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Lo Pan was put on the throne as an impersonator because the Emperor was afraid of being assassinated. However, Lo Pan tried to take over and was cursed by the Emperor to exist without flesh for 2,000 years until he could marry a girl with green eyes.
This story is repeated all over the internet on fan pages, verbatim in many cases. In this instance, the "Big Trouble" is that no reputable source on Chinese history, archaeology, or legend talks about this incident. In fact, the only figure by the name of Lo Pan is a little-known patron saint of builders. He was a renaissance man of the Spring and Autumn Period (771–476 BCE) who was posthumously deified. He lived a couple of centuries before the first Emperor, so he is unconnected with Qin Shi Huang. There is a temple to this Lo Pan in Hong Kong that was built in 1884.
Qin Shi Huang: The First Emperor Of China
Born in 259 BCE, Ying Zheng was born in the Qin (pronounced "Chin") Kingdom in what is now central China, during an era called the Warring States period (403–221 BCE). At this time, China was broken up into seven kingdoms competing with one another for supremacy. By 221 BCE, Qin defeated all the other kingdoms, uniting China under a single ruler for the first time. Ying Zheng then gave himself the title Qin Shi Huang, which basically translates to "First Emperor of Qin."
What little we know comes from later accounts, particularly The Grand Scribe's Records (which dates to the Han Dynasty) and a few archaeological inscriptions set up by Qin Shi Huang himself. The Han accounts depict him as a cruel and oppressive ruler, while his own inscriptions are more concerned with recording the achievements of setting up laws and administration throughout his large territory.
One of the interesting things we know about him from these records is that, as he entered his later years, he became obsessed with searching for a way to achieve immortality, and ventured all over China to find a mythical elixir that would grant it to him. He died on one of these quests and was buried in an elaborate tomb, said to be a recreation of his kingdom with rivers of mercury. In 1974 one of the greatest archaeological discoveries was made near the tomb: the terracotta warriors. These were sculptures of soldiers, each with their own unique, individualized features that were buried near the tomb as a form of protection.
When comparing actual history to the internet's story about Lo Pan — and indeed the story of Lo Pan presented in Big Trouble in Little China — there are some points of inspiration that can be drawn from Qin Shi Huang, but no actual historical parallel. We know of two assassination attempts on the emperor — none of them perpetrated by Lo Pan, and neither of them involved a curse.
Other parts of the myth, such as the requirement to sacrifice a woman with green eyes, have different inspirations in China. In northwestern China, many people in the village of Liqian have green eyes and light hair, which have led some to suggest, with some actual scientific evidence, that they could have European, maybe even ancient Roman ancestry (though the evidence is far from conclusive). In any case, the suggestion in the story of Lo Pan seems to be that green eyes are rare in China, since it took him 2000 years to find a woman with green eyes.
I don't think anyone really expects historical accuracy from this movie, as great as it is. Though we don't have a record of Qin Shi Huang defeating anyone named Lo Pan, he did defeat many people as he conquered the Warring States of ancient China. Despite the fact that there isn't direct historical accuracy here, ancient history still inspires modern artists, and what they pull from the past can be informative in and of themselves.
Interested in more movies inspired by Qin Shi Huang? Try out Hero with Jet Li, a reimagining of the Jin Ke's assassination attempt!