As far as I can tell, Big Trouble was originally written to be a Western, with Asian magic and martial arts mixed in to create a very different sort of film then anyone had ever tried before. John Carpenter found the project interesting, but balked at making the film due to a lack of understanding of such a movie's "look and feel." But, as fortune would have it, Carpenter saw Tsui Hark's film Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain and instantly knew how he wanted Big Trouble to look.
The film was released in 1986, to very mixed reviews. Most people didn't know what to think of it (much like the reaction The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai would get) and pronounced it a flop. Critics tended to view it as a slightly silly "comic book-like" film, missing the fact that Big Trouble is supposed to be a slightly silly comic book-like film. But, as with many films such as this (Buckaroo Banzai, Mad Max, Rocky Horror, The Road Warrior) Big Trouble became a cult classic. Personally, I think it's the best film for explaining HERO System special effects and powers ever made. You can watch the movie and rattle off: "That's an Energy Blast; That's Leaping; See that? That's a Presence Attack; That's Desolid; That's a Flash Attack," and so on.
In the distant past (272 BC to be exact), the first sovereign emperor of China united the seven warring states into one country. Along the way, he subjugated a man by the name of Lo Pan and eternally cursed him with a body of "no flesh." Now, although this curse effectively made Lo Pan immortal, it also rendered him powerless, since his body of "no flesh" meant he existed as an insubstantial ghost. In order to regain his natural form, he had to find a green-eyed girl and marry her. This would appease Ching Dai, the God of the East—Lo Pan's patron—but in order to appease the emperor, Lo Pan would then have to sacrifice this woman. There were a few drawbacks to this cure, however. The first was that green-eyed women are exceedingly rare in China. The second is that she would have to be brave enough to embrace the burning blade and tame the savage heart.
It is now 2270 years later and Lo Pan has yet to find the girl that will allow him to regain his corporeal form (and go on to rule the world from beyond the grave), but he keeps trying. Backed by his own private army, a trio of powerful sorcerers, and several supernatural monsters, Lo Pan is the de facto ruler of Chinatown, doing his best to find the girl of his prophecy.
Magic in Big Trouble is a touch different than what most people might be expecting. A lot of the magic powers displayed by the characters in the movie isn't the usual "point the finger blow something up" schtick common to fantasy RPGs (although Egg Shen comes close); instead sorcerers such as Thunder, Rain, and Lightning display their magic prowess through their martial skill and command of the weather. Egg Shen's magical prowess is more in the field of alchemy, allowing him to whip up magic potions and various forms of explosives. Lo Pan is said to be a powerful magician, but we only really see him cast a few spells. It really is a matter of perspective, since very few people deal with magic, than anyone with any sort of magical power is going to be powerful when compared to anyone else around them.
Honestly, it is a bit rough to decide what does and does not fit as "Asian Magic" when creating spells. Based on what we see in Big Trouble (and a number of other Hong Kong action films, such as Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain, which inspired John Carpenter to make Big Trouble) we can come up with some rough guidelines.
The most obvious spells are attack powers, such as Energy Blast, RKA, Flash, and so on. Movement powers are usually Flight and Leaping (or Flight made into a form of Leaping). Defensive powers are tougher, since one doesn't usually see effects such as Force Field and Force Wall. We do see Lo Pan use a Missile Deflection spell versus Egg Shen's "rocket launcher" in the final fight scene of Big Trouble however. Powers that certainly don't seem to fit are Size Powers (Growth, Shrinking, Density Increase, and so on.) and FTL.
What makes Asian magic seem, well, Asian is the special effects. An Energy Blast could be a jet of fire launched not from the finger tips, but the mouth or nostrils. An RKA isn't a magic arrow, but a sword projected from inside the sleeve. An Entangle isn't a mass of spider webs, but lengths of cloth flung from your sleeves or arms. Lo Pan's Flash (fired from the mouth and eyes) and Rain's physical Energy Blast (the little red ball) are great examples of the special effects for these sort of spells. Watchers of the Dragon has some a number of spell effects based off of actual Chinese magic traditions, while other sources are Mystic China (Palladium Books) and GURPS China. For visual inspiration try Big Trouble in Little China (naturally), Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain, A Chinese Ghost Story, and A Kid From Tibet.
Advantages and Limitations
There is no real "overall" Advantage that applies to the spells used in Big Trouble. There are obvious Advantages applied to individual spells (such as Invisible Power Effects on the Storm's bullet barrier) but otherwise it is up to the GM's desires.
Most Big Trouble spells look to have Gestures as a limitation, as well as Extra Time and Concentrate. This is especially true of some of Lo Pan's spells. Some of the more complex spells (such as Lo Pan's bride finding ritual) have casting times of up to a half hour. With the exception of Egg Shen, none of the characters in Big Trouble look to rely on Foci to any great extent, trusting instead on their "innate" or "natural" powers.
As a final note, Uncle Tsui and Egg Shen mention "All movement in the universe is caused by movement between positive and negative furies. If the furies are out of balance—as they are in Lo Pan—then the person turns into demon and lives forever." It would seem all magic in Big Trouble is governed by a balance between Ying and Yang (light and dark, hot and cold, male and female, and so on). This could mean that all spells have unwanted side effects which need to be corrected before one's internal chi balance gets out of hand and perverts the magic user.
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