Big Trouble in Little China

(1986) *** Pg-13
100 min. 20th Century Fox Distribution. Directors: John Carpenter, Tommy Lee Wallace. Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Kate Burton, Dennis Dun, James Hong.

/content/films/3511/1.jpgFew '80s cult films are more beloved by their fans than John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China. This movie is nutty as a fruitcake, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Don't believe me? Well, it's a "B"-movie-style Western meets Eastern, a supernatural "chopsocky" fantasy with leading man Kurt Russell doing a feature-length impression of a dead movie star. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Russell plays "Old Jack Burton," as he likes to call himself, the long-haul driver behind the wheel of a big rig affectionately dubbed "The Pork-Chop Express." We meet Jack during a nighttime ride, as he chomps on a fat hoagie and plays DJ on his CB in a pseudo-John Wayne drawl. This alone is pure gold, with rat-a-tat-tat speechifying that locates the picture out of time, but Jack hasn't yet arrived in Little China (San Francisco's Chinatown) or gotten himself into big trouble. The latter comes courtesy of Jack's poker buddy Wang Chi (the likeable Dennis Dun), who wrangles Jack into accompanying him to the airport to collect his fiancée, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). Unfortunately for Wang Chi and Jack (and fortunately for the audience), the Lords of Death street gang kidnaps Suzie and hauls her off to Chinatown, pursued by the Pork-Chop Express.

/content/films/3511/2.jpgTurns out the Lords of Death and their turf wars are chicken-feed compared to mysterious businessman Lo Pan (the great James Hong), his personal gang the Wing Tong, and super-henchmen the Three Storms, who threateningly channel bolts of electricity. It takes only minutes for Jack's worldview to be realigned to include Chinese black magic, sorcery, monsters, and ghosts, though he hardly takes them in stride. He becomes a kind of blue-collar Indiana Jones who's in yet more over his head than the archaeologist hero. And who can blame him? Lo Pan turns out to be a 2000-year-old man-ghost looking to appease a demonic god so he can end a curse, regain his youth and fleshy substantiality, and rule the universe.

Or something like that. Tour bus driver/sorcerer Egg Shen (Victor Wong) enthuses, "We will finally bring order out of chaos," but Carpenter has nearly the opposite intention, all in good fun. The whole movie is a winking exercise in collective madness that happily proceeds at breakneck speed, the better to avoid questions. And despite the clumsy hero being white (as are the other two women in the picture, Kim Cattrall's snappy, adventurous lawyer Gracie Law and Kate Burton's plucky reporter Margo), Big Trouble in Little China is populated with Asian talent. Say what you will about the movie around them (and its cheerful exploitation of Chinese mythology), but the good guys are as brave as the hero and considerably more competent, empowering them beyond the usual sidekick schtick.

Like the Indiana Jones franchise, here's a movie that suggests a cliffhanger serial if it had a sense of humor and a self-awareness of its absurdity. With a signature score by Carpenter himself and photography by longtime Zemeckis DP Dean Cundey, Big Trouble in Little China makes the most of its $25 million's only a shame it took home video to earn it back.

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink

Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0

Street date: 8/4/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Kudos to Fox for their work on the transfer for 1986 cult hit Big Trouble in Little China. The spotless and detailed hi-def image here puts the relatively murky DVDs to shame. The color palette is accurate, black level is surprisingly deep, and the curse of digital artifacting has been banished. The DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio mix is likewise impressive, giving the action-packed film added power, ambience and dimension. What's more, Fox includes as an extra an isolated score track in DTS Master Audio 5.1.

The commentary by director John Carpenter & actor Kurt Russell is pretty much legendary by now as one of the all-time-great commentaries. These two come across as brothers, and their easy rapport and infectious energy makes for a hugely entertaining and candid trip down memory lane about the movie and whatever else crosses their mind.

In fact, all of the major bonus features from the now out-of-print 2-Disc Special Edition of Big Trouble in Little China make their way to Blu-ray (the unfortunate exceptions are the Production Notes and articles from Cinefex and American Cinematographer). Primary is a selection of eight Deleted Scenes: "Airport/Chinatown" in its "Workprint" (5:47, SD)  and "Video Version" (6:56, SD), "The Dragon of the Black Pool" in "Workprint" (2:37, SD) and "Video Version" (4:19, SD), "The White Tiger" in "Workprint" (2:14, SD) and "Video Version" (7:07, SD), "Gracie's Office" in "Workprint" form (3:31, SD), "Thunder's Tour" in "Workprint" form (1:34, SD), and "Beneath Chinatown" in "Workprint" form (2:16, SD). The "Lava Sequence" (1:14, SD) is presented from three views accessible by the menu or by using the Angle feature on the fly: Storyboard, Final Scene or Both in comparison. Last up is "Six Demon Bag" (11:48, SD).

We also get an "Extended Ending" (3:05, SD) and the "Vintage Featurette" (7:28, SD) and the "Big Trouble in Little China" Music Video by The Coupe DeVilles (3:28, SD). For special effects aficionados , there's a "Richard Edlund Interview" (13:25, SD) with two angles: Interview Footage with Behind-the Scenes Stills in a Small Window or a view of Stills in Full Screen. Rounding out the disc are "Trailer A" (2:47, SD), "Trailer B" (0:55, SD), and "Spanish Trailer" (2:42); the TV Spots "Remember" (0:32, SD), "Who Is?" (0:32, SD), "Adventure" (0:32, SD), "Beneath" (0:32, SD), "Pay-Per-View" (1:02, SD), and "Teaser" (1:32); and a Behind-the-Scenes Gallery with 262 images.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

Share this review:
Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links