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Big Trouble in Little China Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

Written by ZigZag

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

Big Trouble In Little China Large

Directed by John Carpenter
Written by W.D. Richter, Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein
1986, 100 minutes, Rated PG-13
Released on December 3rd, 2019

Starring:
Kurt Russell as Jack Burton
Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law
Dennis Dun as Wang Chi
James Hong as David Lo Pan
Victor Wong as Egg Shen
Kate Burton as Margo
Donald Li as Eddie Lee

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Review:

In his mind, Jack Burton is a tough-talking, rough-and-tumble macho man, popular with the ladies, who can handle any obstacle life throws at him. In reality, he is something of a clod bumbling his way into one misadventure after another. While on a layover in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Jack spends time with his old friend Wang Chi, who is preparing to meet his fiancée at the airport. When the girl is kidnapped by a two-thousand-year-old ghostly sorcerer named David Lo Pan, Jack and Wang follow, entering a world of magic and mysticism located beneath the city. Together with a group of friends they face countless challenges on their rescue mission as they battle supernatural forces and an army of martial artists.

At first glance Big Trouble in Little China is just another formulaic action movie with clear-cut heroes and villains, trusty sidekicks and damsels in distress. But closer inspection reveals something special. What makes this film unique is its fresh approach to the material that upends audience expectations with more than a few curve balls. The comedic tone pokes fun at our protagonist Jack Burton, who believes himself to be the hero, but is actually just a lucky sidekick with a wealth of bravado. He does well under pressure and ultimately proves himself worthy when it matters most, but enjoys his share of setbacks.

Director John Carpenter (They Live!) tackles his biggest picture to date with this genre-defying tale filled with flashy martial arts and mysterious Chinese legends. Carpenter has long professed his love of kung-fu movies and wanted to make one in Hollywood, complete with a primarily Asian cast. Originally written as a period western set in the 1890s, the script was retooled by W.D. Richter (Dracula, 1979) into a contemporary comedy/action/supernatural adventure film filled with laughs and magic. Big Trouble in Little China pushes a lot of story norms into new directions and moves at a brisk pace from one action set-piece to the next.

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In the pivotal role of Jack Burton, Carpenter cast Kurt Russell (Escape from New York) with whom he had previously worked on three occasions. Russell has described his performance as a cross between John Wayne and Jack Nicholson and he is clearly having a blast with the character. The real hero of the story is Dennis Dun (Prince of Darkness) as level-headed Wang Chi, who leads the quest to rescue his girl. Dun holds his own opposite Russell and the two work well together. Kim Cattrall (Porky’s) co-stars as feisty Gracie Law, who is working closely with a naïve journalist to expose a human trafficking ring. She has great comedic timing and delivers some rapid-fire dialogue with ease. The always-welcome James Hong (The Vineyard) plays the diabolical David Lo Pan with dark glee as he rules the Chinese underworld.

Big Trouble in Little China is a lot of fun and never takes itself too seriously. It features likeable characters, exciting fight scenes, top-notch special effects and plenty of quotable dialogue. This is an interesting picture in Carpenter’s filmography, as it tries a lot of new things and allows him to express his unique style on a grander scale. Unfortunately, studio interference and a lackluster marketing campaign resulted in disappointing box office receipts, as the movie failed to reach its target audience. It found new life on home video and has developed a rabid fan base that continues to grow more than thirty years after its initial release.

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Video and Audio:

This appears to be the same transfer used for the 2009 Blu-ray release, but it holds up and has a lot to offer. Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, colors are bold and well-saturated and black levels are solid. Hair and fabrics feature plenty of detail and flesh tones appear natural throughout.

A remastered DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix and the original Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track are offered with pleasing results. The expanded mix is the way to go, with added bass and a boost to music selections and sound effects cues. Dialogue levels are always clear and understandable and optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

Disc 1:

There are three audio commentaries on this release; the first is a vintage track with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell kicking back and catching up as old friends. There are some scene-specific comments, but this is largely a collection of amusing stories, jokes and a lot of laughs.

Up next is a newly recorded commentary with producer Larry Franco moderated by Justin Beahm, who does a great job guiding the conversation. Franco begins with the story of how he met Carpenter and went on to become his long-time producer. He shares great production stories from several movies and then gets into the challenges this film met from studio executives.

The third commentary is also a new one, this time featuring make-up artist Steve Johnson with filmmaker Anthony C. Ferrante (Sharknado). Johnson needs little coaxing to tell stories and he reflects on life in the industry in the 1980s. He shares anecdotes from several films and talks about working with other artists, including Rick Baker and Rob Bottin. He has a lot to say about this project and concludes with his thoughts on the use of digital technology vs. practical effects.

The film’s score is presented on an isolated DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that is a welcome addition.

A vintage promotional audio interview with John Carpenter (6 minutes) in which the director praises Kurt Russell and Richard Edlund’s special effects work. He shares his thoughts on the cast and music and reflects on the influence of Chinese cinema.

The original EPK (27 minutes) features interviews with members of the cast and crew, including Carpenter and Russell, actors Dennis Dun, James Hong and Kim Cattrall, f/x artist Richard Edlund and costume designer April Ferry. The segment is loaded with clips from the film and behind-the-scenes footage of Carpenter directing.

A gag reel (3 minutes) offers a collection of goofs, pranks, laughter and behind-the-scenes staging.

The music video (3 minutes) for the closing theme song performed by Carpenter’s band The Coupe De Ville’s is a graphics-heavy ‘80s cheese-fest.

Deleted and extended scenes sourced from either the film’s workprint or a videotape master showcase material cut for pacing.

The original extended ending (3 minutes) reveals a wisely abandoned epilogue featuring Jack getting revenge on the punks from the airport.

There are three photo galleries included: movie stills (81 images), lobby cards and publicity shots (84 images) and behind-the-scenes photos (85 images).

Three theatrical trailers and five TV spots provide a look at the marketing campaign.

Disc 2:

Actor Dennis Dun remembers his excitement for the project in You’re the Hero (14 minutes). He talks about being wowed by the movie magic on set and how supportive John Carpenter was as a director. James Hong gets much respect and Dun discusses seeing the finished film and its lasting impression.

In The Soul of Lo Pan (24 minutes), James Hong reflects on his early days coming up as an Asian actor in the industry. He has kind words for Carpenter and his co-stars and shares his thoughts on the character. Hong tells some fun production stories including one about the make-up effects work of Steve Johnson.

Donald Li is the focus of the segment Able to be Myself (18 minutes) and he remembers his roots in stage acting and how he became involved in this project and the appeal of a non-stereotypical character. He praises Carpenter and Kurt Russell and his fellow co-stars.

Actor Carter Wong sits for the interview The Tao of Thunder (26 minutes) in which he discusses his martial arts history and becoming an actor for director John Woo and the Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest. He remembers making the move to the States where he taught karate before getting cast in this film. Wong says he appreciates Carpenter’s collaborative directing style, says Russell is a good man and respects James Hong. He points out the differences between US film schedules and those in Hong Kong. Wong speaks English, but his accent is quite thick, so this interview is subtitled.

The Tao of Rain (29 minutes) catches up with actor Peter Kwong, who talks about growing up in small-town America and his background in dance. He laments early stereotype casting, but had a much better experience working with Carpenter. He was surprised by this film’s comedic tone and impressed with the flashy fight choreography. Kwong says this was the most fun he has had on a set and shares his thoughts on the picture’s legacy.

The always-welcome Al Leong is the focus of The Hatchet Man Speaks (7 minutes) in which he shares interesting production stories from various shoots and has nothing but praise for Carpenter and his crew. This guy always makes a strong impression and deserves a much longer interview.

Damn Wiley Prescott and the Horse He Rode in On (21 minutes) features screenwriter W.D. Richter, who reveals how he was hired to rework the script. He talks about his decisions to change the time period to a contemporary setting and punch up the comedic tone. Another contribution was the creation of a non-traditional hero and sidekick relationship. Richter has kind words for Carpenter and says the film is rather unique and proved difficult to market to an audience.

Original writer Gary Goldman remembers coming up with the concept of creating a period western with Asian influences in It Was a Western Ghost Story (28 minutes). He talks about selling the script and doing a polish before being replaced by Richter. Many of his original story points remain in the finished film, which he says is a parody of itself. While the changes were not up to him, Goldman finds them funny and clever and is impressed with the end product.

The Poetry of Motion (35 minutes) finds martial arts choreographer James Lew reflective on his career and his work on this picture. He shares details in the craft of coordinating the action and working with the actors. Topics of discussion include staging the alley fight, using action to advance the story or define a character. He has kind words for Carpenter as a receptive director and shares several interesting production stories.

Longtime Carpenter collaborator and bandmate Nick Castle discusses their lengthy relationship in the segment Into the Mystic Night (13 minutes). He remembers growing up in the industry and his early influences before heading to USC film school where he met Carpenter. Together with fellow filmmaker Tommy Lee Wallace they formed the band The Coupe De Villes and performed music for various Carpenter film projects. In time, Castle became a director and shares some of the lessons he learned from his talented friend.

Since We Were Kids (29 minutes) features memories from second unit director/Coupe De Villes bandmate Tommy Lee Wallace. He says he has always been a musician first and talks about connecting with Carpenter back in Kentucky and forming various bands before moving to Los Angeles. He talks about working on this movie and recording the theme song with Carpenter and Castle. The trio went on to shoot a campy music video for the song and later released an album.

Legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan discusses his work in Love and Art (17 minutes). He shares his memories as an artist starting off doing cover art for Alice Cooper albums and making the transition to cinematic art and using airbrush painting techniques. He talks about designing the poster for Star Wars and later, Big Trouble in Little China.

In Return to Little China (12 minutes), John Carpenter shares his love of kung-fu movies and being very excited by W.D. Richter’s script, which would allow him to shoot action and comedy. He has great things to say about Kurt Russell and other members of the cast and had fun scoring the picture. He says there was pushback from the studio during production and that they were unhappy with the finished film. He laments the poor marketing campaign and tough reviews, but remains proud of the movie and is glad it eventually found an audience on video.

Kurt Russell reflects on his history with Carpenter and his approach to the Jack Burton character. He heaps praise on the script and his co-stars and laments the negative studio response and bad marketing campaign. He ends on a positive note regarding the film’s legacy.

Carpenter and I (16 minutes) is an interview with cinematographer Dean Cundey, who also shares a long working relationship with Carpenter dating back to the original Halloween. When it comes to this picture, he is impressed with the production design and remakes on the stylistic lighting choices. He has fond memories of his time with Carpenter and Russell and says this was an enjoyable shoot.

Larry Franco appears in Producing Big Trouble (15 minutes) and opens with his personal relationship to Kurt Russell. He discusses his longtime relationship with Carpenter and their many projects together, including a failed attempt to make Stephen King’s Firestarter. Other topics include casting martial artists, supporting Carpenter’s vision and tensions with the studio.

Staging Big Trouble (12 minutes) catches up with stuntman Jeff Imada, who has fond memories of the film and working with Carpenter. He has some great Kurt Russell stories and kind words for the other cast members as well. He ends with his thoughts on the finished film and moving forward on other Carpenter projects.

Visual effects artist Richard Edlund appears in an untitled interview (13 minutes) in which he details specific special effects sequences, including the various monsters. He talks about the process of shooting visual effects and the changes in technology today.

A vintage featurette (7 minutes) offers clips from the film, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew.

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Grades:

Movie: Fourstars Big Trouble In Little China Small
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Video: Fourstars
Audio: Fourstars
Features: Fivestars
Overall: Fourstars

About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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