“I’m talkin’ to whoever’s listenin’ out there”…this is a Blu-ray you’re gonna want to pickup.
Kurt Russell (Escape from New York, The Hateful Eight) stars as Jack Burton, a tough-talking truck driver whose life goes into a supernatural tailspin when his best friend’s fiancée is kidnapped in John Carpenter’s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Jack, who suddenly finds himself in a murky, danger-filled world beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown, where Lo Pan, a 2,000-year-old magician, mercilessly rules an empire of spirits. Facing down a host of unearthly terrors, Jack battles through Lo Pan’s dark domain in a full-throttle, action-riddled ride to rescue the girl.
I first encountered BTILC at a young age, it was a film that stayed in my mind largely due to it’s infectious sense of fun and charisma. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found deeper appreciation of the rest of Carpenter’s output, most of it darker and perhaps more technically impressive or nuanced, but a soft spot will always remain for what is the most unabashedly entertaining film in his oeuvre. An martial arts inspired action spectacle, concerning a mystical war in Chinatown, and a all American hero/braggard who stumbles into its midst.
It feels like Carpenter is cutting loose, indulging many of the aspects of cinema he adores. Asian film, notably the spectacles of Hong Kong cinema, his unique brand of horror, along with his own slant on the popular American action movies of the time. Its a real hodge podge of components that somehow blend together into a memorable adventure, one lacking any cynicism, and worth of its cult status. Sure some aspects haven’t aged too well, others, their charm has only increased. Also having a good time is the ever charming Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, a antithesis to the kind of muscle bound American hero that Stallone and Schwarzenegger were championing at the time. The machismo is there, but Jack is most often a comic relief, whose success in the film is more down to good fortune and reflexes rather than his abilities. It’s an interesting twist, putting who you expect to be the hear off-center like this. The real lead, at least as far as typical movie roles go, is the affable Dennis Dun as the understated, but potent Wang Chi. Together they’re a winning double act, but it’s the latter who gets THE girl, and has an arc more personally entwined with the plot that unfolds. Along for the ride is the fiery Gracie Law, an investigator played by Kim Cattrall with just the right attitude to call Jack on his bullshit. Other standouts include James Hong, switching between creepy af and menacing depending on which incarnation of Lo Pan is in play, and Victor Wong as his mystical nemesis, the quirky, crotchety wise man Egg Shen. The cast click wonderfully, but its undeniably the bumbling bravado of Jack Burton that drives things along.
Big Trouble in Little China is a film that in lesser hands could have been about a white savior wading into a culture he doesn’t understand, is instead about the machismo meandering of a trucker into a mystical war, and somehow helping to save the day. It possesses a magic that many a filmmaker has tried to recapture in the years since it’s release, as well as a sense of adventure. It leaves you smiling, and with the hope that Jack Burton and his Pork Chop Express is still trucking along out there.
The transfer looks solid overall, with good detail, bold colors, with solid blacks and a good contrast range. It does lack a little sharpness, but that’s just quibbling when comparing to some other restorations we’ve gotten of late. Shout Factory continue their recent run of packing releases with a serious amount of extras:
- NEW Audio Commentary with producer Larry Franco: Interesting, but the commentary is a little “Franco-centric” rather than BTILC-centric
- NEW Audio Commentary with special effects artist Steve Johnson, moderated by filmmaker Anthony C. Ferrante: A really open, and at times juicy, commentary. Some o the production details are great, but it’s his sharing of info about collaborations with Carpenter that are the draw here
- Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell: A really lively and revealing commentary, one that feels like a good-natured chat between the pair. They go on tangents at times (which is entertaining), but also dig into plenty of film related details and anecdotes
- Isolated Score:
- Theatrical Trailers:
- TV Spots:
- Vintage Audio Interview with John Carpenter: Nearly 6 minutes long, the filmmaker runs through some key points about the film, but doesn’t get into any real depth
- Electronic Press Kit — interviews and profiles: Generic series of profiles and interviews for the films key players, and a little on the cultural influences that inspired the film
- Gag Reel: Just under 3 minutes and mildly entertaining
- Music Video: For the title song, performed by Carpenter and his band the Coupe de Villes. It’s not the best thing he’s done for sure
- Deleted and Extended Scenes: Some incomplete (filled in with storyboards), some extended, but with just slight extensions to the footage, nothing or
- Extended Ending: Jack gets to give a little payback to the gang he tussled with in the early airport sequence
- Photo Galleries — movie stills, posters and lobby cards, publicity photos and behind-the-scenes photos:
- NEW You’re the Hero — an interview with actor Dennis Dun: We get a host of new interviews. It’s great to see all these members of the ensemble get tie to reflect on their careers and time on set for the film. Nothing too in depth, but enjoyable nonethless
- NEW The Soul of Lo Pan — an interview with actor James Hong: gfd
- NEW Able to Be Myself — an interview with actor Donald Li: gfd
- NEW The Tao of Thunder — an interview with actor Carter Wong: gfd
- NEW The Tao of Rain– an interview with actor Peter Kwong: Perhaps the best new interview, where the actor has a frank dialogue about the racism he encountered within the business
- NEW The Hatchet Man Speaks — an interview with actor Al Leong: Great to see the recurring action genre “baddie” get to speak
- NEW Damn Wiley Prescott — an interview with writer W.D. Richter: Pairs well with the Goldman piece below. Both writers talk about the original concept for the film, and how it evolved, both through creative choices and forced changes
- NEW It Was A Western Ghost Story — an interview with writer Gary Goldman:
- NEW The Poetry of Motion — an interview with associate producer/martial arts choreographer James Lew: Just over 30 minutes spent breaking down his career and work on the film, Pretty good insight into the approaches of the era
- NEW Into the Mystic Night — an interview with The Coupe De Ville’s member Nick Castle: This, and the Wallace interview below, see each of the men discuss their collaboration with Carpenter, both on set and in the band together. Some personal insights as well as a breakdown of their process
- NEW Since We Were Kids — an interview with second unit director/The Coupe De Ville’s member Tommy Lee Wallace: This one gets into a little more detail about BTILC due to Wallace’s role on set, he also talks about growing up with Carpenter!
- NEW Love and Art — a conversation with movie poster artist Drew Struzan: The movie poster legend gives a good deal of his time to reflect on his career, the films (and album art) he’s worked on
- Return to Little China — an interview with director John Carpenter: A good, focused featurette where the filmmaker sketches out the production
- Being Jack Burton — an interview with actor Kurt Russell: A fun and frank interview with the actor who shares his experiences on set, post release, as well as opinions on how the film was handled/marketed
- Carpenter and I — an interview with director of photography Dean Cundey: a regular collaborator with Carpenter, it’s a good amount of depth and diversity to his conversation about the various films they worked on, obvs with a focus on BTILC
- Producing Big Trouble — an interview with producer Larry Franco: Similar content to what came in his included audio commentary but a little more focused obviously
- Staging Big Trouble — an interview with stuntman Jeff Imada: A great piece where the stuntman reflects on his career, with some focus on the work he did on BTILC
- Interview with visual effects artist Richard Edlund: A methodical and details run-through of some of the key special effects sequences
- Vintage Featurette: Assembles a host of cast and crew, but it’s all rather generic content, nothing that isn’t touched on in any of the above material
The Bottom Line
While John Carpenter has crafted many revered films, Big Trouble in Little China stands out as perhaps his most unabashedly fun venture. A rollicking action adventure, showcasing a game Kurt Russell throwing his bravado against mythical monstrosities. Shout Factory has put together a release that truly celebrates a film worthy of its cult status. “I’m talkin’ to whoever’s listenin’ out there”…this is a Blu-ray you’re gonna want to pickup.
Big Trouble in Little China Collector’s Edition is available via Shout Factory from December 3rd
***Fans, take note. There are five different special offers (while supplies last) for ordering BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA Collector’s Edition at ShoutFactory.com. ***