Big Trouble In Little China

Big Trouble In Little China (1986)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Kurt Russell, Victor Wong, James Hong, Danny Dun, Kim Cattral
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Ending, Special Effects Interview, Music Video, Trailers and TV Spots, Gallery

Although it represents one of cult director John Carpenter's most underrated and under-appreciated movies, his homage to Hong Kong cinema, "Big Trouble In Little China" has an incredibly committed fan following, all of which are eagerly looking forward to this high definition debut of the movie that 20th Century Fox is serving up here. A fan of the "Pork-Chop Express" myself, I was very excited when this disc finally showed up on my desk and clearly couldn't resist to give it a spin to see how it turned out.

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a truck-driver with a fast mouth. Finally back home, after a long tour, he plays a game of Mahjong with some of his friends in Chinatown and… wins! Sadly, his buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) can't pay up immediately, though, and to top things off, he asks Jack for a favor, before going to pick up the money. His fiancé is arriving from mainland China, and Wang wants to pick her up at the airport. But before they can meet Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), she is kidnapped by members of a street gang. Jack and Wang are determined to rescue here and enter the lion's den, deep in the heart of Chinatown. Suddenly, they find themselves head over heels in the middle of a gang war that rages openly in the back alleys of Chinatown. To make things worse, out of the blue, three ethereal warriors appear. Seemingly indestructible, Wang and Jack barely manage to escape the massacre, only to run into Lo Pan (James Hong), a mythical man, who is believed to have lived for 200 years under a curse of eternal life!

It is Lo Pan who had Miao Yin kidnapped for her green eyes. To lift his curse, he needs the green-eyed girl to marry him, and to sacrifice her to placate the God responsible for his torment. All of this Chinese mythology and supernaturalism is way over Jack Burton's head and he has his own way of dealing with ancient myths, legends and demons… and yet, even he needs the help of Egg Shen (Victor Wong), a local small-time sorcerer, as he soon finds out.

"Big Trouble In Little China" is full of great moments and the fact that the film doesn't take itself too seriously, only adds to the flavor of the movie. However, you definitely need the right mindset for this flick. It is not a real martial arts film, and it is not a straight-comedy or a pure action film either. It is an amalgam of all these elements, spiced up with a lot of love for Hong Kong cinema. Some things in the film are really far out, but to me, it is what makes it such a charming and unique experience. The characters are very intriguing, the dialogues witty and humorous, the story propels itself forward at a good pace and the beautiful cinematography is among the best of all of John Carpenter's movies.

Sadly, the movie is very misunderstood and under-appreciated, in part because 20th Century Fox never really knew how to market this film at the box office. Since then it has fortunately gathered a cult following who cherish the film for what it is. A plain fun and action adventure with some wicked ideas sprinkled on top.

Although 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has a stellar track record when it comes to high definition transfers, I was honestly a trepid regarding this film, expecting a somewhat mediocre presentation. Boy, was I ever wrong! I don't know how they did it, but "Big Trouble In Little China" looks like a million bucks taxfree on this Blu-Ray version – seriously, you won't believe your eyes. The print is in pristine condition, absolutely clean and shows not a single mar or blemish. John Carpenter's and cinematographer Dean Cundey's color palette is extremely important to this film in particular as it is used to convey the mystical Chinese atmosphere that carries the entire film. This Fant-Asia-style visual smorgasbord is perfectly reproduced here from the electric fingers of lightning, the neon signs that illuminate dank back alleys, to Suzee Pai's jade-green eyes. Every hue and shade is so wonderfully rendered that is is hard believe the film could ever have existed on any other medium. Equally impressive is the level of detail in the transfer, making it a real high definition treat. Not a hint is lost in the sheen textures of the Chinese gowns, the grimy back alleys or the skins of the actors. Everything is coming to life with detail and sharpness that I honestly would never have thought possible of this particular film. Blacks are very deep, giving the image plenty of visual depth and dimension, while shadows are always well delineated and maintain an incredible level of detail. This picture is bold with contrast and awash with colors, and I daresay that you have to see "Big Trouble In Little China" on this Blu-Ray Disc to finally appreciate its complete visual glory.

It is nice to see, of course, that Fox is equally committed to the audio presentation, as a powerful DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio tack accompanies the movie. At this point, I believe is is needless to say that this is a high resolution, lossless, 1:1 representation of the film's master track. As far audio goes, things don't get better than this. The dynamic range of the track adds notably to the dramatic impact of the film, while the frequency response of the track makes sure the audio never sounds dated, playing its muscles across the entire frequency spectrum. The bottom end of the spectrum is never over-emphasized as it is in all too many contemporary films, and exhibits a balanced LFE presence that creates a solid aural foundation for the film. The high ends are very clear and dialogues are perfectly mixed in, never being drowned out by the sound effects or the music.

For the music aficionados among you, Fox has also included the movie's cool score on an isolated track.

The disc also comes with an audio commentary, featuring John Carpenter and Kurt Russell that was also part of the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD some time ago. As was the case in previous tracks the two recorded together, this commentary track is an entertaining and informative treasure trove that fans will cherish for years to come. Carpenter and Russell are noticeably enthusiastic about the film and the ability to talk about it so freely. Many anecdotes, potshots and a wealth of valuable and insightful information are conveyed in this track, making it an invaluable addition to this release that you do not want to miss.

A series of deleted scenes is also part of this release, including an extended ending of the movie. These scenes have appeared on the DVD version before and are typically alternate takes or longer versions of scenes in the film. It is relatively obvious why they were excised from the final film, as they would have slowed down the furious momentum the movie manages to build. While it is great to see these versions, I am sure no one will argue that they were rightfully dropped to the cutting room floor. Interestingly, though, I found the alternate ending quite interesting and could indeed see it in the actual movie.

One of the greatest features on the Blu-Ray version is a 16-minute video interview with special effects director Richard Edlund, culled form the DVD version. The way it is presented is very interesting, as it offers the viewer the chance to determine what he wants to see using multiple-angles. The first video stream contains Edlund's on-camera interview with a small window on the side showing what he is talking about. On the second angle you can see the content of that window in full-screen mode while the interview continues. Edlund covers many of the film's special effects, ranging from the creatures to the many effects used to bring Lo Pan to life.

The vintage 10-minute "Making Of Big Trouble In Little China" featurettes is also part of the disc, although its contents do not go beyond the typical promotional fluff. It contains on-set interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and tries to convey some "glamorous" facts, so to say.

The release also includes the music video in which "The Coup De Villes" – featuring John Carpenter, Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle – perform and star the end-credit song "Big Trouble In Little China."

THe release is rounded out by trailers and a behind-the-scenes gallery. Unfortunately the "Cinefex" and "American Cinematographer" pieces that were part of the DVD release have not found their way onto this disc and are sorely missed, of course.

As I mentioned in my opening, "Big Trouble In Little China" is no doubt one of Carpenter's most under-appreciated films. It was Hollywood's first attempt to pay homage to the Hong Kong martial arts genre – long before "The Matrix" was even conceived – and in a way it does it better than any film I have seen so far – including some of the wackiest paper-maché creatures that could directly spring from an oriental film. Carpenter understands the quintessence of Hong Kong cinema and reproduces these elements in the same fashion. The result are wicked action scenes and hair raising comic moments that could have sprung directly from a Sammo Hung movie. For fans of the film, the verdict is clear – you have to own this Blu-Ray version, even if it means you will have to buy a Blu-Ray player. For everyone else, I can only say, go, get this disc or you will be missing out on one of the most unique and enjoyable action-comedy-movie highlights Hollywood has ever produced, now looking better than ever.