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Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/4/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/14/2009

When you see an interview with John Carpenter or listen to one of his audio commentaries, he comes across as a very laid-back person. But, he's got to be frustrated. Why? First of all, he hasn't had a hit in years. Following his breakout success with Halloween, Carpenter's box-office returns have dwindled and his last theatrical release, Ghosts of Mars, barely cracked the Top 10. Secondly, many of those movies which failed to make any money upon their initial release are now hailed as classics. In short. Carpenter has often been ahead of his time. Be it the bleakness of The Thing or the dream sequences in Prince of Darkness, Carpenter's work often takes a few years to be fully appreciated. But, perhaps none of his work predicted future trends like Big Trouble in Little China, which has just gotten the Blu-ray treatment.

Kurt Russell stars in Big Trouble in Little China as Jack Burton (Who?), a loud-mouthed truck driver who has just pulled his big-rig into Chinatwon in San Francisco. After a night of gambling, he accompanies his old friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) to the airport, where Wang will be picking up his girlfriend, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). There, Jack meets local lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), who is aiding an immigrant. Suddenly, a street gang, The Lords of Death, storm the crowd and take Miao Yin. Jack and Wang follow them back to Chinatown, where the two suddenly find themselves in the middle of a turf war. They regroup at Wang's restaurant, where, aided by Gracie, they formulate a plan to rescue Miao Yin. However, Jack and Gracie will soon learn that Chinese black magic is real, and that ghosts and monsters live beneath the streets of Chinatown.

With the influx of Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies to the U.S. and the kind of wire-works shenanigans seen in films like
The Matrix, we've gotten very accustomed to an Asian influence in modern movies. (Not to mention all of the Asian horror films that we've seen in this decade.) However, back in 1986, this wasn't the case. Sure, there were fans of "chop-socky" fims, but most of them got their fix by watching old Shaw Bros. movies on late-night TV or at revival houses. Big Trouble in Little China fully embraces the wild theatrics and acrobatics of Asian cinema and mixes it with an American bravado. Apparently, audiences weren't ready for that odd combination at the time.

But, boy did they miss out. From start to finish, Big Trouble in Little China is a blast. Carpenter's work had shown some humor in the past, but it was often dark (which is understandable, given his usual subject matter). However, Big Trouble in Little China has a bouncy spirit of fun which tells the audience that despite the fact that there will be violence and monsters, they are in for a good time. It would probably be a stretch to say that this movie has everything, but it is a great blend of action, thrills, romance, and humor. In fact, many seeing the movie for the first time may be surprised at the level of comedy in the film. The film has some great, quotable lines ("Hollow? F*&k it.") and the thing with the lipstick at the end is classic. Also, you've got to love a movie where the "hero" is unable to participate in the two big fight scenes.

Big Trouble in Little China is one of those films which has really benefited from home video and it's become a cult film following its initial disappointing run. Watching it today, it's hard to imagine why audiences didn't embrace it at the time. We've become so accustomed to the Asian influence, that this movie seems almost normal. But, that shouldn't imply that it's run-of-the-mill. The movie is still a great ride and is the perfect party movie. It's even better than a six-demon bag!

Big Trouble in Little China looks for a girl with green eyes on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only slight grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, most notably reds, greens, and golds. The image is never too dark or bright. The level of detail is OK, but not up to par with more modern films. Overall, an improvement over DVD. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are notably good, and the left and right channels remain quite active throughout the film. The subwoofer effects are good as well, as the explosions trigger impressive bass. Surround sound is certainly present, but it's somewhat weak.

The Big Trouble in Little China Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. Anytime that these two get together it's fun, and this is no exception.  While not as good as the commentary from Escape from New York, this is a good talk and we get a very vivid picture of the film's production.  You can choose to hear the music only on an isolated DTS-HD track. The Disc contains eight DELETED SCENES which were taken from various film and video sources. "Extended Ending" (3 minutes) shows Jack taking care of the Lords of Death. "Vintage Featurette" (7 minutes) is an old EPK from 1986 which contains lots of clips, comments from Russell and Carpenter and some on-set footage. We get a MUSIC VIDEO for the title track...which is just embarrassing. In the "Richard Edlund Interview" (13 minutes), the effects wizard discusses the work on the movie. The viewer can choose to look at Edlund during the talk, or watch stills from the movie. The Disc offers three TRAILERS for the film, six TV SPOTS, and a "Behind-the-Scenes Gallery" of stills.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long