Big Trouble in Little China (Blu-ray)
Directed by John Carpenter
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 100 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish; 3.0 English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Cantonese, others
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Review Date: August 5, 2009
John Carpenter’s tongue-in-cheek action-adventure film Big Trouble in Little China may be too sly for its own good. With the many clones which were churned out after the worldwide success of Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was clever of Carpenter to do an anti-Indy movie, action-filled but with a somewhat inept, rather hapless leading man. The problem is that the film is often playing with conflicting styles. Some of the actors are playing it straight while others seem hip to the director’s intentions and are slyly winking at the audience. Additionally, some of the special effects are amazing while others are so cheesy you’d swear the movie was being made by Ed Wood. The uneasy mixture of satirical seriousness falls flat almost as often as it lands amusingly. In short, Big Trouble in Little China is never as good as it thinks it is or as good as it could and should have been.
Hearty truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) and his pal Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) watch as Chi’s fiancé (Suzee Pai) and another beauty Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) are abducted at the San Francisco airport by the Lords of Death, one of the notorious street gangs terrorizing Chinatown. Gracie escapes and together with Jack, Wang, Gracie’s reporter friend Margo Litzenberger (Kate Burton), Eddie Lee (Donald Li), and elderly father figure Egg Shen (Victor Wong), the group invades the Wing Kong Exchange, the underground headquarters of the gang which is masterminded by ancient demon lord David Lo Pan (James Hong). Lo Pan must marry a green-eyed girl to be able to restore himself to his mortal state, and our heroes must find him before the wedding can take place.
The screenplay by Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, and W.D. Richter contains lots of confrontations between warring Chinese gangs (with plenty of kung fu action) as well as a series of death-defying sequences as Jack and company face off against Lo Pan’s own powers and the chamber of horrors where he resides. But the perils are never that dangerous, and no one ever seems to be in much danger. Yes, it’s unusual that the top billed star is something of a klutz and a dunce (leaving the safety on when trying to fire his automatic weapon, firing upward and dislodging a piece of plaster which knocks him out, kissing the leading lady and leaving her bright red lipstick smeared across his mouth and teeth) while having his sidekick Wang the real hero of the day with his superlative martial arts background and utter fearlessness. But that dialogue! Kate Burton’s first few speeches sound like Exposition 101 from screenwriting class they’re so awkwardly written (and delivered by the actress who was making her screen debut). And Carpenter’s direction does the poor creature-work no favors showing the rubbery phoniness in all its inglorious majesty.
As one of Carpenter’s male muses, Kurt Russell appears to be having a fine time, but this is perhaps the weakest of his many collaborations with the director. Sly, winking comic bravado is not his forte, and the actor seems self-conscious throughout the film. Kim Cattrall is likewise not very good as the show’s nominal leading lady; she’s much better now playing a sophisticate than she was when this was made. Dennis Dun plays it straight and is the most satisfying of the leading players while James Hong’s one-dimensional evil lord Lo Pan is fun if predictably portrayed.
The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a beautiful looking 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Color is especially rich and deep in this encode with flesh tones wonderfully realistic. Sharpness is usually superior except for a few shots in the early going which seem abruptly soft amid all the rich detail surrounding them. Black levels are also admirably deep with shadow detail to be envied in lesser transfers. The film has been divided into 44 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is surround in name only. Though the stereo separation is wonderfully achieved and there are lots of terrific effects distributed across the front channels (as well as Carpenter’s thumping music score), the rears have been neglected almost completely leading to a very imbalanced surround track.
The audio commentary brings together friends John Carpenter and Kurt Russell in a fun-filled, laugh-filled reminiscence about making the movie. Russell is in stitches through much of the track laughing uproariously as the two talk about what their intentions were for the film and agreeing the tone for the movie was likely ahead of its time.
The user may choose to listen to the music score on an isolated DTS-HD MA 5.1 track.
All of the bonus features are presented in 480i.
There are eight deleted scenes which must be viewed individually. There is no “Play All” button for them.
The extended ending available for viewing involves two additional moments cut from the theatrical release. It runs 3 minutes.
A vintage featurette serves as the EPK for the film, a 7 ½-minute compilation of interviews with the director, the stars, special effects coordinator Richard Edlund, and the costume designer.
John Carpenter and his band contribute a music video for the movie’s title song that runs for 3 ½ minutes.
Special effects coordinator Richard Edlund is interviewed about his work on the movie. The viewer is given the option of having visual stills projected into a small window while he’s talking or having them displayed full screen. His interview lasts 13 ¼ minutes.
There are three theatrical trailers which can be selected for viewing. The two U.S. trailers run 2 ¾ minutes and 1 minute respectively. The Spanish trailer runs 2 ¾ minutes.
There are six TV spots which can be viewed individually or in one 4 ¾-minute bunch.
A gallery of stills from the film and behind-the-scenes may be selected for viewing either automatically or the viewer may step through them more quickly.
3/5 (not an average)
Big Trouble in Little China was perhaps a little bit too ambitious for its time, a satiric, seriocomic adventure film that is entertaining in spite of its imperfections. The Blu-ray video presentation is close to reference quality which fans of the film will no doubt be thrilled to see.