Despite being quite the box office failure when it was originally released in theaters, Big Trouble in Little China has become quite the cult icon among fans. While not the most popular of John Carpenter or Kurt Russell’s films, the films quirky setting, highly original story and overall 80s influence (both in looks, style, and sound) make it a timeless treasure for those that grew up with it or those that simply remember renting it from the local video store. While the film has seen various home theater releases over the years (which is where it made it’s real money), this marks the first time it sees a Blu-ray release, complete with the full docket of extras as well as an all-new Isolated Score Track.
Directed by thrill master John Carpenter, this edge-of-your seat adventure stars Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, a tough-talking, wisecracking truck driver whose hum-drum life on the road takes a sudden supernatural tailspin when his best friend’s fiancée is kidnapped. Speeding to the rescue, Jack finds himself deep beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown, in a murky, creature-filled world ruled by Lo Pan, a 2000-year-old magician who mercilessly presides over an empire of spirits. Dodging demons and facing baffling terrors, Jack battles his way through Lo Pan’s dark domain in a full-throttle, action-riddled ride to rescue the girl. Co-starring Kim Cattrall, this effects-filled sci-fi spectacle speeds to an incredible, twist-taking finish.
The only memory of this film that I have is mocking the title (and cover) of it at a local Best Buy when I was out with my brother and neighbor shopping for DVDs. I recall some reply from my neighbor defending the film and ever since then I’ve pondered if he was just full of it or if this really was a movie worth checking out. After all…80s movie with Kurt Russell wasn’t exactly something that enticed me back then, but after seeing The Thing and discovering that John Carpenter was behind this film as well…well, my interest was piqued.
To be honest this whole film feels like a more adult Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, only with a heavier focus on April and Casey characters and…well, no Turtles. The fantasy environments in modern day (well, modern at the time of production) and the constant wise cracking humor just felt familiar to me in that regard. Of course the familiarity should be reversed as this film came before the Turtles blew up and the comparisons are also a bit skewed considering how much more adult this film plays itself – plenty of language, violence and…yes, even a whore house at one point. Of course at PG-13, this is what you’d expect from the MPAA in the 80s: a film that walks the tight rope of what would be considered kosher. Hell you’d have problem putting this much into a PG-13 film nowadays…it’s amazing what flew in the 80s.
Anyway, I digress. So this movie reminds me of another fantasy film and the film has some salty language…is there anything else good about it? Well, the ridiculous and over the top action is definitely a winner and Kurt Russell may portray one of the most likeable heroes I’ve seen on screen since Han Solo. Dashing, daring, egotistical and just a little bit of a wimp (seems to counteract the previously mentioned “daring,” but it all works, trust me), Russell proves here just why he was such a likeable and impressive presence on movie theaters in the 80s. Hell, everyone involved does a solid job, although you’ll be hard pressed to find any of them doing much nowadays.
The film’s definitely got a high cheese factor but even through the synthesized music and sometimes hokey puppet work, the film still managed to entertain me to no end. This, again, because of Russell’s attitude and just the way the characters were handled. Even to this day this is a bit of an unknown film even in the cult realm; people will undoubtedly have heard of it, but I was hard pressed to find anyone to really talk about with this film. There just was never much made of it when it came out and unless you were a VHS hound, you probably didn’t pick up on it until the DVD era releases either. Thankfully all of those goodies for the DVD editions were ported over to the Blu-ray, so you can safely trade up…if you want. In any case, the film itself is Recommended if you like 80s era action films; it fits in nicely alongside something like The Goonies or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, although, again, with a bit more cursing and violence. Still a lot of fun though.
Fox brings Big Trouble in Little China to Blu-ray in a single disc Eco Elite Blu-ray case. No inserts are included and disc art is simple and stylish, as are the menus. Video arrives in the form of an AVC (@28mbps) encoded transfer that pleases for the most part, although it does show its age in more ways than one. It can get muddy and grainy at times and aside from sporting a higher resolution, I’d be inclined to say it’s not much different from the previous DVD release (from what shots of it I could compare online, anyway). It still looks good, don’t get me wrong, but there just isn’t much here that truly impresses with clarity…but, again, this film is pretty old (twenty-three years old, to be exact) so extreme clarity isn’t to be expected and honestly what we do get is pretty nice. But it just doesn’t blow one away as some Blu-ray’s have.
The audio, a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, is similar; it’s got some good LFE output and the occasional surround, but for the most part the sound effects sound as old as they are and the majority of the work is kept in the front channels. Again, not horrible, but not really all that impressive either. Also included is the aforementioned 5.1 DTS Isolated Score Track, which I’m sure fans will love…but not being a big fan of the 80s synthesized soundtracks, I wasn’t too intrigued by it. Nice addition, however.
•Commentary by Director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell
•9 Deleted Scenes (SD)
•Extended Ending (3:05, SD)
•Vintage Featurette (7:28, SD)
•Music Video (3:28, SD)
•Richard Edlund Interview (13:25, SD)
•Trailer A & B
•6 TV Spots (4:43, SD)
•Behind the Scenes Gallery
•Isolated DTS 5.1 Score Track
All extras are in standard definition and none are new (aside from the DTS track as previously mentioned). This makes trading up to the Blu-ray a bit difficult…although the cover art (and logo) is new and replaces the twenty-three-year-old poster and logo used on all previous home video releases, so that’s something too I guess.
Overall a solid release if you don’t already own an extras packed DVD, but if you do…then you could probably skip this one. If you don’t, however, it comes Recommended.
Big Trouble in Little China is now available on Blu-ray.