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BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong
Director: John Carpenter
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 100 Minutes
Release Date: August 4, 2009

“You know what old Jack Burton says at a time like this?”

“Who?”

“JACK BURTON! ME! Old Jack always says…what the hell?”

Film ***1/2

Sometimes, if you don’t find yourself willing to suspend any disbelief then you’ve missed the point of the entertainment value. No other movie is better proof of this fact than John Carpenter’s totally over-the-top and out of the ordinary Big Trouble in Little China. Only a movie like this could’ve been a product of the 1980s, because in the time since its release there simply hasn’t been anything quite like it.

It’s not every day that a movie comes along which includes kung fu, science fiction, comedy, monsters, and pure out-there fantasy all wrapped into one movie, but Carpenter managed to pull it off with a movie which didn’t find its audience in its theatrical release, but has since then gone on to become an instant cult classic, like many Carpenter flicks. It also happens to feature some truly mind-blowing fighting sequences that may have just paved the way for sequences in The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The movie also marked the fourth collaboration between Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell, who for my money gives one of his most memorable performances as truck driver Jack Burton, who could also be classified as a John Wayne wannabe. What I really appreciate about this over the top performance is the fact that Russell and Carpenter both agreed to create a character with heroic appeal, but who wasn’t exactly a hundred percent on the brain.

The plot of the movie involves Jack and his friend Wang (Dennis Dun) pursuing the ladder’s potential wife, who is abducted at the airport where they attempt to meet her. The duo’s pursuit soon leads them into a dark, seedy side of San Francisco Chinatown, which is flooded with ninjas dressed up in ancient attire, and ruled by powerful kung fu lords who seem to possess some sort of mystical power within them. Jack and Wang, being the super tough guys that they are, don’t plan on backing down without a serious fight to the finish.

I somewhat doubt we will ever get another Jack Burton. That’s because Burton is a complete buffoon, and heroes tend to want to be written with pure courage and strength for the actors. Russell ad-libbed a lot of his dialogue, throwing in the hysterical John Wayne sound to his dialect. To me, a hero as silly and incompetent as Burton is a warm welcome, especially for a movie that’s pleasantly and knowingly absurd as this one.

The fight scenes are nothing short of astonishing. In a fantasy movie like this in which anything goes, anything and everything is done in the execution of the action scenes. In the last battle scene, for example, a stunt is performed where two men leap simultaneously, with ninja swords in their hands, dueling to the death while in the air. Call it over the top, but it’s a glorious shot and a winning moment.

Call it cornball, call it cheesy, or call it exciting, go for broke excitement, which is the exact label I give Big Trouble in Little China. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell have proven to be team that can be counted on, and this movie is vital proof.

Video ***1/2

Looking back at the DVD release of the movie, I was probably being way too kind to the picture quality. I only point this out because, while my rating here is lower than it was last time, the quality of this Fox Blu-ray is much better and offers the best presentation I’ve ever seen this movie in. Despite bits of grain in some shots (it’s an 80s movie, so it’s expected), the 1080p does deliver a great amount of detail to Carpenter’s lavish production. And the visual effects, as dated as they might be, happen to look quite awesome as well!

Audio ****

Carpenter’s films are getting excellent Blu-ray upgrades in the sound field, as demonstrated with The Thing, and this one also sounds bigger and badder than ever. The DTS HD mix kicks every possible sound element into super high gear. From the many action sequences to the accompanying sound of the many effects sequences to the trademark synthesized music score by Carpenter himself. The climactic action battle, in particular, sounds nothing short of phenomenal. Fantastic job!

Features ***1/2

For awhile, Fox had discontinued the original 2-Disc Special Edition release, and all that was available was a single disc edition that barely had any of the extras on the previous release. However, the Blu-ray has brought all of the extras back. We get the wonderful commentary by John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, which is filled many humorous moments much like the commentary the two did for The Thing. My favorite moment is when Carpenter says to Russell, “This is one of my favorite performances from you, of course my favorite of those is still Captain Ron”, which garners a huge laugh from Russell. Also featured are a gallery of trailers and TV spots, including of all things a pay-per-view advertisement, a behind the scenes featurette, a deleted scenes compilation, an extended ending sequence, an interview with effects creator Richard Edlund, several archived magazine articles chronicling the initial release of the movie, and a music video for the title song by The Coupe De Villes, which from the looks of it has John Carpenter on lead vocals trying to sound a lot like Elvis; quite interesting to look at.

Summary:

One cannot be a true fan of John Carpenter and not love Big Trouble in Little China. It remains a classic in the realm of big bang-for-your-buck action fantasy extravaganzas. And I’m happy to announce that the Blu-ray upgrade is totally worth your dollar, whether you own the DVD or not!

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