All Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) really wants is to get his beloved big rig truck and some money owed him, but when your day starts with a kidnapping and attempted rescue, segues into a martial arts gang war, and then you find yourself up against a 2000 year-old cursed sorcerer and his three magic-slinging bodyguards - well, it just gets complicated.
Big Trouble is a terrifically odd film - by its own press kit's admission, it is an "action-adventure-comedy-kung fu-monster-ghost story". By and large, it's an American version of deliriously fantastic Hong Kong fantasies like Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain and Peacock King. Like many of director John Carpenter's films, this one did only middling business at the box office, but developed a fanatic following on video; small wonder, as Carpenter's ode to these films preceded their explosion onto the American popular scene by years.
To call Big Trouble fast-paced is to engage in understatement. Possessed of an off-kilter wit courtesy of Buckaroo Banzai's W.D. Richter (who updated the original script, which set the events in the Old West), the picture also seems to delight in setting up cliched expectations and then gleefully violating them - the most obvious being star Russell doing all the goofy comic relief bits while supposed sidekick Dennis Dun does all the heroic butt-kicking.
If you're an action fan with a similar sense of humor and a taste for the bizarre, watching Big Trouble in Little China is a lot like coming home after walking through the pouring rain and finding a steaming bowl of hot-and-sour soup waiting for you. I may not wish that real life was like this, but I do wish that more movies were like this, wondrous buffets full of unexpected and exotic delights.
Pretty! The film's print is in great shape, and the colors could be eaten with a spoon. Carpenter always takes great care with his sound design, and this one will exploit the DTS or Dolby capabilities of your system nicely. Even the labels on the discs themselves are drop-dead gorgeous. One odd thing on the subtitles front: They manage to replicate about 95% of the dialogue - no small feat with words flying out of characters' mouths at a Howard Hawks clip - but Egg Shen (Victor Wong)'s rather poetic description of villain Lo Pan (James Hong) as the "Bodhisattva of the underworld" was somehow rendered into "Bloated satyr of the underworld". I spend enough time making fun of English subtitles on HK films - I feel it only fair that I do the same here.
Disc one contains the movie and an audio commentary track by Kurt Russell and John Carpenter. This is my third Russell/Carpenter track, and I'm afraid I have to say this one is a bit disappointing. The two's friendship is still quite obvious, as they constantly crack each other up (and we're talking great belly laughs here, not knowing chuckles), but they just as obviously haven't seen each other in awhile, as the conversation frequently meanders into catch-up territory, and at one point even comparing their children's accomplishments until one says, "Aren't we supposed to be talking about Big Trouble?" The larger part of the track has the two basically interviewing each other as to their philosophies on the various aspects of film production; at least by the time the final battle begins, they manage to get back on track.
Disc Two contains all the other extras, so its laundry list time again: There are three trailers - one in Spanish - and six TV spots. "Deleted Scenes" is something of a misnomer - in order to attain the picture's breakneck speed, lines of dialogue or small character bits were excised from within sequences, rather than cutting whole scenes. Here, you are given the choice of just watching the cut bits, or seeing them in the context of the scenes from which they were cut. "Extended ending", similarly, is an untrimmed version of the film's end (though I'd feel better if they'd excised that damned "shock" ending). "Production Notes" reprints the movie's Press Kit. The writing is a little small, but readable. "Featurette" is one of those disposable puff pieces identified here as a "Video Press Pak".
"Music Video"? Good Lord! It's Carpenter, Nick Castle and Tommy Lee Wallace (as "The Coupe de Villes") singing the theme song - and yes, that's Carpenter doing the basso lead vocal. Don't remember seeing this on MTV....
"Cast and Crew" is filmographies for Carpenter, Russell, Hong, Wong, Dun and Kim Catrall.
Moving on to the third screen of extras.... "Magazine Articles" reprints pieces from "American Cinematographer" and "Cinefex", with photos embedded in the text pages that can be enlarged to full screen. The same small print is used here, and I find myself longing for a larger-screened TV for other than my usual reasons of mere greed. "Interview with Richard Edlund" contains a videotaped interview with the Visual Effects Supervisor, with a small window displaying behind-the-scenes photos of the FX crew at work. Using your "angle" button, it is possible to toggle these photos to full screen.
One you're finished with the interview, press left on your remote to highlight some glowing eyes in the background and you can access an Easter Egg: 20th Century Fox's genre lineup for the Summer of '86: Big Trouble, Aliens and The Fly, with trailers for each. "Stills Gallery" has a huge number of photos to page through, categorized by headings such as "Carpenter", "Locations" "Props and Weapons" "Creatures" and so on.
And don't skip "DVD Production Credits", because it will yield your last surprise: screenshots for the Activision "Big Trouble in Little China" video game for the Commodore 64, which looks pretty painful. That's a lot of material for a pretty low price point. I'm certainly spoiled - how about you?
Dr. Freex, 5/27/2001