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Big Trouble in Little China was critically panned on its release in 1986. Poorly marketed and overlooked by cinemagoers, the film finally found its place on video and, over the years, has become a ‘cult’ favourite. Believe it or not, way back in 1986 at the tender age of eleven, I was one of those few people who visited the cinema in order to see the film. Quite how I managed to get in at that age is anyone’s guess, but I remember enjoying it immensely. I have somehow managed to avoid seeing the film in its entirety for a great many years, but thankfully Fox’s new special edition DVD affords me the opportunity to re-visit this adolescent favourite.

Big Trouble In Little China: Special Edition
Film
When trucker Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) accompanied his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) to the airport to meet his green-eyed fiancé, Miao Yin, he never expected to get caught up in the supernatural battle between the forces of good and evil! When a Chinese street gang named the Lords of Death kidnap Miao Yin, the trail leads Jack and Wang beneath the streets of Chinatown, where they encounter a two thousand year old sorcerer named Lo Pan (James Hong) and his minions, the Three Storms.

In order to fulfil an ancient prophecy that will make him flesh and blood once more, Lo Pan is seeking a green-eyed girl to take as his bride. To this end, he takes Miao Yin to his underground lair. Jack and Wang team up with ‘fearless’ lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), and local magician Egg Shen (Victor Wong) in order to infiltrate Lo Pan’s domain and rescue Miao Yin.

Probably the best thing about Big Trouble in Little China is Kurt Russell’s portrayal of Jack Burton. Unlike most modern films, our ‘hero’ is an inept buffoon who is often guilty of opening his mouth before engaging his brain. It is Russell’s willingness to act the fool that makes his character so endearing. He plays Jack as a swaggering, cocksure kind of guy, who is in reality completely and totally out of his depth. The real hero of the piece is Dennis Dun’s Wang (if you’ll pardon the expression), and the two characters compliment each other perfectly.

Kim Cattrall is great as Gracie Law, although her acting isn’t quite up to the standard that it is today. Still, that lends her character a certain innocent charm. I also enjoyed the sexual tension between her character and that of Jack Burton, and this tension is used as the catalyst for some of the film’s more amusing moments. However, one character ever so nearly steals the show—Victor Wong’s ‘Egg Shen’. Egg, local magician and authority on Lo Pan, offers up gems of fortune cookie wisdom while leading our heroes deep into the heart of Lo Pan’s empire.

Big Trouble In Little China: Special Edition
Big Trouble in Little China features a lot of guys running around with what appears to be wicker lampshades on their heads, while performing such impossible stunts as flying, riding lightning bolts and blowing up like hot air balloons! It’s this combination of a wacky sense of fun, high-kicking kung fu action and comedic elements that makes Big Trouble in Little China so great. It’s a totally unpretentious movie, not afraid to ridicule itself or the audience’s preconceptions of how an action hero should behave.

The film contains some great martial arts action, and you’ll be witness to several scenes that are very reminiscent of a certain Keanu Reeves movie. Just remember, Big Trouble in Little China did it first! When it comes to energetic, witty action films, you don’t get a lot better than this. Some may criticise the fanciful plot (or apparent lack thereof), but I urge you to see the film before dismissing it. You won’t regret it.

Video
This release of Big Trouble in Little China sports an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer and is the best looking version of the film to date. There are a few nicks and scratches here and there, but on the whole the print is fairly clean. Colours are strong and vivid, especially the bright neon that features heavily in Lo Pan’s lair, while flesh tones are very natural. The image is also nicely detailed, with good contrast and shadow delineation for the most part. Fox are to be commended for delivering yet another fine transfer.

Big Trouble In Little China: Special Edition
Audio
Both Dolby Digital 4.1 and DTS 5.1 surround tracks are included on the disc. However, it must be noted that the DTS track comes from the same source as the Dolby one and is really a 4.1 track posing as 5.1. By this I mean that the mono surround channel of the Dolby track has simply been encoded into the left and right surround channels of the DTS effort.

Both tracks are fairly pleasing, but are found wanting when compared to modern day mixes. The front of the soundstage is fine, with the dialogue firmly rooted in the centre and some nice panning effects in the left and right channels during the action scenes. The rears don’t fair quite as well, offering only limited usage of the surround channels for ambient effects. Bass is also slightly weak on the Dolby track. The DTS on the other hand has slightly more punch than the Dolby equivalent, with more aggressive use of the subwoofer and surround channels. The DTS track also sounds slightly ‘fuller’. Also included are Dolby 2.0 Surround tracks in both English and French.

Extras
Probably the most interesting extra is the audio commentary from John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. I had the pleasure of listening to the pair on the commentary track for Carpenter’s The Thing, and was hoping for a similar tack on this release. I wasn’t disappointed, as this commentary is every bit as good as the aforementioned one. It’s clear that both Carpenter and Russell really enjoyed making the film, and the pair have a great rapport. The banter between them is great, and really helps to make this one of the better commentaries I’ve heard. Be it reminiscing about the other actors, or discussing the on-set antics, there’s hardly a dull moment in this often-amusing track.

Moving on to the second disc we find three theatrical trailers, two English (in both widescreen and pan & scan) and one Spanish (widescreen). Next up we have a series of six 4:3 TV spots, which don’t really sell the film particularly well. All trailers and TV spots are presented in Dolby 2.0.

Big Trouble In Little China: Special Edition
On to the next menu and we come to the bulk of the disc’s supplemental material. Eight deleted scenes are on offer, which are largely just extensions of the scenes in the completed film rather than offering anything new. Presented in widescreen, these scenes are mostly sourced from work-prints or videotape, and as such the quality is often very poor. Some of the scenes offer the choice of watching a series of cuts from the work-print, or the whole scene from the videotapes, which is a nice touch. All scenes feature introductory text that explains exactly what they’re about. One scene features a multi-angle option, in which it is possible to view storyboards for elements that never made it into the completed scene. Finally, the last deleted scene is a compilation of odds and ends from various sources, some of which do not appear in the finished film.  Also included is an extended ending, but this is definitely one occasion when the original ending is far superior. Still, it makes for an interesting bit of viewing.

Next up we have a kitsch music video by the Coupe De Villes featuring, among others, director John Carpenter on bass and vocals! The video is pure 80s cheese at its best/worst, and manages to make this terrible song quite amusing (completely unintentionally of course). The original 1986 promotional featurette runs for a little under eight minutes, and features plenty of on set interviews and behind the scenes footage. This is fine for what it is, but it’s pretty lightweight stuff at the end of the day.
Some standard production notes and some very lightweight cast and crew filmographies finish are included, but probably don’t deserve more than a glance. Two interactive magazine articles from Cinefex and American Cinematographer are also included. Similar to a feature found on the Special Edition DVD of Die Hard (another disc produced by David Prior), the text is accompanied by boxes containing full motion video and images, which can be selected at key moments throughout the articles. These are very interesting if a little hard on the eyes.

A thirteen and a half minute interview with special effects maestro Richard Edlund ( Star Wars) follows. Presented in multiple angles, Edland discusses key special effects and makeup sequences from the film. Angle one shows Edlund with various slides appearing in a small box in the top left of the screen. Angle two shows these slide full screen while Edlund commentates. This section of the disc is rounded off by an extensive still gallery and DVD credits.

Big Trouble In Little China: Special Edition
Overall
Big Trouble in Little China is an excellent, fun-filled movie. The combination of fish-out-of-water hero, martial arts, magic and comedy makes for a highly entertaining ride. It is charming, funny and full of rousing action and adventure. The wait has been worth it, as Big Trouble in Little China comes to DVD in fine style. Highly recommended to all Carpenter fans, and the rest of you could also do a lot worse than to buy this one.


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