BBFC Classification: 15
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Donald Li, Suzee Pai
Despite being a commercial failure at the time, John Carpenter’s 1986 film Big Trouble in Little China endured and became something of a cult hit on the home video market. Twentieth Century Fox wanted Carpenter to deliver them an action adventure film in the style of the Indiana Jones movies and instead he delivered a genre-mashing comedy that was way ahead of its time by, ironically, harking back to the martial arts films of the 1970s.
Jack Burton (Kurt Russell – The Thing/Tango & Cash) is an all-American truck driver who accidentally becomes embroiled in a war between ancient Chinese societies when he tries to help out his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun – Prince of Darkness) by giving him a lift to the airport to meet his fiancee Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). Miao Yin is kidnapped by ancient sorcerer Lo Pan (James Hong – The Vineyard) who wants the green-eyed Chinese girl as his bride so he can break a curse placed on him and become human again, so the scene is set for Burton, Wang and intrepid lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall – Porky’s/Sex & The City) to go to battle against Lo Pan and The Lords of Death in the San Francisco underground.
What separates Big Trouble in Little China from other action/fantasy films of the era – apart from the kung-fu fantasy element, the ghostly mythology and the cartoonish sense of fun – is the fact that Jack Burton is not the archetypal hero in the same way as, say, Rambo or Arnie’s John Matrix from Commando. He spends most of the climactic battle unconscious after a stupid act of bravado and it is Wang who really takes up the mantle of the hero, with any of Burton’s actions only being heroic by accident.
But despite his almost sidekick status, Burton still comes good and Kurt Russell’s easy charm and everyman charisma is as compelling as the amazing martial arts on display. Equally as excellent is James Hong as Lo Pan, whose comic timing is as razor sharp as his talon-like finger nails, and Dennis Dun as Wang, the real hero of the piece. Kim Cattrall has the right kind of energy for the film but her line delivery sometimes feels a little too much likes she’s trying too hard.
The digital transfer was overseen by Twentieth Century Fox and is nothing short of superb, the images crystal clear and the rich 80s colours – particularly during the ‘peasant magic’ scene – as striking as if it were being produced today. The disc also comes loaded with some cool extras, including an audio commentary from John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, interviews with Carpenter, Russell, cinematographer Dean Cundey, producer Larry Franco, stuntman Jeff Imada and effects producer Richard Edlund, deleted scenes, a (probably unintentionally) hilarious music video featuring John Carpenter and some of his friends acting very 80s and looking very 70s, trailers, newly commissioned artwork and collector’s booklet.
Looking better than it did back in 1986, Big Trouble in Little China is probably the weirdest film in John Carpenter’s back catalogue but is also one of the most, if not the most, enjoyable purely on an entertainment level. Prior knowledge of obscure Chinese kung-fu films may be an advantage but not essential, and seeing how action/fantasy films came back in favour in the decade after this was released, it would appear that more people were taking note than the box office receipts at the time would indicate.
Special Features: Audio commentary with director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell, Return to Little China interview with John Carpenter, Being Jack Burton interview with Kurt Russell, Carpenter and I interview with cinematographer Dean Cundey, Producing Big Trouble interview with producer Larry Franco, Staging Little Trouble interview with stuntman Jeff Imada, interview with visual effects producer Richard Edlund, vintage ‘Making of’ featurette featuring cast and crew, extended ending, deleted scenes, music video, gallery of behind-the-scenes images, three original trailers, TV Spots, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author John Kenneth Muir, a re-print of an article on the effects of the film from American Cinematographer and illustrated with archive stills and posters.
UK Release Date: 16th December 2013