Big Trouble in Little China, 1986.
Directed by John Carpenter.
Starring Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, and Kate Burton.
If you’re a Big Trouble in Little China fan, you’ll want to run, not walk, to a store, online or otherwise, and snap up this jam-packed two-disc Collector’s Edition from Shout! Factory. They included not only over four hours of new bonus materials and two new commentary tracks but also ported over a commentary track and 97 minutes of previously available content, including some material previously found only in the UK.
“It’s all in the wrist.” Big Trouble in Little China is one of those movies that could be compared with bands like Big Star: they didn’t sell a lot of records, but it’s said that everyone who bought one started a band. This movie was a box office dud, but it found a new life as a cult classic on home video, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that everyone who saw it was inspired to be involved in the film industry in some way. (Like this movie, take this paragraph as a big dose of a hyperbole.)
Director John Carpenter followed up his hit Starman with a film that, like its spiritual cousin Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, manages to both parody and pay homage to the films of the 80s. (Buckaroo director W.D. Richter had a hand in Big Trouble’s screenplay.) Jack Russell stars as truck driver Jack Burton, who finds himself caught between warring Chinese gangs in San Francisco when all he wants to do is get back out on the road.
On its surface, the story is a basic damsel in distress tale, with Jack and his new, um, lady friend Gracie (Kim Cattrall) trying to rescue his friend’s girlfriend, Miao Yin, from the sorcerer Lo Pan. Said girlfriend is part of Lo Pan’s plan to break a curse that was placed on him 2,000 years ago – he needs to sacrifice her, however. The quest to rescue Miao Yin takes Jack and his crew through the Chinatown underground, with the story mixing karate, horror, and the supernatural while walking a fine line between taking itself seriously and not taking itself too seriously.
In the end, Big Trouble in Little China is one of those “Go along for the ride and just have fun” kind of films. Those who don’t enjoy it often fault it for is mish-mash of various genre elements while those who love it typically cite that as the reason why. If you haven’t experienced it yet, maybe you should try it out as a rental, or on a streaming service, before taking the home video plunge.
However, if you’re a big fan of the film, you’ll want this new Blu-ray edition from Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory label. It’s a double-disc set packed with a lot of new bonus features as well as a copious amount of archival material. Given how Shout! tends to treat John Carpenter movies, that’s not a surprise.
Disc one leads off with three commentary tracks. The first one, featuring Carpenter and Russell, was ported over from previous editions, but it’s definitely worth a listen. While commentaries with more than one person can devolve into random banter and lots of “Oh, yeah, I remember filming that scene” comments, this one is basically a rollicking conversation between two long-time friends who loved making this movie and really enjoy talking about it.
The other commentaries are new. The first one is moderated by Justin Beahm and features producer Larry Franco talking about his career and his time spent working with Carpenter. The other one, moderated by filmmaker Anthony C. Ferrante, features visual effects artist Steve Johnson also covering his career and his relationship with Carpenter. I like the moderation approach, since it helps keep the discussion moving, but I wonder why they didn’t combine both of these into one track.
The first platter is also packed with 11 deleted and extended scenes, an extended ending, trailers, TV spots, and galleries of movie stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and posters, lobby cards, and publicity photos. In addition, there are three items that are making their Blu-ray premiere: a gag reel, a 27-minute electronic press kit (EPK) with archival interviews (including, unsurprisingly, Cattrall’s only interview in this edition), and a nearly six-minute archival audio interview with Carpenter. The EPK is one of those old school promotional things that studios used to create and send to movie theaters to get them excited to book their films.
Disc two is where you’ll find the meat of the bonus stuff, starting with the new materials:
- You’re the Hero (14 minutes): Actor Dennis Dun talks about playing Jack Burton’s friend Wang Chi as well as how he ended up in the film and what he thinks of its legacy.
- The Soul of Lo Pan (24 minutes): James Hong looks back on his role as the main villain, as well as his life from his childhood to being cast in the movie.
- Able to Be Myself (18 minutes): Actor Donald Li, who plays Wang’s friend Eddie Lee, discusses the movie as well as how Robert DeNiro’s Taxi Driver performance influenced his career.
- The Tao of Thunder (26 minutes): Actor Carter Wong, who played one of three warriors with weather-themed powers, looks back on his career as well as his practice of martial arts.
- The Tao of Rain (28 minutes): One of the other weather warriors was played by Peter Kwong, who brought a dance background to his role. He talks about that and more.
- The Hatchet Man Speaks (6.5 minutes): Al Leong, who played one of the Wing Kong gang’s hatchet men, discusses his martial arts background and his role in the film. If he looks familiar, that’s because he also showed up in Carpenter’s They Live, and he played Genghis Khan in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
- Damn Wiley Prescott and the Horse He Rode in On (20.5 minutes): Screenwriter W.D. Richter discusses how he took the original screenplay, which was a western set in the 1880s, and turned it into the movie that was made.
- It Was a Western Ghost Story (28 minutes): Screenwriter Gary Goldman, who co-wrote that original western script, talks about how it came into existence and how it differs from Richter’s rewrite.
- The Poetry of Motion (35 minutes): Martial arts choreographer James Lew gets a nice big chunk of time to talk about his early days, when Bruce Lee was a major influence on him, how he got involved in Big Trouble, and what he’s done since then, which includes winning an Emmy for his work on the Marvel series Luke Cage.
- Into the Mystic Night (12.5 minutes): Carpenter has said that he wanted to avoid stereotypes with the film’s soundtrack, so he, Nick Castle, and Tommy Lee Wallace recorded a synth-driven rock mix under the name The Coup De Villes. Castle appears here to talk about that.
- Since We Were Kids (29 minutes): Wallace shows up in this interview to talk about not only his work with The Coup De Villes but also his job as second unit director on the film.
- Love and Art (17 minutes): Film poster artists rarely get their own interviews, but Drew Struzan is one of the best in the business, so he certainly deserves some time to shine here. He covers his personal life, which had a rough start, as well as how he became one of the most prominent movie poster artists in history.
Whew. If Shout! had stopped there, I’d say they’d released an excellent Collector’s Edition, but they also ported over the following bonus materials that appeared in earlier home video editions. This first batch was on the Arrow Video release in the UK, so they’re new to American fans.
- Return to Little China (12 minutes): Carpenter looks back on the making of the movie.
- Being Jack Burton (21 minutes): Russell talks about his career from its early days through Big Trouble and, in his characteristic style, is very honest with how he feels about the making of the film. I’ll admit I was surprised to hear that he’s not a fan of Struzan’s art.
- Carpenter and I (15.5 minutes): Director of photography Dean Cundey discusses his many collaborations with Carpenter and gives his thoughts on the movie.
- Producing Big Trouble (15 minutes): Producer Larry Franco talks about Big Trouble. This interview has more repeat material from the commentary than Carpenter and Russell had from their track.
- Staging Big Trouble (12.5 minutes): This is an interview with stuntman Jeff Imada about the many stunts in the film.
These last two items were previously found on the Arrow and Fox releases:
- Interview With Special Effects Artist Richard Edlund (13.5 minutes): Edlund cut his teeth with ILM on the original Star Wars movies and later set up his own effects company that worked on Big Trouble as well as Ghostbusters, Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October, and many other movies. As he talks about his work on this film, a window on the screen shows behind-the-scenes images of the effects in question.
- Vintage Featurette (7.5 minutes): This is another of those old EPK pieces.
And now we’ve come to the end of everything found on this packed-to-the-gills two-disc set. I don’t know what more you could ask for.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★★