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John Carpenter
Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Donald Li, Carter Wong
Writing Credits:
Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter (adaptation)

Adventure doesn't come any bigger!

Directed by thrill master John Carpenter, this edge-of-your seat adventure stars Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, a tough-talking, wisecracking truck driver whose hum-drum life on the road takes a sudden supernatural tailspin when his best friend's fiancee is kidnapped. Speeding to the rescue, Jack finds himself deep beneath San Francisco's Chinatown, in a murky, creature-filled world ruled by Lo Pan, a 2000-year-old magician who mercilessly presides over an empire of spirits. Dodging demons and facing baffling terrors, Jack battles his way through Lo Pan's dark domain in a full-throttle, action-riddled ride to rescue the girl. Co-starring Kim Cattrall, this effects-filled sci-fi spectacle speeds to an incredible, twist-taking finish.

Box Office:
$25 million.
Opening Weekend
$2.723 million on 1053 screens.
Domestic Gross
$11.100 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Russian DTS 5.1
Thai Stereo
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 100 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 8/4/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter and Actor Kurt Russell
• Isolated Score Track
• Deleted Scenes
• Extended Ending
• Vintage Featurette
• Music Video
• Richard Edlund Interview
• Trailers
• TV Spots
• Gallery


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Big Trouble In Little China [Blu-Ray] (1986)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 19, 2009)

For their fourth collaboration, director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell gave us 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China. In this one, Russell plays truck driver Jack Burton. Chinatown hoodlums kidnap his pal Wang Chi’s (Dennis Dun) girlfriend Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), so Jack gets involved in the quest to rescue her.

This also involves a local attorney named Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall). She helps them work to get back Miao Yin, and Jack goes to buy her out of prostitution. However, before he can do his thing, supernatural beings called the Three Storms abduct her. This leads Jack and his pals down an ever weirder path as they get involved in a crazy world of Chinese magic and spirits, all of which leads toward an evil leader named Lo Pan (James Hong).

I know China boasts a pretty substantial cult audience, and I feel like I should be one of them. I was 19 when the movie hit screens, so I was firmly within its target audience. I saw it back in 1986 and was left unmoved; I don’t think I disliked it, but it left little impression on me.

Including my screening of this Blu-ray Disc, I’ve seen China at least three or four times since 1986, and each viewing ended about the same way: decidedly underwhelmed. Earlier I stated that I was within the flick’s target audience, but maybe that’s not true. Maybe you had to be 9 to 12 years old when you first saw China.

I don’t mean to imply that China is a kid’s movie, but it does seem like the kind of fantasy that works best for a younger audience. If you took in the film at an older age, it various flights of fancy may make less of a positive impression.

That’s certainly the case for me, as I just can’t find much here to entertain me. I love action movies, and I definitely have an affection for movies from the 1980s. Most of us love flicks from our formative years, so I probably enjoy 1980s pictures more than I would had I been born at a different time.

With the exception of China, that is. To be frank, I’ve never been able to develop much fondness for Carpenter’s works. His best – such as Halloween and The Thing - are very good, but I don’t think he’s ever made a legitimately great movie, and the majority of Carpenter’s works are mediocre at best.

Compared to the crap Carpenter made in the 1990s, China looks pretty decent, but I think it’s too anonymous to succeed. As our hero, Russell has surprisingly little to do through much of the film. Carpenter bogs us down in tons of Chinese backstory, so the characters and action tend to get lost along the way.

Carpenter has never been much of a storyteller anyway, as his films often ramble and lack solid pacing. This tendency becomes more pronounced here simply because the basic plot is so simple. China really offers nothing more than a rescue tale; all of the supernatural claptrap is just window-dressing to make things more exotic.

It doesn’t work, partially because the characters are so forgettable. Russell is a likable personality, but for some reason, he tends to emulate other actors in his Carpenter collaborations. His Clint Eastwood impression in Escape from New York was acceptably satisfying, but that movie had more to offer from its characters, story and peripherals. Left to his own devices here, Russell’s John Wayne impersonation goes nowhere. Jack gets buried beneath the other elements and never develops into someone compelling.

Cattrall’s Gracie comes across like a slightly less whiny version of Willie from Temple of Doom, while the others make even less of an impression. Dun’s Wang is an especially blah character. He fills in the “best friend” role in a wholly unsatisfying way, as he’s just a generic buddy without any passion or personality, even when he’s supposed to be more dynamic.

Granted, some of the character issues were intentional. Carpenter and Russell wanted to make Jack the opposite of the usual movie protagonist. Rather than give us someone competent and heroic, Jack is more of a bumbling boob. They wanted to turn the archetype on its head and make the traditional “buddy” the one who does all the heavy lifting.

It doesn’t work, largely because the movie never establishes a solid tone. Wang is such a bland character that he doesn’t fill the hero role well, and Russell has too much natural charisma to take a backseat to him. Sure, the movie’s events make Wang look like the stronger character, but the performances from the respective actors ensure that this thread doesn’t work.

China just never finds a groove. Its creators want it to be a comedy, but it’s not funny enough to work in that way. It’s not smart enough to qualify as a solid parody, and it’s not exciting enough to become a good action film.

As I watch China, I always wait for the good part to come along, but it never does. Every time I see the film, I hope I’ll finally “get it” and enjoy it. With its exotic situations and many action sequences, it seems like something that should offer delightful entertainment.

Never underestimate John Carpenter’s ability to take a good story and make it ordinary. If you want to see how much difference a director can make, compare his Starman to ET the Extra-terrestrial. The latter offers one of the greatest films ever made, while the former provides a pretty inconsistent, often flat drama. I have no doubt that if Carpenter had made ET and Spielberg directed Starman, the latter would’ve been great and the former would’ve been blah.

At no point does Big Trouble in Little China turn into a bad film, but it also never threatens to become anything special. It provides moderate entertainment at best and lacks much in the way of compelling action, story or characters. If you’re not already among its cult fanbase, I doubt you’ll get much from it.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Big Trouble in Little China appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Some of the usual 80s messiness appeared here, but the transfer usually looked good.

Sharpness was usually positive, as most of the movie came across as reasonably distinctive and concise. Wide shots occasionally looked a bit indistinct, but the flick was well defined for the majority of its running time. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement remained absent. Source flaws weren’t a concern. Grain remained within acceptable levels and only a few minor blemishes appeared.

Colors were generally good, as they usually looked reasonably dynamic and lively. However, they occasionally suffered from the vague murkiness that often affected Eighties flicks. Still, they were positive most of the time. Blacks seemed dark and tight, while shadows showed good clarity. The image had its minor ups and downs but was good enough for a “B“.

Though also a product of its era, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Big Trouble in Little China proved even more successful. The flick provided a broad soundfield, especially in the front channels. In fact, the information might’ve been a little too wide, as the elements could seem a bit too “speaker-specific”. Nonetheless, the track opened up well and usually blended in a positive way. The elements appeared in the appropriate spots and created a good sense of environment.

As for surround usage, the back speakers added some zing to the proceedings. We didn’t get a ton of information from the rear channels, but they were active enough to help the track. The action scenes boasted the most noticeable material; quieter sequences didn’t have a lot to do.

While not stellar, audio quality was good. Speech demonstrated nice clarity, and I noticed no edginess or other issues. Music seemed distinctive and fared best. Carpenter’s score showed real vivacity and range; it was the strongest aspect of the mix. Effects appeared accurate and fairly dynamic, though a little distortion occasionally affected elements like gunfire. This was a satisfying soundtrack for its age.

Plenty of extras fill out this set. We open with an audio commentary from director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. They discuss cast, characters and performances, stunts and effects, sets and locations, story and script areas, reshoots and alterations, influences, reactions to the film and its reception.

Prior Carpenter/Russell commentaries have been very good, and this one follows suit. They prove pretty chatty, as only a few minor lulls appear. They get into the movie well and also discuss related subjects from their career. Make no mistake: they can go off-topic at times. However, they don’t go onto useless tangents; instead, they give us details close enough to the subject at hand to make sure we remain interested. Okay, I could live without the discussion of what their kids were up to at the time, but otherwise, this is a very enjoyable piece.

Another audio track provides an isolated score. This presents Carpenter’s music in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 rendition. I’m not a big fan of movie scores, but this is a nice treat for those who enjoy them, especially given the lossless treatment.

Eight Deleted Scenes come from a mix of sources. Most show snippets from a workprint, while a few stem from a long video version of the film. “Lava” shows storyboards. We find “Airport/Chinatown” (5:47 workprint, 6:46 video), “The Dragon of the Black Pool” (2:37, 4:19), “The White Tiger” (2:14, 7:07), “Gracie’s Office” (3:31), “Thunder’s Tour” (1:34), “Beneath Chinatown” (2:16), “Lava Sequence” (1:14) and “Six Demon Bag” (11:48).

That sounds like a ton of cut footage, but in fact, most of the clips show the same sequences from the final film with minor additions. “Bag” consists of a mix of short trims, so it offers the highest percentage of cut footage; the others really just show the final scenes with small alterations. Fans will enjoy the variations, though.

We also locate an Extended Ending. It runs three minutes, five seconds and depicts Jack’s revenge on the punks from the airport. It’s reasonably interesting and might’ve been a good addition to the final film. We also get a short, superfluous coda for Jack that wouldn’t have been as positive.

Next comes a Vintage Featurette. In this seven-minute, 28-second piece, we hear from Carpenter, Russell, visual effects producer Richard Edlund, costume designer April Ferry and actors Dennis Dun, Kim Cattrall, and James Hong. The program throws out a few basics about the production. It stays pretty superficial and promotional, but it includes a smattering of decent notes.

A Music Video for the title song lasts three minutes, 28 seconds. Written by Carpenter and performed by the Coupe de Villes, the video mixes movie clips with some awkward performance footage. Carpenter is the main member of the Coupes, so he plays a prominent role in the video. It’s kind of interesting to see him get his McCartney on with his Hofner bass, but overall it’s a bad tune and a cheesy video.

We get notes from the visual effects producer with a Richard Edlund Interview. It fills 13 minutes, 25 seconds as two angle options appear. One lets you see Edlund accompanied by behind the scenes shots on the left side of the screen, while the other presents the images in a fullscreen manner. It’s nice to get the choice.

Whichever angle you select, you see production photos and hear Edlund as he discusses various effects used on the film. Edlund covers the material well. He goes through the elements in a concise manner and turns this into an effective program.

In the Behind the Scenes Gallery, we find 262 images. These combine movie photos, shots from the set, and publicity elements. Quite a lot of good pictures appear, but the interface frustrates because it presents them all as one big group. That means you have to go through the whole thing to find specific shots. In smaller batches, this would be okay, but the massive number of photos makes this set tough to navigate.

Finally, some ads finish the package. We get three trailers: two US, one Spanish. We also receive six TV Spots.

If you want good fantasy-related action/adventure, stick with Indiana Jones. Big Trouble in Little China aspires to fill the same territory but it never becomes anything memorable. Oddly anonymous, its 100 minutes pass without pain but also without any real excitement or drama. The Blu-ray offers pretty good picture and audio as well as a nice collection of supplements. Fans will be very happy with this fine Blu-ray release, but I can’t recommend the film to neophytes, as it seems likely to disappoint them.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.4651 Stars Number of Votes: 43
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main