Sunday, 12 January 2014

Blu-ray Review: Big Trouble In Little China

Big Trouble In Little China was shot during the Autumn of 1985, released the following year and turned out to be a box office flop. Originally conceived as a western, Big Trouble eventually emerged as a high octane Martial Arts themed ride, with a satisfying dollop of Chinese supernatural lore thrown into the mix. The studio really wanted their own version of Indiana Jones. Instead, they got John Carpenter's most entertaining film, with more bang for your buck than the aforementioned hero and his quartet of films.
Big Trouble takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown district as Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) sees his 'Pork Chop Express' truck go missing and becomes embroiled in the darkest kind of Chinese magic.
The beautiful Miayo Yin (Suzee Pai) arrives at the airport to meet her intended - Wong Chi, played by Dennis Dun - who has just lost yet another game of chance to the streetwise Burton. The green-eyed Maiyo is snatched by Chinese street punks before she can even embrace her beloved, and eventually ends up in the underground lair of David Lo Pan (James Hong)who needs to marry a green-eyed girl in order to break an ancient curse and become permanent flesh and blood once again.
Aided by tour operator Egg Shen(Victor Wong), lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) and assorted Martial Arts experts, Burton and Wong venture into a shadowy world of Chinese black magic, aiming to rescue Maiyo and claim back the 'Pork Chop Express'.

John Carpenter had always longed to do a film with a strong Martial Arts theme, and Big Trouble marks a wholly successful entry into this field, making the most of an energetic cast who clearly relish their excursion into Chinese mythology. Burton's wisecracking rough and ready hero really hits all the right notes, while Pai, Cattrall and Kate Burton's newshound on the trail make for an appealing trio of green-eyed ladies who enjoy the frantic efforts of the men around them. The combat scenes are beautifully choreographed and staged, benefiting from sumptuous stage sets that combine to make Big Trouble so visually splendid and damnably entertaining from the word go.
Of course, various influences take root here; my own favourite being a nod to the underwater sequence in Dario Argento's Inferno which can be seen around the 39th minute mark.

So, why did Big Trouble fail at the box office? One possible reason is that it was released just 16 days before James Cameron's Aliens when expectation was at fever pitch for this follow-up to Ridley Sctott's original. Happily, Big Trouble has taken off on home video through various formats to become a cult classic, and I welcome its UK Blu-ray release from Arrow Video.

Arrow's Blu-ray exhibits excellent colour reproduction, with the sets and costumes looking splendid, while detail is very strong. Fans of this film should be delighted with this presentation and will doubtless enjoy the bounty of supplementary material, which begins with around 80 minutes of interviews. Here, Carpenter, Russell, Dean Cundey, producer Larry Franco, actor and choreographer Jeff Imada and visual effects producer Richard Edlund. JC kicks things off with an informative chat, recalling his love of Martial Arts movies and the unhappy experiences with Big Trouble that prompted him to turn his back on the studio system. Kurt Russell's contribution reveals the special bond he has with his director and recalls his casting of the lead role in 'Elvis' and some hilarious anecdotes drawn from the filming of Big Trouble. Cundey, Imada,Franco and Edlund chat about life on the other side of the camera, including the lowdown on set design, choreographing fight scenes, FX and design, Carpenter's breakthrough with Halloween and how and why the plug was pulled on Carpenter directing Firestarter.

Next up are eight deleted scenes, with some available on transfers of Betamax worktapes, while others are presented as workprint or videotape, allowing the viewer to check out one or both. Highlights include a rare moment of dialogue from Miayo Yin; some priceless Burton wisecracks and some background info on Grace Law.There's also an extended ending to enjoy, with Burton taking care of one last piece of business.

A 7 minute vintage featurette follows, with Russell, Carpenter, Dennis Dun, Cattrall, James Hong and costume designer April Ferry talking about the making of Big Trouble, while music videos, trailers and a valuable isolated score round off the package. There's also a rollicking commentary track with Carpenter and Russell who recall the fun, frustrations and satisfaction they experienced with this film., and when Carpenter talks about the importance of casting the right people, you just know that with Big Trouble he got everything right.

Big Trouble In Little China is a Region B release, coming as a standard case or a gorgeous steelbook and is out now.

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