Tuesday 10 December 2013

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

John Carpenter’s big budget knockabout chop-socky fantasy is about to get the  extra posh treatment from Arrow in the form of a steelbook Blu-ray release, as well as a standard package for those less keen to fork out extra for the metal. It’s a film that didn’t do very well on its initial release, which is a shame as it’s a lot of fun and it's certainly deserving of some love and attention.
Truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) delivers a shipment to the Chinatown district of San Francisco, beats his friend Wang (Dennis Dun) at cards and agrees to give him a lift to the airport to pick up his green-eyed fiancée. What Jack doesn’t know is that the girl is wanted by evil 2000-year-old wizard David Lo Pan (James Hong on deliciously daft evil form) to free him from a curse he was placed under all those years ago. The girl gets kidnapped and Jack and Wang, together with reporter Gracie (Kim Cattrall channelling goodness knows how many spunky 1940s heroines) have to break into Lo-Pan’s domain to get her back. Of course they don’t count on the whole host of supernatural oriental entities that are going to try to stop them.
Coming at the end of a run of higher budgeted studio pictures (he made 1984s STARMAN prior to this) BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA proved to be such an unpleasant experience that John Carpenter went back to his low budget roots after this with the gets-better-every-time-you-watch-it PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Thankfully all the problems came after the production rather than during it, and the film itself is a piece of riotous entertainment. Kurt Russell’s Jack is not so much an everyman character as a uselessman character, completely unlike the usual Hollywood hero. Apparently that didn’t sit well with Hollywood executives and was one of the many reasons the picture was buried. That’s a huge shame because Russell’s performance is spot on as he gives us the incompetently funny side of macho. All the actors get into the spirit of the piece, with special mention going to Dennis Dun who has the job of holding everything together and keeping the plot going.
Carpenter's direction is bright and colourful and stylish as befits the material, and as ever he makes excellent use of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. W D Richter’s script ‘adaptation’ effortlessly revises the original screenplay’s Western setting to somewhere altogether different, and the dayglo colours and well edited action sequences make BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA feel much like a bigger, crazier version of Walter Hill’s STREETS OF FIRE, but with Carpenter synthesisers rather than Jim Steinman songs.
Arrow’s Blu-ray is a lovely transfer and is packed with extras, including a commentary track from John Carpenter & Kurt Russell ported over from the previous DVD release, and a brand new set of interviews with Carpenter, Russell, cinematographer Dean Cundey, producer Larry Franco and stuntman Jeff Imada. There’s also a vintage making-of featurette, extended ending, deleted scenes, a music video featuring Carpenter's band the Coup de Villes, trailers, TV spots, new poster artwork and a booklet. All round this is an absolutely excellent presentation of a neglected gem, and well worth picking up in Arrow's new Blu-ray version.

Arrow are releasing John Carpenter's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA on Blu-ray in steelbook and standard editions on 16th December 2013

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