Big Trouble in Little China: Limited Edition Steelbook (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Dec 04, 2019
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Big Trouble in Little China: Limited Edition Steelbook (Blu-ray Review)

Director

John Carpenter

Release Date(s)

1986 (December 3, 2019)

Studio(s)

20th Century Fox (Shout!/Scream Factory)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A+

Big Trouble in Little China Steelbook (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

You’d have to be a cynic of immense magnitude not to find entertainment value in Big Trouble in Little China. It may have done poorly upon its theatrical release, but it has since developed a cult following as strong as any other John Carpenter film from the same era.

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), a blow-hard, American truck driver, finds himself accidentally caught up in the middle of a war between underground Chinese gangs in San Francisco. After his truck is stolen, he discovers that the mysterious Chinese overlord Lo Pan (James Hong) is hell-bent on kidnapping two women with dragon green eyes in order to break an ancient curse. One of the women is Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), Jack’s friend Wang’s (Dennis Dun) fiancé, and the other is a beautiful lawyer named Gracie (Kim Cattrall), who vows to bring Lo Pan down. Jack and Wang enlist the help of local sorcerer Egg Shen (Victor Wong) to stop Lo Pan and his supernatural warriors from carrying out their evil plans—but more importantly, to find Jack’s missing truck and get the hell out of Little China.

John Carpenter and Kurt Russell were already old friends by the time Big Trouble in Little China came their way. They had previously made Elvis: The Movie, Escape from New York, and The Thing together, so by the time this project took shape, they were quite comfortable with each other and ready to take on something a little more upbeat. Big Trouble in Little China started life as a western but wound up as a modern day romp with an abundance of kung fu and action set pieces, as well as some impressive special effects, many of which hold up well today.

One of the reasons that the film failed at the box office is that its marketing team attempted to sell it as an action vehicle for Kurt Russell, which goes against the notion of the character. Jack Burton is not your typical hero; he’s a rude, uncultured truck driver who wants nothing more than to get back out on the road, avoiding trouble wherever he finds it. The idea of fighting off gangs of martial artists and stopping mystic beings is not really high on his list of things to do, of which there are little. Regardless, Big Trouble in Little China still managed to find an audience on pay-per-view, cable, and home video, where it flourished as a misunderstood action fantasy film.

Big Trouble in Little China has been previously released twice on Blu-ray, including once by 20th Century Fox, and again later by Arrow Video in the UK. As Shout! Factory has released nearly all of John Carpenter’s catalogue on Blu-ray, it’s only natural that they would eventually do a Collector’s Edition (as well as a Steelbook) release at some point, and they do not disappoint.

The presentation of the film is the same master used for all previous Blu-ray releases dating back to 2009 with 20th Century Fox’s initial Blu-ray. It carries a high encode and the only visible difference is that the Arrow disc seems slightly brighter, but ever so much as to be unimportant. Grain is handled well, spiking during darker shots, but appears natural. Fine detail is excellent, especially on backgrounds and costumes. The color palette is rich with a variety of hues, as well as natural flesh tones. Blacks aren’t as deep as they could be, but contrast and brightness levels are satisfactory. There are also no instances of leftover damage aside from minor speckling.

The audio is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD and English 2.0 Dolby Digital with optional subtitles in English SDH. Oddly, the 2.0 LPCM track from the Arrow Video release hasn’t been included. The 5.1 track offers plenty of surround activity, opening up the rear speakers for score and sound effects, while dialogue is clear and discernable. LFE activity is also frequent. The 2.0 track is a fine alternative, but it might have been better served in lossless quality.

This release also includes a bounty of new and vintage bonus materials:

(DISC ONE: THE FILM)

  • Audio Commentary with Larry Franco, Moderated by Justin Beahm
  • Audio Commentary with Steve Johnson, Moderated by Anthony C. Ferrante
  • Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell
  • Isolated Score in 5.1 DTS-HD
  • Theatrical Trailers (SD – 3 in all – 7:06)
  • TV Spots (SD – 5 in all – 3:09)
  • Vintage Audio Interview with John Carpenter (HD – 5:49)
  • Electronic Press Kit (SD – 27:26)
  • Gag Reel (SD – 2:56)
  • Music Video (SD – 3:28)
  • Deleted Scene: Airport – Workprint (SD – 5:58)
  • Deleted Scene: Airport – Videotape (SD – 7:07)
  • Deleted Scene: The Dragon of the Black Pool – Workprint (SD – 2:47)
  • Deleted Scene: The Dragon of the Black Pool – Videotape (SD – 4:29)
  • Deleted Scene: The White Tiger – Workprint (SD – 2:22)
  • Deleted Scene: The White Tiger – Videotape (SD – 7:15)
  • Deleted Scene: Gracie’s Office (SD – 3:46)
  • Deleted Scene: Thunder’s Tour (SD – 1:41)
  • Deleted Scene: Beneath Chinatown (SD – 2:27)
  • Deleted Scene: Lava Sequence (SD – 3:56)
  • Deleted Scene: Six Demon Bag (SD – 11:56)
  • Extended Ending (SD – 3:17)
  • Photo Gallery: Movie Stills (HD – 80 in all – 6:39)
  • Photo Gallery: Posters, Lobby Cards, and Publicity Photos (HD – 83 in all – 6:53)
  • Photo Gallery: Behind-the-Scenes Photos (HD – 184 in all – 15:10)

(DISC TWO: BONUS FEATURES)

  • You’re the Hero (HD – 14:14)
  • The Soul of Lo Pan (HD – 23:57)
  • Able to Be Myself (HD – 18:29)
  • The Tao of Thunder (HD – 25:47)
  • The Tao of Rain (HD – 28:34)
  • The Hatchet Man Speaks (HD – 6:32)
  • Damn Wiley Prescott and the Horse He Rode In On (HD – 20:31)
  • It Was a Western Ghost Story (HD – 27:50)
  • The Poetry of Motion (HD – 35:01)
  • Into the Mystic Night (HD – 12:35)
  • Since We Were Kids (HD – 28:51)
  • Love and Art (HD – 17:04)
  • Return to Little China (HD – 12:14)
  • Being Jack Burton (HD – 20:57)
  • Carpenter & I (HD – 15:38)
  • Producing Big Trouble (HD – 15:21)
  • Staging Big Trouble (HD – 12:29)
  • Interview with Richard Edlund (SD – 13:25)
  • Vintage Featurette (SD – 7:26)

All of this material is highly comprehensive, particularly the new audio commentaries with Larry Franco and Steve Johnson, as well as the new interviews with actors Dennis Dun, James Hong, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, Al Leong, writers W.D. Richter and Gary Goldman, martial arts choreographer James Lew, The Coupe De Villes member Nick Castle, second unit director/The Coupe De Villes member Tommy Lee Wallace, and movie poster artist Drew Struzan. In addition, almost all of the previous extras from the film’s DVD and Blu-ray releases are carried over as well, including various interviews with John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, director of photography Dean Cundey, producer Larry Franco, and stuntman Jeff Imada. And of course, there’s the vintage audio commentary with Carpenter and Russell that’s still a personal favorite.

Everything is housed within beautiful Limited Edition Steelbook packaging, while the normal Collector’s Edition Blu-ray is also available.

Missing from the original DVD release are a set of production notes, text reprints of American Cinematographer and Cinefex magazine articles, and the Commodore 64 Easter egg. Missing from the previous Blu-ray releases is the pay-per-view ad, while the Arrow release also included a 38-page booklet with an essay on the film by author John Kenneth Muir, a reprint of an article on the film from American Cinematographer by Les Paul Robley, and various stills and posters.

Needless to say, this is the definitive Blu-ray release of Big Trouble in Little China. It may be missing a couple of minor things, but overall, it’s a highly satisfying release.

– Tim Salmons

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