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Big Trouble in Little China (1986) – DVD Review

Big Trouble in Little China DVD cover art


Written by: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, and W.D. Richter
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, and Victor Wong


  • Deleted Scenes
  • Making-of featurette
  • Commentary with Kurt Russell and John Carpenter
  • FX featurette with commentary by Robert Edlund
  • Still and advertising gallery, including magazine articles
  • Original trailers and TV spots
  • Music video of John Carpenter’s theme

Released by: 20th Century Fox
Region: 1
Rating: PG-13
Anamorphic: Yep.

My Advice: Own it.

[ad#longpost]For starters, if you’ve never seen this movie, you should find the nearest person who has, and ask them to flog you. We’ll wait here.

Done? Good. Now, those in the know can tell you, this flick is a brilliant action-comedy, and a total send-up of every cheesy Kung-Fu Theatre movie that you ever burned away a Sunday afternoon watching on TV. There will be no attempt at seriousness (or even an expectation of the audience to take the film seriously) anywhere in Big Trouble. Originally trashed by the critics (what decent flick isn’t, at some point or another), the film has truly flourished on video, finding the cult audience that recognized its brilliance and loved every minute of it. Having nearly worn my VHS copy to pieces, I was naturally excited when I heard a two-disc Special Edition was coming on DVD.

The great news is that I don’t think I could ask for a better DVD treatment of this movie. The digital remastering of video and sound just served to illuminate how bad my VHS copy had been worn. The film looks good as new, and if it weren’t for the dated clothing and cheesy Carpenter-penned synthpop/hard rock soundtrack, you might even be fooled into thinking it was a recent release. A great job has been done restoring this flick to pristine shape.

Dennis Dun, Kurt Russell, and Victor Wong from Big Trouble in Little China
Dennis Dun, Kurt Russell, and Victor Wong

The movie itself holds up remarkably well over the years, with little in the way of dated humor or pop-culture references gone sour with age. And, with the recent surge in popularity of wuxia films (or American adaptations thereof), the send-up of kung-fu movies of old actually regains some relevance that might have been lacking in the past decade or so. The performances of all involved are wonderfully entertaining. Russell’s swaggering, loud-mouth Jack Burton spends the entire movie playing the fool and the comic relief to his supposed sidekicks (who do most of the ass-kicking throughout), Dennis Dun is great as the too-earnest Chinese-immigrant-made-good sidekick, Kim Cattrall channels “His Girl Friday” for some really well-paced comedic exchanges with Russell (“I know, I know, there’s a problem with your face”), and both James Hong and the late Victor Wong are brilliant as age-old archnemeses from the motherland.

As for the extras, contained mainly on the second disc, they’re a great extension of the film’s value. The commentary track, featuring Russell and Carpenter, is hilarious. The two rip on each other, on themselves, and on the critics that blasted the movie, now that fans are clamoring for the videos. Listening to these two Hollywood old hands banter and joke about the process of making the film itself, and the processes of filmmaking in general, is awesome, and they’re both so at ease and laid back in the process, it’s like having them sitting behind you at the theatre chatting while the movie goes on. The deleted scenes are pretty good, though in some cases it’s clear why they were cut. Unfortunately, they had to run to some pretty worn-out filmstock to get these scenes, and they look it. If they had waited any longer to put out the DVD, there might not have been enough left to add them in. Carpenter’s music video is a bizarre little time capsule to the Me Decade, if only in the cheese-filled synthesizer riffs, narrow ties, and bad clothes. Funny without being intentionally so, I have to say.

John Carpenter from Big Trouble in Little China

In all, if you’re the kind that wore out your VHS copy (like me), stop and watch every time you run across it channel-surfing, or dig cheesy kung-fu movies, this should be at the top of your list. If you don’t get into any of that stuff, but like a good action-comedy, snag it anyway. If Carpenter, Russell, and wacked-out martial arts leave you cold, then there’s probably very little for you here (but man, are you missing out on a cult classic).

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