DVD Review: Big Trouble in Little China

“I’m not sayin’ that I’ve been everywhere and I’ve done everything, but I do know it’s a pretty amazing planet we live on here, and a man would have to be some kind of fool to think we’re all alone in this universe!”

You’ve gotta love it.

Jack Burton and the Pork Chop Express have finally hauled ass to DVD with a release that’s sure to shake the pillars of the format, Wang. John Carpenter’s 1986 action-comedy classic Big Trouble in Little China stars Kurt Russell as a very American trucker named Jack Burton who stumbles into malevolent, magical mayhem in San Francisco’s Little China district after agreeing to help his friend Wang (Dennis Dun) rescue his kidnapped fiancĂ©e. This involves losing his truck and asking “Where are we?” a lot.

The all-star cast includes venerable Chinese character actors James Hong as the evil 2,000-year-old magician David Lo Pan and Victor Wong as bus-driving wizard Egg Shen. Kim Cattrall and Suzee Pai star as the green-eyed damsels in distress. Kurt Russell and Dennis Dun share cracker-jack comic chemistry as Jack and Wang battle the film’s numerous and almost always hilarious threats, with Wang doing most of the fighting. Jack just runs around like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, probably because he doesn’t. The movie moves at a fast and fun pace with lots of martial arts action that includes a flying Matrix-style showdown with swords instead of guns. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? More like Big Trouble, Little China!

This two-disc DVD is a 6.9 on the Richter scale. The first disc includes the movie in a sparkling new anamorphic transfer at the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. For a movie made in 1984 on a low budget, the restoration looks fantastic. The sound is just as good. Options include Dolby Digital 4.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, and Dolby 5.1 DTS tracks in English and a 2.0 Surround mix in French. But the real treat on the first disc is the feature-length commentary by John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. Russell admits that he hasn’t seen the movie since 1986, and he and Carpenter obviously had as much fun recording the commentary as they had making the movie, making the commentary at least as entertaining as the movie and well worth the price of admission. The film is split into a mind-boggling 44 chapters, which is pretty amazing for a film that’s only an hour and 40 minutes long.

The second disc is the most massive Big Trouble in Little China archive ever assembled. First up are the two American theatrical trailers and the Spanish theatrical trailer, along with six TV spots. They all spend so much time talking about how “Jack Burton is coming” that you’d think it was another Indiana Jones franchise. At the very least, the trailers capture the spirit of the movie. You can scan through 25 pages of production notes, view a huge photo gallery and read magazine articles about the movie.

An extended ending and eight deleted scenes also appear on the second disc, with the option of viewing them in their rough work-print versions or in a cleaned-up presentation. An 8-minute featurette about the making of the movie includes interviews with the cast and Carpenter. Also included on disc two is a 13-minute presentation by Richard Edlund about the film’s special effects, which can be viewed with the special effects shown full screen or in a small box in the corner of the screen with Edlund explaining things in the foreground.

The funniest (though not intentionally) special feature is the music video for the film’s theme song, performed by Carpenter and his band, The Coupe De Villes. Carpenter always does the musical scores for his films but this time he sings, too, and the results are … pretty much what you’d expect from something associated with Big Trouble in Little China. The usual cast and crew biographies round out the supplements. If that’s too many features for you, just watch what you want and leave the rest, like a salad bar.

It’s hard to find an action movie that’s more fun to watch than this one. But does the DVD pay its dues, Jack? Yes, sir. The check’s in the mail. So take my advice on a dark and stormy night, when the lightning’s crashing and the thunder’s rolling and the rain’s coming down in sheets. Buy Big Trouble in Little China on DVD and prepare to have a wonderful time with one of the most entertaining movies ever made. I’d put my destiny in this DVD’s capable hands any day.