Big Trouble in Little China. Film Review


Director: John Carpenter

Screenplay: W.D. Richter (adapting an original script by Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein)

Starring: Kurt Russell. Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong

Running Time: 99 Mins

Certificate: 15

Format: Blu-Ray

Reviewed by Guy Adams

Remember when you’d turn up to a school lesson at the end of term and the teacher would just shrug and abandon the class to a movie instead? It can’t just have been me. In most cases it was the school’s art department who fell back on the method. Nine times out of ten the movie they showed was BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. I saw it so often during my school days that I’ve never watched it since.

School reunions can be tricky things, we’ve all aged, got fatter and more intolerant. The things you liked about each other now grate. Of course sometimes, you discover new things too, a sudden realisation that throws the past into clarity. For example: I don’t think I ever really twigged that BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA was a comedy. I was probably too busy falling in love with Kim Cattrall, staring at the pulsing green lights and fight sequences that laughed in the face of physics (most memorably two of the cast leaping through the air and having a sword flight as they sail across the room).

As John Carpenter and Kurt Russell discuss both in their entertaining commentary (ported over from the R1 release) and in an extensive set of new interviews exclusive to this version, Russell is not the hero. Blustering, all-American truck driver, Jack Burton is actually the ineffectual sidekick to Dennis Dun’s Wang Chi, a reversal of expectations. Though Jack is kept centre stage he never earns his place there. The studio hated the fact but there’s no questioning it’s a fun and subversive idea and one of the most innovative things about the movie.

It will never be Carpenter’s best film and it certainly doesn’t bear up to close scrutiny. The story is empty and the dialogue alternates between great, pithy jokes and almost unspeakable exposition but, taken as escapist entertainment it’s never less than enjoyable.

The studio’s disappointment with the film Carpenter delivered (‘they wanted Indiana Jones,’ he admits in the interview) led to a lacklustre release campaign, which certainly contributed to the film’s commercial failure. In fairness, many audience members probably wanted, and expected, Indiana Jones too, instead they get a loose, comedic narrative stringing along fight scenes and a lot of wandering about.

It was the home video market that took the movie as the silly romp the filmmakers intended, a hokey burst of fun, beautifully shot (Carpenter’s frequent cinematographer, Dean Cundey is also interviewed on the disc) and it became a solid cult favourite.

Let’s hope they do so again as Arrow’s disc is as flawless a presentation as the film’s ever likely to get (I know, I know, I always say this… but there’s a reason they won The Guardian’s ‘Label of the Year’ accolade in 2013, they’re terribly good at what they do). The movie looks and sound wonderful.

As well as the interviews mentioned above, there are also contributions from producer, Larry Franco; stuntman, Jeff Imada and visual effects producer Richard Edlund. There is also an extended ending, a handful of deleted scenes, an old ‘Making Of’ feature and a music video of Carpenter and his band The Coup De Villes performing the title song. That last is almost unwatchable, despite my liking his synth-centric scores, but fascinating to peek at.