Big Trouble in Little China [Collector’s Edition] – Blu-ray Review
Film Title: Big Trouble in Little China
Release Date: 1986
Runtime: 100 minutes
Region Coding: Region A
Distributor: Scream Factory (Shout! Factory)
Audio Formats: DTS- HD MA 5.1 & DD 2.0
Aspect Ratio(s): 2.35:1
Version Reviewed: 2019 Blu-ray Disc
Blu-ray Release Date: 12/3/19
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, Kim Cattrall, James Hong, Victor Wong, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Suzee Pai, Kate Burton
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Full Blu-ray Tech Specs at bottom
“Big Trouble in Little China” was a 1986 film that took elements of action/martial arts and mixed it with witty humor (comedy) and science fiction directed by John Carpenter. Carpenter is best known for directing other films such as Halloween (1978), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), Starman (1984), Prince of Darkness (1987), and They Live (1988) – to just name a few classics, namely the in horror and science fiction genres.
The original screenplay here was co-written by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein. They had at first wrote it in the 1880s time period and then it was later adapted to modern time (a 1980s time period). The studio (Fox) and the two screenwriters had some differences over their vision for the film and some changes were made, to say the least.
Speaking of that, the adaptation (technically a rewrite of sorts of the original screenplay) was written by W.D. Richter. Richter is best known for writing the screenplay adaptation to the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) as well as for co-writing the screenplay and story for Brubaker (1980), and finally for directing & producing the cult-classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). There was some controversy over the two original screenwriters at first not getting credited but that was all eventually settled and they were given credit.
The story here has a protagonist typical American truck driver named Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) who thinks he’s a whole lot smarter than he really is. The type of guy who thinks he’s the hero and or is offering up advice when he’s really just blabbing off at the mouth. Well, ‘ole Jack Burton will tell you how things are first as well as whoever else is listening. After that, he makes his stop in little Chinatown, and that’s half of the film’s title somewhat explained. My check is in the mail!
So, once he’s delivered his load in Chinatown Jack gets into a binge of drinking and gambling along with his friend, a local restaurant owner, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun). Hours or so later and after things are all over, Jack lets Wang know that he owes him for his losses. He tells Jack he can get him the money but he first has an immediate appointment to get to, so Jack tags along to make sure he gets his money from his friend. That’s where things take a bit of their first turn.
Before he [Wang] can get Jack the money he owes him [from gambling] the two go to the San Francisco airport to meet a girl that Wang plans to marry that he knew from China, with green eyes – something rare with Chinese girls. While standing around the airport Jack meets a female that catches his attention, waiting with Wang. The woman is a lawyer, appropriately named Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), and she’s there expecting a girl from China as well but for a totally different reason. Regardless of wanting any involvement with Jack or his friend, their paths have crossed and things are set to go wrong. To avoid dishing out any “spoilers” here let’s just say some “big trouble” happens later back in little Chinatown.
During the action-filled latter bits, you’ll get to see some martial arts showcased here as well as some great performances from James Hong as the film’s villain (Lo Pan), Victor Wong (as Egg Shen), Donald Li (as Eddie Lee), as well as Thunder (Carter Wong), Rain (Peter Kwong), and Lightning (James Pax). Big Trouble in Little China is a fun film and is not to be taken too seriously and is best enjoyed by those with a sense of humor.
Movie Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
“Big Trouble in Little China” is presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, just as it was shown during its 1986 theatrical run. The movie was shot on 35mm film using Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses, according to IMDb. This did not receive a new video transfer and it appears to be using the same found on the original 2009 Blu-ray release (from Fox). Let’s have ourselves a look closely as some frame-for-frame identical comparison screenshots from both the original 2009 and the new 2019 Blu-ray and see if this got any different transfer, shall we?
2009 vs 2019 Blu-ray Screenshot Comparisons:
SOURCES: 2009 Blu-ray (left), 2019 Blu-ray (right)
That’s a bit much to take in but choose a few shots and look closely for things like film imperfections left in such as dirt or other debris. For instance, look closely at the bottom right corner on the first and third comparison shots above. Assuming you’re on an HD capable display (as simple as a newer smartphone or tablet) you should be able to see that it’s the exact same transfer as before. That said, I didn’t opt to do too many more comparison screenshots from that 2009 Blu-ray once I realized that it was identical.
Now, as if that wasn’t fun enough, let’s get technical: it [this new 2019 Blu-ray] is also using nearly the same amount of disc space – if you deduct for the audio languages and subtitles that were removed. This release is using 27.9 gigabytes total for the film with only two English lossless mixes, the isolated score (also lossless), and three audio commentaries. Whereas the original 2009 Blu-ray was using 28.6 gigabytes total for the film with only one English lossless mix, the isolated score (lossless), two audio commentary tracks, four Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes for other languages, and even a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix for the Thai language. So, it’s easy to see how all of that removed it’s really running about the same average bitrate – which Fox claimed to be running the AVC MPEG-4 codec @ [at] 28 Mbps.
This HD video transfer may not have changed any here but on the bright side of things looking back on it, it already really had enough detail, film grain, rich vibrant colors, somewhat accurate flesh tones, and a near-solid black level. Compression never was a problem here really anyway. This is, in my opinion, enough visually still impressive without receiving a new scan or restoration to still be what I consider worthy of a 4.5 rating for video quality. It would be nice to see this someday get a restoration but for now, this will do just fine.
Video Quality Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Audio here, on the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Big Trouble in Little China, is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (@640kbps/48khz). The 70mm blow-up versions of the film shown in theaters contained a 6-track audio mix and that’s likely originally where they get the source materials for a 5.1 surround mix. Speaking of which, the 5.1 mix here sounds like it is the very same as the one that was included with the original 2009 Blu-ray. So, it’s a now decade-old lossless 5.1 surround mix being used again here, but does that mean it’s dated or will it hold up?
The 5.1 mix here is intense and proves to be impressive. It makes nice use of the rear channels for the music and sound effects. The music and sound effects also get nicely mixed into the front left and right channel speakers, with a great amount of bass presence via the subwoofer. The music provides some deep low-end bass about 37 minutes in that it starts to almost pulsate in its beat.
Back to sound effects, it is worth noting that the gunfire comes across realistic here and makes great use of the sound field with this surround sound mix. The dialogue here is delivered very distinct from start to finish, and no volume adjustments shall be needed. This is a pretty over-the-top mix at times and it’s really one to do the film justice.
The 2.0 Stereo Dolby Digital mix here is pretty dated itself, despite being labeled on the Blu-ray menu as being in surround. It’s an effective two-channel lossy AC3 mix that is nice to see included as a listening option. It makes perfect sense to have a stereo mix here as the film originally received a Dolby Stereo mix during its theatrical run (on the 35mm film prints).
All and all, the 5.1 lossless mix provided here still proves to be very impressive and comes very close to doing this film justice. It has some moments with its action definitely being over-the-top almost as much as the film itself. That said, this earns a pretty impressive 4.5 rating for audio quality.
Audio Quality Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Bonus materials on this release, are presented in HD video quality with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo – unless otherwise noted below.
The extras found on the first Blu-ray Disc include:
- NEW Audio Commentary with Producer Larry J. Franco
- NEW Audio Commentary with Special Effects Artist Steve Johnson
- Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell
- Isolated Score is in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround lossless audio.
- Theatrical Trailers (7:06 – SD) gives you three versions in total.
- TV Spots (3:09 – HD) gives you five spots in total.
- “Vintage Audio Interview with John Carpenter” (5:49 – HD) is great. Carpenter even discusses briefly working on the music for the film and the overall film itself. He admits the film to be “nuts,” and “in a world you’ve never been before.”
- “Electronic Press Kit” (27:26 – HD), also known as an EPK, includes on-set footage and interviews with the following people: Kurt Russell (Jack Burton), John Carpenter (director), Dennis Dun (Wang Chi), James Hong (David Lo Pan), Victor Wong (Egg Shen), Kim Cattrall (Gracie Law), Richard Edlund (cinematographer), April Ferry (costume designer), and even a few other members of the crew, as well as b-roll footage.
- Gag Reel (2:56 – HD)
- Music Video (3:28 – SD) features John Carpenter back with his old band The Coupe Devilles doing the film’s title track from the soundtrack. It features Carpenter and his band singing. Yes, singing.
- Deleted Scenes include:
- “Airport (Work Print)” (5:58 – SD)
- “Airport (Video Tape)” (7:07 – SD)
- “The Dragon of the Black Pool (Workprint)” (2:47 – SD)
- “The Dragon of the Black Pool (Video Tape)” (4:29 – SD)
- “The White Tiger (Work Print)” (2:22 – SD)
- “The White Tiger (Video Tape)” (7:15 – SD)
- “Gracie’s Office” (3:46 – SD)
- “Thunder’s Tour” (1:41 – SD)
- “Beneath Chinatown” (2:27 – SD)
- “Lava Sequence” (3:56 – SD)
- “Six Demon Bag” (11:56 – SD)
- Extended Ending (3:17 – HD) has a text introduction.
- Photo Galleries include:
- Movie Stills (6:39 – HD)
- Posters and Lobby Cards (6:53 – HD)
- Behind-the-Scenes (15:10 – HD)
The second Blu-ray Disc (bonus features) includes:
- NEW “You’re the Hero with Actor Dennis Dun” (14:14 – HD) who played a major role co-starring as Wang Chi in the film. The topics here range from getting into the business of being an actor, working with this film’s director John Carpenter, as he does reminisce about making the film itself, getting to work with actor James Hong on this, and the film’s lasting impact since its premiere.
- NEW “The Soul of Lo Pan with Actor James Hong” (23:57 – HD) who played the villain (David Lo Pan) in the film. James Hong is a legendary and well-experienced Asian actor – with well over 400 IMDb-listed acting credits. He here discusses the character he played in the film, don’t worry, but first, he starts out discussing his childhood – where things begin usually for most. Unlike most Chinese children his life began here in the United States, in Minnesota. He goes on to discuss briefly his friendship with the late great actor Gene Wilder, moving to Los Angeles and looks back on making some specific scenes in the film, and he finally about working with Steve Johnson for the make-up special effects.
- NEW “Able to Be Myself with Actor Donald Li” (18:29 – HD) who played Eddie Lee in the film. Li looks back on how comfortable he was making this film, but first, he discusses training in theater and becoming an actor in San Francisco. He then discusses his early acting career, feeling a bit isolated being a Chinese American, and being a big fan of the late actor Marlon Brando as well as by Martin Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver (1976). He gets around to later talking about how his agent landed him the gig working on this film, his audition with John Carpenter, his character Eddie Lee in the film, working with his co-stars like Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, Victor Wong, as well as the getting to work with the film’s director (John Carpenter), and finally he looks back on the film and its lasting impact.
- NEW “The Tao of Thunder with Actor Carter Wong” (25:47 – HD) who played Thunder in the film.
- NEW “The Tao of Rain with Actor Peter Kwong” (28:34 – HD) who played Rain in the film.
- NEW “The Hatchet Man Speaks with Actor Al Leong” (6:32 – HD) played a member of the Wing Kong gang in the film, as a hatchet man. He discusses first Los Angeles is better than St. Louis in terms of weather, then how he started training in martial arts at just age eight, getting to work on different films over the years (as a stuntman), working on this film specifically, being cast personally by John Carpenter, and his fight scenes.
- NEW “Damn Wilie Prescott and the Horse He Rode In On with Writer W.D. Richter” (20:31 – HD)
- NEW “It Was a Western Ghost Story with Writer Gary Goldman” (27:50 – HD)
- NEW “The Poetry of Motion with Martial Arts Choreographer James Lee” (35:01 – HD)
- NEW “Into the Mystic Night with The Coupe De Villes Member Nick Castle” (12:35 – HD). Castle, a filmmaker plus friend of the film’s director John Carpenter, played in a band with him called The Coupe De Villes which did the title track to the film and even a music video. He starts off by discussing his love for art, living in Los Angeles, being in films as a child, and then he gets to his love for music. Because of his father’s influence, and his own love for it, making movies became his other passion – namely from being around filmmaking as a child. He then went on to attend USC film school where he would meet this film’s director John Carpenter and his bandmate (in The Coupe De Villes) along with Tommy Lee Wallace. The performed as the group at the wrap party for Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980).
- NEW “Since We Were Kids with Second Unit Director / The Coupe De Villes Member Tommy Lee Wallace” (28:51 – HD). Wallace, a filmmaker, is a lifelong friend of the film’s director John Carpenter and he played in a band with him, called The Coupe De Villes – previously mentioned.
- NEW “Love and Art with Movie Poster Artist Drew Struzan” (17:04 – HD) has him discussing how he came about getting into art and illustration which would eventually lead to him creating movie poster art – such as for this film. Struzan also looks back on his experience in Hollywood, working on album covers, meeting Alice Cooper, illustrating George Lucas’ favorite movie poster (Star Wars: A New Hope), and finally getting to work on the poster art for this film.
- “Return to Little China with Director John Carpenter” (12:14 – HD) is an interview about the film. He discusses how the film was originally a Western and that he and a friend rewrote it into Big Trouble in Little China. Carpenter admits here to being a big fan of Kung Fu and martial arts as a genre of film. He offers nothing but praise for the cast here like Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, Kim Cantrall, and James Hong. This interview is from 2013 and was originally done for Severin films.
- “Being Jack Burton with Actor Kurt Russell” (20:57 – HD) is an interview with the star of the film. Russell discusses at first getting the role of Elvis in the TV movie, also directed by John Carpenter where they first met. They later worked together again on the films Escape From New York (1981) and The Thing (1982). Russell finally gets around to discuss working on the film, his character, and working with John Carpenter on a total of five films, with Escape From L.A. (1996) – which he doesn’t mention here. He hated the movie post art, fun fact. This interview is from 2013 and was originally done for Severin films.
- “Carpenter & I with Director of Photography Dean Cundey” (15:38 – HD) is an interview from 2013.
- “Producing Big Trouble with Producer Larry Franco” (15:21 – HD) is an interview from 2013.
- “Staging Big Trouble with Stuntman Jeff Imada” (12:29 – HD) is an interview from 2013.
- “Visual Effects Artist Richard Edlund” (13:25 – HD) is an interview from 2013.
- “Vintage Featurette” (7:26 – HD) which was available on the previously released Blu-ray and DVD. Here you’ll get some clips from the film with interviews from Kurt Russell (Jack Burton), John Carpenter (director), Dennis Dun (Wang Chi), Kim Cattrall (Gracie Law), James Wong (David Lo Pan), Richard Edlund (visual effects producer), and April Ferry (costume designer). It’s really nice to see this archival featurette has been ported over to this Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release. This is from the very same session it seems that the EPK (Electronic Press Kit) was from on the first disc.
Wow, that’s A LOT of extras. Forgive me for not covering some interviews specifically, as I didn’t want to spend a week on this and also ruin things for the fans. Shew, that all being said, I mean seriously here, it all (both discs extras combined) adds up to roughly 500 minutes (give or take 10 minutes) – a total of eight and a half hours of extras.
Overall, the bonus materials are utterly amazing. Justin Beahm and his Reverend Entertainment obviously along with the good folks at Shout! Factory did an excellent job here. They’ve added two new audio commentary tracks to the first disc. Then, as if that wasn’t enough to include it and some other archival extras on the first disc, they go even further by filling the second Blu-ray Disc with a welcome overabundance of new interviews of those involved in making this film. Lastly, you get a good set of slightly older interviews (from 2013) originally made by Severin Films also included. All of this, especially the new content, goes to make it one perfect set of bonus materials. This is the must-have version of this film for the fans. Bravo to a job well done here on bonus!
Bonus Materials Rating: 5 (out of 5)
“Big Trouble in Little China” was an over-the-top action/comedy that came from a collaboration between three writers and one legendary director (for his time) John Carpenter. The film proves to be one of his finer in his list of credits as a director, looking back at it over the years. Actor Kurt Russell and Carpenter would collaborate together on a total of five films and this at the time was the fourth they had done together. This has some great performances from the supporting cast members here (as mentioned) and proves to be a pretty unforgettable film.
Looking at the video transfer now and realizing that it’s identical to the one found on the 2009 Blu-ray and is running in pretty much the same bitrate, which I’m able to say with proof, and know there’s nothing new here in terms of video. One doesn’t need to speculate when you can check for yourself with screenshot comparisons between the two and see (bit-for-bit and frame-by-frame). Regardless of all that, the good news is that a decade-old video transfer is still one very impressive enough so that it gets the job done and does this film justice visually, for now.
In terms of audio, this gets the DTS-HD Master Audio lossless format 5.1 surround treatment as well as the addition of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix. The 5.1 surround mix might have been reworked a tad bit but it could be the same really as found on the original 2009 released Blu-ray. Regardless of if it has changed or not, the 5.1 mix still proves to be impressive and does the film justice. The 2.0 Stereo mix makes sense to have, not just for those on soundbars and such but also for those looking for an authentic experience similar to the Dolby Stereo the film had theatrically.
Last and certainly not least here, this all-new 2019 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release of John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China comes with one absolutely massive amount of extras. I’m talking about awesome new extras like two new audio commentary tracks, lots of new interviews, as well as some older (2013) interviews, and even the archive extras ported over from the previous Blu-ray and DVD releases. This makes for one excellent Collector’s Edition that lives up to the title and is sure to be something that the fans will truly enjoy. If you’re a fan of this film and own the previous Blu-ray, I have a pretty good feeling that this is going to be a must-have.
In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
4.5 (out of 5) for video quality
4.5 (out of 5) for audio quality
5 (out of 5) for bonus materials
Great Film, Presentation & Amazing Extras