Big Trouble in Little China Review

So Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) has been captured by a group of magic-spewing Chinese immigrants in his quest to save the damsel in distress. He’s been tied to a wheelchair by his captors, but almost manages to escape when he accidentally starts rolling downhill inside the Chinese palace. He crashes through a road block sign, and nearly falls into a well.

This begs the question as to why they put up a road block in the first place… do they normally expect captives in wheelchairs to roll down that hill? If that’s the case, why warn them of the impending doom? Do you care if they fall into a deep well?

It’s all part of the irreverence of Big Trouble in Little China, a film so overloaded and absurd as to be an action classic. Burton is wonderfully accepting of displays of magic, from green explosions to lightning throwing. His sarcastic wit is right in tune with the film, and Burton even questions a giant man-eating insect inside the sewers. Three-hundred year-old magicians? Makes sense. Giant monsters in the sewers? Baffling.

Big Trouble is full of completely absurd action scenes, yet the well-choreographed martial arts frenzies are somewhat grounded. It is hilarious to see this gruff, very American truck driving hero wandering around with an SMG casually firing, while his Chinese sidekick Wang (Dennis Dun) does all of the heavy lifting. Wang engages in close quarters combat, mid-air sword fights, and other acrobatic displays. Burton shoots stuff.

Big Trouble’s finale, combining an evil wedding, ninja clans, multiple wizards, and a creature that seems like an early run for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II mutant Rahzar, is as enthusiastically goofy as they come. It’s a “kitchen sink” movie if there ever was one, combining guns, knives, multiple cultures, magicians, and monsters just to see what comes out the other end. Somehow, it’s one of the most stupidly entertaining movies of the ’80s because of it.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

The main crew, nice detail @ 1:28:45

Fox brings the film to Blu-ray in a dazzling, crisp, and remarkably clean AVC encode. This one suffers from no print issues, the source itself as flawless as it can be, this despite the extensive effects work. A light film grain resides over the image, resolved beautifully by the encode and rarely spiking.

Big Trouble is wonderfully sharp, producing extensive detail at every camera range. Close-ups are generally striking right from the opening frames of Victor Wong being interviewed. The texture is instantly visible, from fine hairs to pores. Russell sweats through the majority of the film, producing beads of perspiration that remain visible. Even in low light the transfer succeeds in producing high fidelity detail, Dennis Dun showcasing some nice facial texture at 47:16.

The bright primaries suit the film, giving the visuals added life. Minute textures on the extravagant clothing or armor are always visible. The exceptional make-up work on James Hong is also easy to appreciate around 42:18, and the gooey beholder creature at 1:14:21 looks superb. The transfer even handles the complexity of grain and smoke about 40-minutes in with no noticeable noise.

Where the transfer suffers is shadow detail. Black crush is dominate for the entirety of the film, never allowing the smaller details show through in any darker areas. Any characters wearing deeply colored clothing become blobs. Dim shades of hair become helmets. Whites are fine, pure and generally bright enough to satisfy without a loss of texture. It’s about the only reasonable complaint you can levy towards this effort.

Video ★★★★☆ 

A DTS-HD mix does the little things right. Dialogue, with the exception of one scene while cast is running away at 1:31:00, is well handled and cleanly delivered. There are no instances of static or hissing within the mix. Music is rich and full, keeping the very ’80s soundtrack prominent in the mix.

It’s the action that draws ire. The first shoot-out at 17:30 is a bit of mess, the gunfire hugging the right front, even when it doesn’t make much sense. Bass is wildly inconsistent, and seemingly applied at random.

The bigger issue is the low-end remains poorly represented, focused more on sheer volume than clarity. It comes through muddy and strained, lacking any precision or believability. The subwoofer tends to overwhelm other elements. Worse, the surrounds in this 5.1 remix are hollow and forced, acting as clones of the front stereo channels at 59:35 as the gunfire continues. Nothing here sounds natural beyond the music and dialogue, the sound effects either slightly distorted or overly noisy.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

A commentary from John Carpenter and Kurt Russell starts the extras, moving into eight deleted scenes and a separate alternate ending. A 13-minute interview with visual effects producer Richard Edlund offers two angles, one with just the interview and another with visual accompaniment. An isolated score mix is presented uncompressed. A music video, trailers, and photo gallery remain.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can follow Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki. His Amazon wish list is available for those wishing to help out.
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  • http://twitter.com/ElBicho_MMS Gordon Miller

    Good review but one correction. Jack is the sidekick and Wang is the hero of the story. They talk about it on the commentary track

  • gamereviewgod

    You are right. I read a post on IMDB discussing the issue before I wrote this. Even though it's wrong, when I watch it, I have to associate the hero with the unwilling guy trapped in extraordinary circumstances. Plus, Russell is the star, further cementing him as the hero of the piece in my eyes.

    Correction noted, but personal preference reigns supreme. ;)