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Big Trouble in Little China: Special Edition

Judged by its referents, 1986's Big Trouble in Little China was almost a decade ahead of its time. In fact, one could argue that director John Carpenter's fast-paced tale of a doofus trucker (Kurt Russell) lost in a world of Chinese black magic, mythical beasts and airborne martial arts is the first mainstream Hollywood film (by a long shot) to try and assimilate the work of such Hong Kong magic-fu masters as Tsui Hark. Big Trouble, I'd argue, is a crucial "bridge film" — hard-core Asian fantasy filmmaking watered down through a Western lens (complete with a befuddled Western hero as tour guide) that prepared audiences for the more extreme visual pyrotechnics of the HK masters. But there's more to Big Trouble than its (arguable) role as cultural icebreaker. Here's the story: Dimwitted, mullet-sporting pig-hauler Jack Burton (Russell) — gifted only with quick reflexes and totally unwarranted self-confidence — and his friend Wang (Dennis Dun) find themselves chasing David Lo Pan (James Hong), an undead villain who must marry a green-eyed Chinese girl to "rule the earth from beyond the grave." That green-eyed girl is, alas, Wang's fiancé. In the process, Jack and Wang find themselves entering an increasingly surreal world patterned on Chinese mythology — a world of gunplay, martial arts, slavery rings, wizards, monsters and flying henchmen named "Thunder," "Lightning" and "Rain" (with powers to match). Along the way, the movie gathers a hefty cast of characters worthy of a Howard Hawks comedy — a fast-talking lawyer (Kim Cattrall), a screwy reporter (Kate Burton), an eccentric old wise man (Victor Wong), a snazzy maitre'd (Donald Li) — all of them playing off the blunt ignorance of Burton, who talks with a John Wayne drawl and looks and acts like he'd be a lot more comfortable behind the wheel of a '78 Camaro. By film's end, the usual hero/ethnic-sidekick dynamic has been completely inverted, with Wang doing all the physical heroics and winning the girl and Burton getting smeared with lipstick and knocking himself unconscious and just generally making an ass of himself. The movie, drawing from wildly disparate influences, has a lot going for it: Russell is that rare, unpretentious leading man who's unafraid of making himself look foolish onscreen. Moreover, the humor comes out of the characters and rapid-fire pacing and absurd situations rather than from cheap one-liners. On the page, Jack Burton's dialogue is not particularly funny; but Russell and the others (especially Kim Cattrall) make the words sing by delivering them with a rapid-fire conviction that just stinks of Hawks — whom Carpenter has often cited as an influence. It's not surprising that, although Big Trouble bombed at the box office, it found a sizable cult audience on home video. If you're part of that cult audience, Fox's marvy two-disc DVD edition will feel like a 15-years-overdue validation of your love. Solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), DTS and Dolby Digital 4.1. Features include eight deleted/extended scenes, an extended ending, production notes from 1986 press kit, a music video, a featurette, cast and crew filmographies, magazine articles, a Richard Edlund interview, a still gallery, three trailers, and six TV spots. Dual-DVD keep-case.
—Alexandra DuPont

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