Music Review…Mondo Records’ Stunning ‘Big Trouble In Little China’ 2XLP

For the first time in over 30 years, film fans around the globe are able to purchase the complete original soundtrack to John Carpenter’s ’80s classic Big Trouble In Little China on vinyl. If, like me, you’ve scoured Discogs and Ebay for a copy that A. doesn’t cost more than $100 and B. isn’t the Brazilian or German version, the news of this release is about as satisfying as finding a Chinese girl with green eyes. Yeah, it’s that big!

Phantom City Creative has been very specific about the color palette of this release. Red is very important in Chinese culture, and so the packaging and vinyl prominently showcase it as one in the trio of colors (the other being black and an ivory/off-white). Gone are the deep blues and vivid greens from the theatrical campaign, and Drew Stewzan’s famous poster; those colors are there but really scaled back. As far as the over all design, the packaging takes on a retro look that gets close to old Bruce Lee films (Enter the Dragon) with the layout, even dipping its toe into spaghetti western territory (For A Few Dollars More) with the type face.

On a deeper, and more subliminal level – one that caters to true cinephiles – the cover art is a hybrid that can been seen both ways: East meets West if you will. But perhaps it’s more fitting that it’s the latter. After all, Carpenter has stated many times he’s always wanted to make a Western, and this is the closest he’s ever come. You could call BTILC (acronym used by all the cool kids out there) an “Eastern”, but I digress.

All that aside, the cover art (used also for the now sold out posters) is an attractive mix of those throwback styles that will keep you transfixed long enough to find cleverly placed elements. Take a look at the eyes opposite Lo Pan. One belongs to Gracie Law, the other, Miao Yin. Don’t know why we didn’t get a “Green Eyes” variant – maybe that kind of clashes with the above-mentioned red. Still, it would have made more sense if you ask me. Or how about an Egg Shen/Lo Pan Neon Purple/Electric Green color way? Too on the nose? Guess we’ll never understand Mondo’s methods…and that’s what keeps them ahead of all the competition out there.

But the goal of the company is not to go down a design road that is expected. That is what makes each release surprising – it’s that creative control that gives them the freedom to create truly remarkable art, not a stylized version of the original poster, or a key scene from the film. Personally, I’m quite glad they got the rights to the characters/actors. To not be able to see Jack Burton’s mug on this album would have been a great disappointment. FYI, that’s why, on the release of The Fifth Element, you don’t get to see Milla Jovovich or Bruce Willis’ likeness. Tell you one thing, it would have been a lot cooler if we did.

The packaging has a matte finish to complement the muted palette as they have done with many other titles, such as Oblivion, Gravity and Guardians of the Galaxy. On the flip side of the album, it’s very nice to see that the three storms get the entire back cover. I’ve always been partial to them, and it’s amazing how much they add to the story and mythology despite not having much screen time, or a great many speaking lines. They are the perfect example of form over function – after all, what’s the point of a body guard who explodes? Sure, it’s effective…once.

I’ve been delaying and trying to hold off on getting to the real reason this album, and the film works so damn well: John. Carpenter. It’s staggering to think of the film world without his impact, and it’s a wonder why he and other triple threats are such a rare breed. Sight, sounds, and story – that’s a lot of control. The only person that comes to mind who takes that approach, and continues to do so, is Clint Eastwood. And hey, there’s another tie-in to the Westerns.

The score to Big Trouble In Little China, composed by John Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth, is, as stated in the Mondo press release, “an outlier in Carpenter’s filmography. It’s a heavy pulsing synth score that is simultaneously upbeat and haunting. A true genre mashup, both the film and the score are difficult to pin down, which makes their singularity all the more apparent.”

The duo have set the stage for most electronic scores to date. And, decades later, that sound can be heard in TONS of films, even TV shows. From Cliff Martinez’ and Steven Moore‘s work, to Cold In JulyStranger Things, and many others. It hasn’t really changed, because, in my opinion, no one has been able to do it better. Check out the album details below.


Tracklist:

Side A
01. Prologue (2:15)
02. Pork Chop Express (Main Title) (4:01)
03. Abduction At Airport (4:17)
04. The Alley (Procession) (1:12)
05. The Alley (War) (2:31)
06. The Storms (2:42)
07. Tenement / White Tiger (3:49)

Side B
08. Here Come The Storms (4:15)
09. Wing Kong Exchange (4:40)
10. Lo Pan’s Domain / Looking For A Girl (3:16)
11. Friends Of Yours? / Escape Iron Basis (7:18)
12. Escape From Wing Kong (5:38)

Side C
13. Hide! (4:35)
14. Call The Police (7:32)
15. Dragon Eyes (1:12)
16. Into The Spirit Path (7:05)

Side D
17. The Great Arcade (Mini Rock Opera) (7:53)
18. The Final Escape (Lo Pan’s Demise / Getaway) (7:02)
19. Goodbye Jack (3:14)
20. Big Trouble In Little China (End Credits – Album Version) (3:22)
Performed by The Coupe De Villes


On 180 gram vinyl – translucent red (Lo Pan’s blood, maybe?) with yellow splatter – this score sounds fantastic with zero distortion. This album is a powerhouse of themes and anthems – an acoustic six-demon bag if you will. From the opening titles, to that rapid-fire four-note synth riff on tracks like “Here Come the Storms”, and the pulse-pounding percussion on “The Final Escape”, to the titular end track by Carpenter and The Coupe de Villes, this is a long-awaited release that sounds new and fun, over and over again.

Mondo is known to have some fun with their releases, and there are three clever take always. First is that the music credits are printed on a faux flyer for Egg Shen’s tour bus company. Next are the bespoke labels which feature The Guardian (what he sees, LoPan knows) both pre, and post-mortem. Nice nod to Wang’s handiwork. Finally, the album is fitted with an obi that touts what else but other re-releases of Carpenter classics: Halloween and They Live.

As Wang famously says, “Chinese have a lot of Hells.” There’s Hell of Being Cut to Pieces, Hell of Boiling Oil, Hell of the Upside Down Sinners, and, bringing this review to a close, why the hell haven’t you picked up your copy yet!? Click over to the official Mondo website, and you tell that shopping cart, the check is in the mail.