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in little china

by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth

Before I say anything else, I have to admit that I don't really like this score.  OK, now that that's over with, here's some background.  Big Trouble in Little China is a weird 1986 fantasy film about mystical Chinese gangsters in Chinatown, with Kurt Russell as the hero.  John Carpenter, whose most famous score is Halloween, in which he invented the technique of using minimalism for a horror score, acted as both director and music composer.  Although "Big Trouble" didn't enjoy nearly as much success as Halloween, it has since formed a hard-core group of fans, which this release will definitely appeal to.  This CD is actually a promo, put out this month by Alan Howarth, who co-wrote the music, and distributed by Super Tracks, the awesome label who recently gave Horner's Krull the full rerelease treatment.  The packaging and liner notes on this CD are above reproach, containing many stills from the film, as well as a full 6 page analysis of the score.  Which brings me, sadly, to the music.  For this score, Carpenter combined the typical hideous '80s rock with an Eastern Chinese feel, which I'm sure added greatly to the film, but consists of mostly obnoxious electric guitar music combined with some more interesting ambience with several (synthesized) ethnic instruments.  However, even though this isn't my style of music, it should appeal greatly to fans of both John Carpenter's compositional style and the movie.  For others, I guess the only real reason to get it is for nostalgia's sake, especially those who thouroughly experienced the 1980's.  To get this promo, you should go to  Supertracks' Web Site , which is also a full service soundtrack and anime store.

Track by Track
1. Big Trouble in Little China (3:19)
Run.  Away.  As fast as you can.  Carpenter performs this typical '80s title song with his own band, the Coupe de Villes.  To conjure up the appropriate atmosphere, he creatively injects touches of Eastern Chinese music.  However, I think it's truly horrid.  I guess some would love it for both the nostalgia and the Chinese atmosphere present.

2. Pork Chop Express (3:59)
This track is based around an electric guitar theme for the Pork Chop Express, the truck used in the movie.  It's repeated ad infinitum in order to bring up images of, as the liner notes say, a "Road Movie."  It definitely does that!

3. The Alley (2:02)
Carpenter bases the music in this track on a motif for synthesized drums, as well as a weirdly Chinese electric guitar riff.  The tension builds throughout, perfectly capturing a gang fight in a darkened urban alley.

4. Here Come The Storms (2:14)
The first part of this is actually listenable, conjuring a nice atmosphere with ethnic percussion as well as strings.  A repeating synthesized organ ostinato appears, and the pace quickens, bringing in electric guitars, and the track finally climaxes in a fading string note.

5. Lo Pan's Domain (6:04)
Most of this track is, again, actually listenable.  The ambience present in here is nicely foreboding, even going so far as having a synth chorus.  I think that some of the only parts that would appeal to the casual listener are these ambient tracks, which are somewhat reminiscent of some of the synth work on the X-Files.  Like all the other tracks, Carpenter keeps up a fully Chinese flavor with many kinds of ethnic instruments.

6. Escape from Wing Kong (10:10)
Carpenter starts off even better than the previous track with some nice ambience, complete with a new theme for Wing Kong on various Chinese instruments.  He introduces a synth drum rhythm, and the (I use this term very vaguely) music escalates into another electric guitar action track.  Throughout the rest of the track, he goes back to his evocative Chinese ambience for a while, and there's a few more rock action moments, one part bringing back the synth organ ostinato.

7. Into the Spirit Path (7:04)
Some more trademark Carpenter Chinese ambience begins this track, resurrecting the choral theme from "Lo Pan's Domain," as well as some of the usual ethnic instruments, etc.  The mood created is really inspired - mysterious ancient Chinese mysticism, making this one of the best tracks on the album.  What's more, Carpenter fights the urge to degrade this into a electric guitar action track.

8. The Great Arcade/Final Escape Pt. 1 (7:53)
A few minutes of Carpenter ambience, complete with some thematic occurences begin this track. However, with the return of some of the ghostly synths from "Spirit Path," it degrades into a typical guitar track.

9. The Final Escape-Pt. 2 (6:58)
Finally! It's almost over!  This is another combination ambience/action track, with the ambience slightly more rock flavored.  The opening has a return of the Pork Chop Express theme, and the last half is a final guitar action cue, more wacky than the others.

10. Big Trouble in Little China-Reprise (3:08)
Don't get me started...

11. Opening (3:35)
12. Alexandra (5:57)
13. Blue Planet Interlude/Final Stab (5:41)

Escape from New York:
14. Atlanta Bank Robbery (3:31)
After "Little China," we get a few extra tracks from various Carpenter/Howarth scores.  They're not very spectacular, just more of the styles begun in the first score, minus the ethnic Chinese elements.

Actually, if you discount some of the electric guitar stuff, this score ends up not being that bad.  The ambience created is quite evocative, and might even make some consider buying this score.  However, the main audience for this is either people who grew up in the '80s or big fans of the movie.  Collectors of strictly orchestral film scores should definitely avoid this, but if you can stomach something a little more mainstream, you may want to look into this.  I'll try not to let my personal prejudice against '80s rock affect the music rating.

Remember, to order this, as well as a lot of other great titles, including Krull, go to  Super Collector .

Music Rating 4/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 10/10
Orchestral Performance N/A
Sound Quality 7/10
Length 5/10 (it's too long!)

Big Trouble in Little China is Copyright 1999 by Super Tracks Music Group.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.
The ScoreSheet - Shaken, not stirred.