Year of the Dragon (1985) Michael Cimino

Production Budget: $24 million

Domestic Gross: $18 million

Violence is erupting on the streets of Chinatown.  Young street gangs are going to war with the established Mafia and there is a struggle for the drug trade.  Captain White (Mickey Rourke) is put in charge of the NYPD task force to bring order to the city.  However he runs into trouble with his higher ups in the department.  There is corruption in the ranks as they only want White to keep peace and not to openly investigate the Triad element in the city.

My last review of Cimino was of The Sunchaser which I thought was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.  So it could be said I didn’t come into this movie with the brightest of outlooks.  Truth be told, I honestly don’t know what to make of Year of the Dragon.  I neither loved it or hated it.

One of my biggest problems is that the movie is too over the top.  Take for example the entire romantic side plot of the movie.  The assassination of White’s wife is played off like the death of Obi Wan and Dumbledore combined.  Yet despite that we only had two scenes with the wife before and both of them she was a shrill heartless b*tch.  The moment White walks into the house it is almost comical how she berates White and is brain piercingly shrill.  We are supposed to care for this woman and her death?  Now obviously this movie was chopped up so there are several scenes missing.  But still, I highly doubt there is some missing scene that makes her compassionate or make me care for her one bit.  Or take White’s affair with an Asian reporter.  They show nothing but screaming contempt for one another till White practically rapes her and they “love” each other.  Remember ladies, your lips may say no, your body may say no, but the handcuffs say yes yes yes…

This movie was controversial because many claimed racism or at least insensitivity toward Asian people.  I can’t say if there is insensitivity it is not intentional but another byproduct of the over the top nature of the film.  I just love that no one in the police department has heard of the Triad except for White and consider him some conspiracy nut.  It’s as if White was trying to put out the theory that Bigfoot is a heroin peddler or there is some reptilian conspiracy.  Why does no one think there could possibly be such a thing as a Chinese mafia?  Or take another clunky scene where White has dinner with the reporter and White outlines his vast knowledge of Chinese culture by outlining all the injustices the Americans committed against the Chinese.  After his little Shatner speech I half expected Rourke to step down from a soap box with applause from the entire restaurant.   I can keep going on and on with these scenes but you get the picture.  It is hard for me to really rant for its insensitivity when it is almost hilarious in how over the top stupid it is.  This isn’t the Sunchaser where it is actively being moronic and offensive by saying Doctors are the cause of pain and suffering in the world or that people only have cancer because they don’t believe in the right god.  This is like the person that tries to defend himself by saying “I’m not homophobic, I know lots of gay people…”  You just shake your head and chuckle at the absurdity of it all.  Let’s just leave it by saying Year of the Dragon is not the most accurate picture of Chinese culture.

This movie also feels heavily edited.  There are plot threads that go nowhere and character motivations that are unexplained.  I mentioned the wife plot line earlier.  There is another where White gets an undercover cop and we get a whole 3 minutes with his sub plot.  There is one scene where the undercover threatens to quit because the stress is too much which fizzles out.  We also do not see anything this UC does so the whole subplot goes nowhere.  There are also some unresolved issues between White and a Lieutenant which are never explained or built up.  They just bitch at each other.

The acting is okay in this movie.  Mickey Rourke does a good job and has a real presence even though he is playing against his character type.  The real winner of this movie is John Lone as the antagonist Joey Tai.  While everyone else is screaming their heads off, Lone is so cool and confident and just plays it off so smoothly.  He is a much more menacing bad guy because he seems like he is always one step ahead and planning underneath a cool exterior.  A little fun note for me anyways: we also get Joey Chin and Victor Wong who both starred in Big Trouble in Little China.  Yeah they don’t really do much, but it’s nice to see them.

I complained a lot about this movie but there are things I like about it.  When we finally get to the storyline of White against Tai it is great.  They play well off each other and it is a very satisfying rivalry.  Quentin Tarantino lists their confrontation on the bridge as one of his favorite scenes and while I don’t think that highly of it, it is a fun climax.  Cimino still has flashes of his old self with some nice shots and overall Chinatown is well photographed.  I almost think of it as half of a very good movie.  If we didn’t have that god awful side plot about White and his love triangle this movie would be very good.  But whenever we get to a scene with the reporter or White’s wife the movie grinds to a screeching halt.  Year of the Dragon is a decent film.  I think if you caught it on TV you would be in for a pleasant surprise.  But do I think you should seek it out and see it?  Ehhhhh probably not.


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