Year of the Dragon doesn't need too much plot write-up. I'll try in a sentence, just to test this: a tough-as-nails-racist-maybe-sexist-don't- play-by-the-rules-but-not-crooked-wannabe-Mickey-Spillane cop (Mickey Rourke) goes head-to-head with the Triads of New York's Chinatown, lead by a calm businessman-cum-psycho (John Lone) while juggling two lovers and a police force who don't like him much. There, let's move on: this movie is frustrating. Simple as it gets, Michael Cimino's rehabilitation from Heaven's Gate to try and get back into Hollywood's good graces (with Oliver Stone as his screenwriter) is preachy, loud, and full of BIG moments that should add up to more. Frankly, Heaven's Gate was more satisfying (if less tonally consistent) on simple entertainment/quality levels.
It's a little like the East Coast cousin of 1985's own To Live and Die in LA. But where Friedkin had a firmer grasp of William Peterson's anti-heroism with fantastic action set pieces, Cimino's direction is either just basic stuff (lots of people talking with dialog that is padded and just speaks too heavily on the points over and over again as if we didn't hear it the first time) and the action, with some exceptions like a climactic shoot-out by a train-line, cluttered and just TOO over the top. Yes, even for an 80's action movie. Maybe there is some real interest here, in doing a story on the triads and gangs of Chinatown, or how it spreads to the exploitation of workers in sweat-shops and factories. It dances with that, and I'm sure Cimino and Stone did their research, but it doesn't add up to more than just a simplistic pot-boiler - and not a strong one either. Rourke certainly tries to act his ass off (or, sadly frankly, sometimes over the top as well, or smirking through scenes), and John Lone certainly makes good back-up. Other players, like Ariane as the One Female Reporter who will get the scoop (cause, you know, there aren't any other reporters who might cover a big crime war in New York city except for the one Chinese one), are not very good at all except in one note turns.
|One of the more 'memorable images, relatively|
And maybe more than anything, the consistent tone of just nastiness from this character of Stanley White, which also permeates other cop and gangster characters, left a bad taste in my mind watching it. There are moments where other characters call Stanley on his myriad of faults - and that he uses Vietnam as a crutch for his issues and as another Rambo 'still fighting the war' (how obvious they tell us, more than once, almost makes Rambo: First Blood Part II subtle by comparison) - and yet none of it really stuck with me to have any kind of feeling for the character except distaste. Again, Rourke does try to make him sorta likable... which could make it worse. When he cries in Ariane's character's apartment for not having anyone else to go to, and a tear goes down his cheek in close-up, there was just indifference there between myself and what was going on. Not good.
|Not sure why this jpeg says 'AGENT' here. Maybe it's to detract from the lame acting?|
Yet Cimino does pull off moments that do work, shots that can get excited about. Hell, even a scene I didn't expect to work, which is a funeral for a (should be more) significant character as the second plot turn, was touching for how Cimino held back and let the big emotion swell instead of being the same high pitch. But for all that should be well-intentioned in Year of the Dragon, or 'realistic' as based on a Robert (Prince of the City) Daly book, it just isn't. Year of the Dragon is dated, probably racist Hollywood trash which fluctuates too much between something better and something s**t too often.