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Following the Heaven's Gate debacle it must have been questionable if
Michael Cimino would ever helm another epic film. Having shot The Deer
Hunter and Heaven's Gate on such a grand scale, you expect that type of
film from Cimino. Well, he was given one last shot to work the big
screen using his considerable talents to create one last masterpiece.
If there is a Michael Cimino trilogy it's his three epics The Deer
Hunter, Heaven's Gate, and Year of the Dragon. In all honesty Hollywood
does not make a lot of films like these so when they come along they
are something special. These are films that show Hollywood at it's
best, stretching, pushing the limits, and trying to create something
huge fueled by a clear artistic vision. It may fall flat, as Heaven's
Gate did, but the risk can be exhilarating. Looking back on Heaven's
Gate now, many critics find it to be one hell of a film. There's a
simple reason for that, they just don't make 'em like this much any
more. So, in retrospect the Hurculean effort now looks refreshing.
Year of the Dragon is a powerhouse film. Where Heaven's Gate meandered on the plains, Year of the Dragon charges across the screen. I believe this was powered by Cimino probably giving his best effort to entertain as well as create on a grand scale. The result is a breathtaking ride and one of the best cop films we'll ever witness. Rourke as Stanley White is in his prime 80's form. There was no doubt about it, in the 80's the camera loved Mickey Rourke. If he had not gone off track it makes you wonder what could have been. His is not the only great performance in the film. John Lone as his prey is nothing short of magnificent. He is everything Al Pacino was in the Godfather films. I would say his performance owes a debt to Pacino and watching the film I wondered if he had used him as a model for Joey Tai. These three elements alone could be enough to make great film, two great actors dueling on screen and a director giving his best effort.
It doesn't stop there though. They are working from an Oliver Stone script which is beautifully composed to blur the lines between good and evil. It's not as simple as good guy and bad guy. These characters are fully fleshed out and complex. White may be the cop but he is deeply flawed as a human being. This script doesn't pander to the audience and you will not like Stanley White much of the time. Joey Tai is not pure evil. He follows a moral code and is an honorable man. This kind of writing is not for everyone and some may be put off or confused by the nature of these characters but that's what makes for great cinema.
Not only are the leads good but the supporting cast is also fantastic. Kava as Connie White brings nice weight to her performance as Stanley's wife. Raymond Barry and Victor Wong are excellent as are the entire supporting cast. There is one often noted exception. Ariane as Tracy Tzu the reporter and White's fling is very wooden. What causes her to stand out is the fact that all the other actors are so good. I believe this was her first film and she is out of her element. She just doesn't have the chops to keep up. Her performance doesn't drag down the film but it does stick out whenever she's on screen.
1985 saw a couple of fantastic cop films in this and To Live and Die in LA, which not surprisingly was directed by another great William Friedkin. Films like these are hard to come by. We were lucky to see Friedkin's film released as a special edition DVD. Year of the Dragon has been sold by MGM to Warner Brothers and now sits in limbo. It would be unfortunate for films like this and Sidney Lumet's Prince of the City (1981) to sit and rot on some shelf. The work of directors like Cimino, Friedkin, and Lumet should not be ignored. It's interesting that each of them made a fantastic film about cops in the 80's. Two of the three films though appear to be lost. Let's hope someone rescues them to DVD.
When "Year of the Dragon" was released in 1985, it was ripped to pieces by
Chinese anti-defamation organizations as being a very racist film. The
was likewise given lot of bad reviews by critics, who probably wanted to
Being a Chinese American who was raised in Boston's Chinatown, I had expected bad things about this film. Even though "The Deer Hunter" is a great film, the depictions of Vietnamese and Chinese in that film are truly horrendous (no, Chinese DID NOT engage in Russian Roulette!!) I expected the same with "Year of the Dragon." I was totally shocked after I saw the film at how realistic the film was about Chinatown. I do understand many Chinese Americans do not want themselves portrayed as drug dealers, gang members, etc. However, I don't think there has been any film in Hollywood history who portrayed the dark side of Chinatown as accurately as this film. I know because I grew up in the area when there lot of Chinese street gangs and mafia activity.
The sad thing is after this film was released, depictions of Chinese Americans has gotten a LOT worse; they are depicted as chopsocky kung fu gangsters (now isn't that ironic!!) in Jet Li and Jackie Chan movies, or as baby killers, rapists, or domineering bigots in "The Joy Luck Club" (by the way, this film is truly truly AWFUL in it's portrayals of Chinese; the ignorant critics however gave this movie great reviews.) Strangely, Chinese anti-defamation leagues has been very silent during these years.
"Year of the Dragon" is Cimino's unappreciated gem. According to my view, it's his second best film. I understand this film has flaws but Cimino was brilliant in showing the side of Chinese Americans that few Americans know. Not all of us Chinese went to CalTech or MIT and became successful software engineers or research scientists.
Year of the Dragon is something of a little known masterpiece. It is well written by oliver stone, and directed by cimino at a turning point in his career. The centre piece, however, is Rourkes performance, which was caught while he most likely was at the peak of his acting ability's. You will be totally blown away by the realism of his acting, and it's even more noteworthy that the film was made while Rourke was youthful while making this and was made to look more senior (that grey hair is dye). A heartfelt performance from an actor playing a cop with "scar tissue on his soul", will never be forgotten once seen. While the main character is far from perfect, it is just that which makes him believable as well. Stanley White is on a crusade and would die for his principles, which effects all those involved with him. It is a complex film, often talky, which is punctuated throughout with explosive violence, well shot with use of excellent set pieces. Bloody in places and above all gritty and realistic, in parts it is even beautiful. The film works on many levels from it's slow burn beginnings with emphasis on conspiracy to the final pay off on the dock yards. Well drawn characters are everywhere in this film, and it never losses its hard edge. Rourke has seen a much needed and deserved return in recent years. He may have lost his handsome good looks due to boxing and due to too many face lifts, but the guy will never lose his acting ability. We, the true fans, never gave up on this chance. And now he's finally gaining popularity with a new generation, who need to see and experience The Year Of The Dragon, To believe the hype. Also check out his other classics Angel Heart and Barfly.
In the mid eighties Mickey Rourke was considered a cult figure in
(he still is, only at that time we was a promising one). This movie truly
reflects all of his talent in the role of a police officer and Vietnam
veteran, who tries to clean up China Town. It's easy to realize that
Stone wrote the script, and it's probably Stone's personal opinions that
come out of Rourke's mouth.
It's still good after all these years and although it's no masterpiece, it's quite entertaining.
This is the first movie in Rourke's golden years: Year of the dragon (1985),
9 1/2 weeks (1986), Angel Heart (1987), Barfly (1987): every single one
underrated IMO. His glory started to erode heavily with Johnny Handsome
(1989), really hit an all-time low with Wild Orchid (1990) and confirms that
as the Marlboro Man's sidekick Harley Davidson (1991). Nevertheless I'm
sorry that his footage was cut out of the Thin Red Line (1998), because I
like his style. Michael Cimino (Thunderbolt&Lightfoot, Deerhunter) and
cinematographer Alex Thomson (Excalibur, the Keep, Legend) apparently know
their way in the eighties as well, although the story plays just
Is the recent wave of violence in Chinatown caused by Stanley White, the new (Polish originate) gung-ho sheriff in N.Y. Chinatown, or by the hunger for power by the young chinese gangsters? White, ironically, makes his own job harder because he has serious trouble respecting the Chinese in any way. Stanley hits the crime in chinatown like Popeye Doyle in the tradition of the French Connection, instead of a sheriff with brains. He will have to pay for his callousness and hypocrisy.
'Year of the dragon' depicts some of the the money and gambling problems of the Chinese in an early but profound eighties' style. The score sounds cheap, but fortunately is scarce too. I particularly like the noirish feel of this way-above-average cop-flick. Michael Mann could only wish he made this: it's one of my favourite tv-movies. The few negative points are probably due to interference of producer Dino de Laurentiis. 8/10
Here's a nice recreation of the Chinese underworld and the Chinese
mafia in New York. A great detective movie that combines drama and
violence with a touch of film-noir. Nevertheless there's something in
the script fails: it looks like Cimino and Stone had written a longer
story and the had to cut it or something. The main plot is so solid but
there some parallel stories that are not clear enough (Stanley White
and Joey Lang's characters are rather confusing).
Mickey Rourke makes a good job, as usual... Tood bad he decided to become a boxer and destroy his own career.
Although Cimino's masterpiece is still "The deer hunter", "Manhtattan Sur" is worth seeing too.
*My rate: 7/10
Next to "Barfly", this is Mickey Rourke's best performance. His turn as
an uncompromising, tough New York cop is unforgettable.
The story is complex and involved, and much more engaging than your average 80's cop movie. The cinematography is stylish, and the acting performances all around are outstanding, especially John Lone and Raymond J. Barry.
There's some very graphic violence and some revealing sex scenes, so not for the kiddies! (I'm sure my parents regret taking me to see this one in the theater as a teen, but I made them!)
Overall I think this movie was misunderstood and overlooked by the "award people" and critics. Michael Cimino always has a gritty way about his films and this one is no different, maybe the brutality and violence in this film turned some people off. But if you haven't seen it I would highly recommend it. I really hope this one comes out on DVD at some point!
Cimino has crafted a tough, gritty policier. I went into this film thinking that it would be mediocre at best. Boy, was I surprised. An intelligent script and passionate performances keep this film moving along. The movie kept me enthralled throughout it's length.
Cimino shows that he is a crass and hysteric filmmaker here. His
sensibilities place him somewhere between Cecil B. DeMille and Francis
Coppola. He's got to film big, so even a cop flick about violence in
Chinatown has to be a saga. There's no weight to it, it just has to be
a sprawling story that's only vaguely about social issues of
importance. He's got to have both the scope and relevance, preferably
something to brood over. He's got to have lots of people and lots of
scenery in the frame. There's a pretty ludicrous scene set in backwoods
Thailand that only seems to exist so that a Triad boss can majestically
gallop in view of a swarm of soldiers (and later brandish a severed
There's nothing worse than a filmmaker who can only leverage ambition and control in his art (Coppola once in a while had good intuitions). So at its most profound, cinematic beauty is at perfume ad level here, say a woman in silhouette sliding into a majestic night-view of New York. What's the term, 'elephant art'? I say it doesn't breathe.
Worst of all, since he is very much a storyteller, these days a novelist living in Paris, his dramatic sense is a lot of puff and noise on a typewriter. It has no life. It's screen writing 101 like in one of those books that tell you about the 'hero's journey' and where to put the 'inciting incident': the couple is growing bitter and distant, and it's right on the first scene that they have to curse, yell, and throw things as they explain all that's wrong between them: he's never at home, he doesn't care, she wants a baby.
And he's got the ideal writing partner for this. Oliver Stone: so angry barbs at the media, school-lessons in American and Chinese history, and Vietnam is behind all of it. It's all abrasive on this end, as is Stone.
Mickey Roorke, usually game for roles that call for lots of smirking and boyish thrashing-about, is the violent, crazy, anguished new sheriff in 'Town. He browbeats and ridicules the Chinese journalist girl and of course she goes to bed with him the moment he has finished doing so, because what's more charming than a 'flawed protagonist'.
The film is bookended by public funeral processions and that could have been something, connoting obsession, artificial images, false narratives. Watch John Lone in M. Butterfly for that. Watch Fukasaku for chaotic action.
I first saw this electrifying film when I was thirteen years old. I was
way to young to watch it, but it definitely made an impression. Most of
it went over my head, but I loved the chaotic feel of the piece and
even then I knew Mickey Rourke was fascinating to watch. I have seen
the film many times since then and I am still amazed at how fluid and
dexterous Michael Cimino's film-making is. The propulsive forward
momentum of this movie is not something that just any filmmaker would
be able to capture. Cimino goes for a heightened realism that in lesser
hands would be laughably over the top. The major characters scream and
rage at each other and the dialog scenes are so emotionally violent it
is a wonder the characters have strength left for the action
At the center of this wild, carnival ride of a movie stands Mickey Rourke. At this time Rourke was being courted by Hollywood for cross-over mainstream success. He instead took roles that would have scared off more timid actors. For people who relished tough minded movies that pulled no punches every film he did at this time was an event. Year of the Dragon is not a well-regarded part of his filmography, but upon closer inspection it reveals itself to be one of the best vehicles he ever had. His Stanley White is a man at war with the world. For him the job is everything and he throws himself into it consequences be damned. His wife despises him and his cavalier attitude towards their relationship. His superiors hate him because he constantly points out their hypocrisies. To him the job is a ceasless conflict. The fact that he is a Vietnam vet is the key starting point for his character. He wants to win at all costs and he really never left the battlefield. There have been many characters like this, but never played with such world weary and yet heartfelt passion. Rourke's performance is the fulcrum that the entire movie spins around. The way he enters a room or throws his hat around for emphasis is not just actorly business. His characterization is impeccable. Stan White is incapable of speaking in bullshit and he does not care to hear it either. His uncompromising and undeniably racially tinged viewpoint makes the character into a powder keg waiting to explode. He has many showdowns with corrupt local leaders, John Lone's reptilian crime boss and his own police superiors. In all of these encounters it is clear that for Stan White there can be no compromise. He will use every weapon in his arsenal to bring down those who would break the law or attempt to profit from it. His relentless pursuit of a personal brand of street justice gives the character a mythic resonance. Rourke is unafraid to show how truly insane White really is. When an action scene happens it comes as a welcome release from the coiled spring intensity that Rourke brings to his performance.
John Lone matches Rourke measure for measure as the oily, yet seductive crime boss Joey Tai. There is a terrific scene where he basically lays out his world view to the unimpressed Stan White. Joey sees himself as a businessman and if drugs, gambling, prostitution, murder and intimidation are the course of doing business than so be it. He is smarter than Rourke's thuggish cop and what he says makes a lot of sense from a certain point of view. This is not the typical shifty crime boss that we have come to know in gangster movie after gangster movie. He is a civilized and rational man whose stock and trade happens to be drugs and violence. Like all good capitalists he has identified a need and is profiting from it. The moral ambiguity that director Cimino and scriptwriter Oliver stone inject into the proceedings gives the film an intellectual and thoughtful flavor it might otherwise not have. This is exemplified by Lone's sinister, savvy and ultimately tragic performance as Joey Tai. Special mention must also be made of the gifted character actor Dennis Dun's wonderful performance as one of White's undercover officers. Dun finds a million different ways to project uncertainty and anxiety as he comes to understand that Stanley White would willingly and easily sacrifice him to the altar of his crusade for justice.
Year of the Dragon takes off like a rocket during it's major action set-pieces. The violence in the film is sudden and always shocking. These characters truly play by their own rules and will do anything they can to turn the game to their advantage. There is a scene toward the end of the film when Rourke confronts Lone in a dance club that is one of the best action scenes I have ever witnessed in a film. The kinetic intensity and white hot energy displayed in this scene is thrilling to behold.
I know I will never see a better police thriller/crime drama than Year of the Dragon. This is a film that has the brash confidence to tell a compelling story in a stylish and exciting fashion. The visceral excitement this film generates puts modern action films to shame. I hope that there will be a reconsideration of this piece now that Rourke is getting attention for his work again. This movie is an example of the kind of special magic that can happen when a writer, actors and director go for the throat and don't let go.
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