After milking the shit out of the Italian mafia, it was time to turn to another, more exotic one. Yes, as its title suggests, Year of the Dragon is a gritty thriller about the Chinese mafia or The Triad. We will be following one man’s quest to tear apart the crime element in New York’s Chinatown. That one man is none other than Mickey Rourke in a role of a lifetime. Honestly, I’ve never seen him this committed and convincing. And that scene in the church proves that he’s much more than just a Hollywood’s bad boy. Although I must admit he was also great in Johnny Handsome.
Despite its relatively small scale, Year of the Dragon feels like a crime epic. Like you’re watching The Godfather but with a twist and filmed from a different perspective. The story focuses on Rourke’s character, Stanley White, and the price he’s willing to pay to get his man. It also highlights how things work when it comes to organized crime and law enforcement. It all feels very authentic and like something that was normal for the eighties. Let’s hope this is no longer the case although I doubt it.
I also liked the brief rundown of not just American Chinese relations but Chinese history in general. Remember, this was the time before the Internet so it all must have felt like something new and exciting. Year of the Dragon is based on a novel that was adapted for the screen by two veterans Oliver Stone and Michael Cimino. And you can really feel that.
What Cimino accomplished visually is only matched by Stone’s hard-hitting dialogue. Just two years earlier he wrote the script for Scarface. The pacing is variable with sudden bursts of violence interrupting meticulous and engaging exploration of the criminal underworld.
After a string of murders of high-profile criminals in Chinatown, police chiefs are getting a lot of heat. They decide to name New York’s most decorated cop, Stanley White as the new precinct chief, hoping that he will get to the bottom of this. Relentless, resourceful, and determined, Stanley starts working the streets hard and nobody likes this. However, this is not going to stop him. Nothing can stop him now…
I think what you will remember most about Year of the Dragon is this sense of hustle and bustle in Chinatown. The sweat, tears, and smell of noodles and blood in the air. There are a couple of stereotypes and awkward scenes that didn’t age well but there are also some very intelligent and honest scenes. I think they were trying to show both the good and the bad but had limited time to do it. Anywhoo, the whole thing is much better than let’s say Black Rain starring Michael Douglas.
Despite the familiar main story of an outcast cop trying to win against the odds, there are some pretty surprising twists and unexpected developments. This, coupled with a memorable outing to Thailand that could have been a movie in itself, makes Year of the Dragon very engaging and increases its replay value. And I also have to mention beautiful Ariane playing the stereotypical reporter. She gave an extra reason to watch this movie again and again.
Finally, I just want to share the story of the female singer. From the moment that scene began, and you’ll know which scene it is as soon as it starts, I was in love with not only the music but also her voice. It was transcendental and just so fucking melodic. While “researching” the source material, Cimino, Stone, and some gangsters visited a sleazy nightclub in Taiwan. That’s where they had the same experience as I did. She was hired on the spot and by the time the production was over she learned English and she enrolled at Barnard.
Director: Michael Cimino
Writers: Robert Daley, Oliver Stone, Michael Cimino
Cast: Mickey Rourke, John Lone, Ariane, Leonard Termo, Raymond J. Barry, Victor Wong, Hon-Lam Pau
Fun Facts: Stanley White is based on a real cop, “a Polish cop, one of the toughest cops I’ve ever met in real life” Cimino added.