Michael Cimino may have never had another critical and/or commercial success after The Deer Hunter, but that doesn’t mean he, at least, made some films that are still worthy of a conversation piece. Heaven’s Gate was a giant bomb in 1980, but it is still talked about and gets new restored versions of it every so often - with the most recent being a 2012 release from The Criterion Collection of the film in all its three hours-plus glory.
Year of the Dragon may not have the same reputation as Heaven’s Gate does of being a costly, box office failure that led to the shuttering of one studio and to less creative control for a director with a big budget. But, like Heaven’s Gate and The Deer Hunter before it, Cimino’s neo-noir thriller was met with controversy. Its depiction of the Asian culture was criticized as being stereotypical and xenophobic, and it wound up being another dud for Cimino. But the film soon began developing a cult following, and rightfully so. Year of the Dragon may not rank with some of the greatest films ever made, but for a cop drama, it works quite well.
Mickey Rourke plays Captain Stanley White, a Vietnam War veteran whose made it his mission to dismantle the organized crime in New York City’s Chinatown. His confrontation with Joey Tai (John Lone), the head of the Chinese triads, leads to White having a high price on his head and a truce between the police precinct and mafia coming to an end. Thus begins an all-out war between the mafia and the police force, leading to a lot of violence in the streets.
Year of the Dragon deals with a lot of issues, including corruption and racism. Rourke’s character is not the most likable human being on the planet, and he and a lot of other characters throw out derogatory language like it’s nothing. It’s easy to see why people found it offensive, but, at the same time, a lot of what the movie deals with is realistic and doesn’t hold itself back in its portrayals.
Rourke is the standout here, giving a terrific performance as the hard-edged White. His relationship with people may not be great, especially women, but White is a determined man of the law and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Lone is also superb as the head of the triads, willing to go to ruthless extremes to prevent White from getting to him.
There is a subplot that involves White being married to Connie (Caroline Kava), who comes off as a bit of a nag due to Stanley’s lack of commitment. He doesn’t understand it, and she’s on the verge of leaving him. Meanwhile, Stanley is falling for an Asian reporter named Tracy Tzu (Ariane), who claims to have a boyfriend. It’s rather generic and kind of weighs the film down in some segments. Ariane, a model who made her acting debut here, showed she can’t really get the lines out effectively, and her performance suffers from it. This could explain why she only did one other movie (King of New York) after this role.
Warner Archive gives Cimino’s film a good Blu-ray upgrade, but not great. The picture quality is 1080p with a 16x9 widescreen presentation and a 2.4:1 aspect ratio. It looks really clean, but there are some spots that make it seem like the picture skips a little. It doesn’t happen a whole lot, but it is noticeable. The audio track is 5.1 surround sound and has no issues. The special features are somewhat lacking, featuring an old commentary track by Cimino that came from a previous release, as well as the film’s trailer.
Cimino may have had a short-lived career, but most of his films proved that he could craft some effective efforts. With Oliver Stone helping pen the screenplay, Year of the Dragon turns out to be a bloody and tense cop drama. Cimino also gives viewers a lot of great tracking shots, making some of the shootouts look incredible. It’s not a great film, but it is certainly better than what people initially thought.