Friday 14 October 2011

Movie Review: Year Of The Dragon (1985)

Michael Cimono's once-promising career was destroyed by the Heaven's Gate fiasco; that he was allowed to direct any more movies is in itself a surprise. Certainly Year Of The Dragon, Cimono's first movie after Heaven's Gate sank a studio and ended the era of wonderkid directors, does nothing to resuscitate his reputation.

Producer Dino De Laurentiis was always the risk taker, and he put his faith in Cimono to bring to the screen the story of hard-boiled idealistic cop Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) sticking his nose into a New York Chinatown gang conflict. White is of Polish origin and a Vietnam War veteran, and although he doesn't know it, he is still fighting that war. Sticking him into the middle of a brutal battle between rival Chinese warlords was never going to end well, and sure enough, the body count meter kicks into overdrive when White starts to poke around the affairs of the triads.

Joey Tai (John Lone) instigates most of the bloodshed as a young and aggressive gang leader, eager to push the old guard out of the way and expand the business into large-scale drug import and distribution. White, who trusts no one within the police ranks, teams up with reporter Tracy Tzu (Ariane) to expose Joey's corruption and violent methods. Not unexpectedly, both White and Tzu become attractive targets for Joey to dispose of.

Year Of The Dragon is unnecessarily long, flabby, and lacking in any genuine emotion. The characters are strictly linear and utterly predictable. Cimono does capture some chaotically gritty Chinatown locations, and a few of the set-pieces, notably a Chinese restaurant bullet fest, are well-executed. The film also benefits from an adequate Mickey Rourke performance, still a relative up-and-comer and not yet the parody of himself that he would morph into within a couple of years. But even Rourke struggles with the wooden script, co-written by Oliver Stone and Cimono, and filled with atrocious dialogue that would only sound real to a 12 year old boy discovering that initial jolt of testosterone.

Ariane is both a victim of the movie and a significant contributor to its failure. A questionable acting talent to begin with, she is saddled with an unrealistic character and atrocious lines that she reads into the camera with all the confidence and conviction of a fashion model suddenly asked to open her mouth. Year Of The Dragon was Ariane's first, and mercifully last, foray into the movies.

But Cimono would carry on for three more films, each faring worse than its predecessor in terms of box office performance, until his last directing effort, The Sunchasers (1996), was ignominiously released straight to video. Whether he was a talent lost to megalomania or whether there was ever any talent is a debate typically driven by individual opinions about his much-celebrated The Deer Hunter (1978). Either way, Year Of The Dragon is a perfunctory effort at best.

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