Year of the Dragon

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

After the financial disaster of Heaven’s Gate early in the decade, director Michael Cimino had willed his way to a most intriguing project based on a novel by acclaimed writer Robert Daley with a little help from an Oscar winning writer that would later become a great director as well. The place is New York’s Chinatown, the time is the mid-eighties and one cop’s struggle against an underworld that many claim “doesn’t exist”. He uses days of investigation, months of tracking every move in this most active Year of the Dragon.

Once upon a time in Chinatown, a killing of a few prominent figures in the neighborhood take place amongst some of the street gangs. This comes to the attention of police captain Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) who with his transfer here is ready to rid the streets of the dirt and corruption that clouds around this very area. What he starts to uncover is the leadership of the neighborhood changing hands to a much younger man (John Lone) and a reporter (Ariane) he is willing to provide information for but as every day of this year goes by, it becomes a tougher battle to fight.

It’s a movie I heard about for many years and a most intriguing video box in a video store. As a film, Year of the Dragon provides a gritty uncomplicated look at one man’s war against the Chinatown establishment. Mickey Rourke’s Captain White makes a lot of sacrifices, he causes a few shakeups, and he makes his mark despite the high level of adversity. In his look, Mickey Rourke’s face reminded me of a future Bruce Willis with his look in the way he presented things. Overall, it’s all Mickey and he does a very good job as a persistant police captain who brings a little bit of the old neighborhood with him to the big city.

Another solid performance comes from John Lone as Joey, a young man moving up in the world and using connections to make it so but as some younger people do, they make simple mistakes and it all leads back but Joey won’t give up without a fight. He is a little more than he appears to be.

The look of this film (thanks to DP Alex Thomson) is unbelieveable catching the different locales and the brightness in between and on the outskirts of the dark but neon territory of Chinatown. This is most evident in a scene from an apartment window looking over two bridges in the very early morning.

Most of all, great credit is due to director Michael Cimino. From his overture of main title credits to his amazing climax, Cimino keeps the level from one scene to another with a bit of parallel storyline between the police captain and Joey in the different locales with each one intertwining every now and then within the story as these two are face to face on a number of occasions. It also makes the point that the more things change, the more they stay the same even when a younger individual tries to muscle his way to the top.

Year of the Dragon is an energetic rush of cop thriller, intrigue, love story and gangster picture all wrapped into one king sized package.

Video: How does it look?

It’s great to see Year of the Dragon in all it’s 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen glory but it seems on the print of this transfer, every five or less minutes there’s a little speck during each scene. Even in the bright and darker scenes, there is a little blotch. It’s a great movie to look at but the print is not without flaws and it could be a lot worse with cigarette marks and all and on this transfer there are none of those marks which is good but this viewer wishes a few of the scenes could’ve been cleaned up a bit despite the great use of color and some great visuals in the days before CGI. It’s there but it’s not too distracting from the whole result. Overall it’s a very nice job and a good transfer.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track on this DVD is very good mixing score with the use of effects and it’s worthy to kick up the volume especially at a few shootouts of the film. Not much of the rear channels gets much activity but the front and center channels benefit nicely in terms of dialogue and score/effects. David Mansfield’s music in the film is another great entry even down to the tip of the hat to The Deer Hunter with the amazing guitar and orchestra mix. This disc also has French, Spanish and English subtitles which come in handy on certain Chinese speaking scenes without on print subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

When this title was first announced, this viewer presumed there would be just the film and at least a trailer and that is here in it’s anamorphic glory but in addition to that, there is a rare treat.

That is a commentary by director Michael Cimino and here he gives a consistantly interesting take on the film and his choices of shooting the film with his great sense of matching in different locations along with reflecting a little bit on his own career and an emphasis on a particular individual that gave him the great lessons as a “reacher”. It brought me back to the great atmosphere that Cimino presented in a different region version of The Deer Hunter where on that commentary track, he was reflective and gave great insights even though he may not be focused on the activity on the screen, this viewer learned a lot he did not know before, which is also the case here. What he has to say is great and is a consistantly entertaining memorable track covering all the aspects of filming as best as he can remember.

With Heaven’s Gate behind him and the double dealing world of Chinatown in front of him, Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon provides an gritty world, an uphill battle and a hell of a picture on DVD along with a great commentary track that covers a great deal and that less is more along with viewing one of the most underrated films of the eighties which comes well recommended.

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