YEAR OF THE DRAGON is in a class by itself among Cop Movies when it comes to unreality. Not believable for a minute, it deserves credit for progression, going from strained to overboard to insulting to outright stupid. A goggling waste of concept, money and talent.
Chinatown, New York City. A new ruthlessness displayed by young-blood gang elements seeking to unseat the traditional establishment corruption of the triad families has the go-along police department allowing a maverick captain (Mickey Rourke) to take charge and raise hell. Insults and bullets fly. Audience intelligence is massacred.
The idea, trying to pry open a closed-door segment of both the underworld and society at large (ostensibly examining racism) is viable, and a slug of money was invested—$24,000,000 in 1985—with Michael Cimino directing a script he co-wrote with Oliver Stone. After Diner and The Pope Of Greenwich Village, 33-year old Mickey Rourke was a hot wild thing. Lock and load.
Five years after the epochal failure of Heaven’s Gate, Cimino showed he still had hyperdrive reserves of excess to spare, his fevered direction amounting to propellers at full throttle without a rudder. Apart from a startling restaurant shootout, it staggers under overkill as everything is pitched with blunt force. The script is simply terrible, the character motivations in shreds. Rourke’s foul brute has about as much charm as MSG food poisoning, so far from anything resembling truth in what could be accepted on his job or in attracting others (the reporter played by Ariane) that it becomes farcical.
In support, model Ariane Koizumi (dropping her last name) is woeful, managing to be wooden and shrill at the same time. Not a single moment in the relationship between Rourke’s oafish policemen and her crusading reporter rings true.
An anvil-heavy music score from David Mansfield adds further pretension to Big Drama Moments that have zero emotional involvement for the audience, with the agonized dribble spouted from Rourke and other actors and the daft illogic of their actions giving not a single character in the movie a buffer of sympathy. The nudity is raw filmmaker sexism on display, the gratuitous violence is ditto ridiculous. Packed crowd scenes on sets in North Carolina, with just a few shots done in New York City give way briefly to location work in Bangkok and on some hills in Thailand. The camera work from Alex Thomson is the best thing in the movie, which groans on for 134 minutes to one of the most idiotic finales of any crime flick from the era.
A flop, making only $18,707,000, coming in 47th for the year. With John Lone (who does his end well, and was rewarded with The Last Emperor ), Raymond J. Barry, Caroline Kava, Leonard Termo and Victor Wong. Rourke continued to play seedy in part after part, running out patience until finally redeeming his promise two decades later with Sin City and The Wrestler. Stone recovered the following year with Salvador and Platoon. Cimino somehow was given controls again with The Sicilian and Desperate Hours; both flopped badly. Ariane was flayed by reviews, and only appeared in three more pictures, years later.