Directed By: Michael Cimino
Starring: Mickey Rourke, John Lone, Ariane, Raymond J. Barry
Tag line: "It isn't the Bronx or Brooklyn. It isn't even New York. It's Chinatown...and it's about to explode"
Trivia: The exterior shots of New York City were actually sets built in North Carolina
“There’s a new Marshal in town”. These words are spoken by New York City Detective Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) after he’s assigned the gargantuan task of cleaning up Chinatown, which, in recent months, has been plagued by gang violence. Like Harry Callahan, Clint Eastwood’s renegade cop from the Dirty Harry series, White occasionally operates outside the law to ensure justice is carried out. But as we learn early on in Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon, Stanley isn’t exactly a hero. In fact, sometimes he’s a downright bastard.
White’s investigation centers on the activities of Joey Tai (John Lone), an ambitious young gangster who’s recently taken control of his family’s vast criminal empire. With the help of reporter Tracy Tzu (Ariane), the ever-persistent White disrupts Tai’s entire operation, initiating a battle of wills between the two men that, before it’s over, will cost a number of people their lives.
Mickey Rourke was one of my favorite actors back in the ‘80s, and in Year of the Dragon he effectively snarls his way through the role of Stanley White. There are moments when we’re definitely on his side (like when the Mayor, refusing to risk the thousands of dollars in campaign contributions he gets from Joey Tai, tries to reign in the investigation). Ultimately, though, Stanley White is a hard character to like. Aside from his shocking disregard for procedure (at one point arresting hundreds of Chinese just to send Joey Tai a message), he also allows personal feelings to interfere with his job. A Vietnam war vet, Stanley often lets his distaste for all things Chinese get the better of him, and isn’t above tossing out the occasional racist remark. He ignores his long-suffering wife, Connie (Caroline Kava), and instead woos Tracy Tzu, even going so far as to force himself on her when she refuses to have sex with him. So outlandish is his behavior at times that we wonder why he wasn’t thrown off the force long ago. On the other side of the fight is Joey Tai, smoothly portrayed by John Lone. At the outset, it appears Tai’s primary interest is business. Following an attack on a restaurant owned by his uncle, Harry Jung (Victor Wong), Tai calls for retaliation, mostly because there’s very little money coming in, and they can’t afford to risk future revenue by losing face. But underneath his white suit and business savvy, Joey Tai is every bit the cold-blooded criminal, one who isn't afraid to take an active role in the killings from time to time.
There are action scenes in Year of the Dragon that will blow your mind (the attack by two masked gunmen on Harry Jung’s restaurant is one of the film’s strongest scenes), and Cimino never shies away from the violence, which he shows in all its crimson-stained glory. But Year of the Dragon is also uneven; the love affair between Stanley and Tracy Tzu isn’t given enough time to explain itself (we have no idea what she sees in him), and there’s an extended sequence with Joey Tai in Thailand that's entirely unnecessary. These elements, combined with a lead character who’ll rub a good many people the wrong way, result in a very hit and miss film.