Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Year of the Dragon
Based on the novel by Robert Daley, Year of the Dragon is the story of a troubled New York City police captain who goes on a personal war against the organized world of Chinese triad gangs. Directed by Michael Cimino and screenplay by Cimino and Oliver Stone, the film is a look into the world of gangs and culture clash as a former Vietnam War veteran turned police captain deals with his own prejudices and the rise of a Chinese crime lord. Starring Mickey Rourke, John Lone, Ariane Koizumi, and Raymond J. Barry. Year of the Dragon is a hard-hitting yet wild film from Michael Cimino.
Set in the Chinatown section in New York City, the film is about a police captain who goes to war with the Chinese triad gang in the hope he can end the chaos that is emerging in the section following the death of a revered triad leader. Yet, Captain Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) is a former Vietnam veteran with some very racist attitudes towards Asians as he wants to hit triads very hard as he also deals with the rising triad boss Joey Tai (John Lone). Tai wants to change things in the way the triads deal with other business ventures as he finds a formidable opponent in Captain White. Tai’s ambitions would eventually alienate the triad elders while Captain White’s determination would also drive away those he cared for such as his wife Connie (Caroline Kava) where he would engage into an affair with the Chinese-American news reporter Tracy Tzu (Ariane Koizumi). It’s not just a film about ambition as well as a new world order taking out the old rules but it’s also a film where a man’s obsession has him lose sight of the good things in the world.
The film’s screenplay by Michael Cimino and Oliver Stone isn’t afraid to be controversial as some of its dialogue includes some very racist words about Asians and other races. Particularly as it Captain White is a man who is a very flawed individual as he often neglects his wife in a marriage that becomes very rocky while he is also very arrogant and confrontational towards his superiors. In some ways, White is a guy that seems to have a death wish about stopping every bad Chinese triad member and everyone till there is no more only to drive away the people who care about him. Once he is confronted by people who work for him or those who care about him, there is a side of White that is very sensitive as he tries to come to terms with his flaws and wants to do what is right. It’s part of the script’s brilliance to showcase this conflict in White as he wants to hold on to those he cares but he also wants to fight the never-ending battle against corruption and evil.
Then there’s Joey Tai as he is a young man with ambition as he realizes that the old ways of the Chinese triads are becoming dated as he wants to expand and evolve much to the dismay of his uncles who have become overwhelmed with the emerging chaos in Chinatown as young gang members kill with no remorse. For Tai, it’s a chance to have the Chinese be the new leaders of the crime underworld and no longer take a backseat to the Italians who often treated the triads as second-class citizens. There is a bit of mutual respect between Tai and White as they’re two men who are very uncompromising in everything they do. They don’t care for rules or what it takes to get things done yet they both stand for different ideas as White is a man of the law and Tai is on the other side where a collision is going to happen. It’s a film that moves back-and-forth into these two men where neither would budge forcing those who had been at their side to watch from the sidelines. Even as those that White had often criticized would fight back with some strong words about not what the Chinese brought to the world but also how they’ve managed to survive no matter what troubles they’ve encountered including prejudice.
Cimino’s direction is truly mesmerizing not just for the use of the 2:35:1 widescreen aspect ratio to capture every attention to detail in the frame. It’s also a film that doesn’t pull punches in terms of its violence and action as it has elements of gangster films and crime dramas of the past. Particularly in the look of its main characters as White sort of models himself as a detective of the 1940s but with the ruggedness of the 1970s while Tai is a man that recalls a more classical look but with a more modern attitude. While it is set largely in New York City, much of the film is shot in Wilmington, North Carolina as it dresses the Chinatown section as a colorful yet troubled world that is teetering on the edge of collapse. Much of Cimino’s compositions includes a lot of medium shots yet he manages to fill in a lot of coverage with the aspect ratio to play into the action and drama.
Some of which include some gazing tracking shot and some dolly shots to play into the drama such as this hypnotic scene where Tracy looks at New York City from her window as she walking slowly to look at the morning view. Some of the scenes set in Thailand has Cimino employ some wide shots that recall some of the epic-scale filmmaking of the 1960s to display Tai’s ambition. The direction gets more intense in the third act when White and Tai go head on as it includes this very gripping climax where the two men finally go to war as it recalls bits of the western and the gangster film all rolled into one. Overall, Cimino crafts a very visceral yet unflinching film about a cop’s ruthless obsession to stop an ambitious man’s rise to the top of the world.
Cinematographer Alex Thomson does excellent work with the film‘s colorful cinematography from the lush look of red in some of the interior scenes set in Chinatown along with exotic lights for the scenes in Tracy‘s apartment while a lot of the exterior scenes set in New York are grimy as Thomson‘s work is among one of the film‘s highlights. Editor Francoise Bonnot, with additional work from Noelle Boisson, does brilliant work with the editing with its unpredictable rhythms to play into some of the film‘s action and violent scenes while keeping things more simple for its dramatic moments. Production designer Wolf Kroeger and art director Victoria Paul do amazing work with the set pieces from some of the look of Chinatown as well as Tracy’s apartment plus some of the places like a restaurant and other places in the film.
Costume designer Marietta Ciriello does fantastic work with the costumes from the clothes the men wear along with the stylish look of Tracy to showcase her somewhat-posh persona. Sound editor James J. Klinger does superb work with the sound from the way some of the crowd scenes are captured to the sound effects of gunplay and such that occurs in the film. The film’s music by David Mansfield is incredible for its eerie orchestral pieces along with some plaintive and somber themes that also include some intense, Asian-based score cuts while the music soundtrack includes a few classical pieces and some Chinese pop songs.
The casting by Joanna Merlin is phenomenal as it features some notable small roles from Eddie Jones as the police captain that White replaces, Leonard Termo as White’s associate during the investigation, Mark Hammer as the police commissioner, Paul Scaglione as an aging Mafia boss, Mei Sheng Fan as a Thai crime boss that Tai meets, Ming C. Lee as the triad boss that is assassinated early in the film, and Joey Chin as the wild assassin Ronnie Yung. Victor Wong is terrific as Tai’s uncle Harry who becomes the new leader only to step down out for Joey as he becomes overwhelmed with the chaos that is emerging. Dennis Dun is excellent as the Chinese rookie cop Herbert Kwong as this young man who reluctantly works for White while having this great monologue about the Chinese and their contributions to the world as a way to put White in his place. Caroline Kava is wonderful as White’s long-suffering wife Connie who becomes frustrated with being neglected as well as his obsession to fight as she ponders about the state of their marriage.
Raymond J. Barry is superb as White’s superior/friend Bukowski as he tries to maintain some peace between the police and the triad as well as to get White to see some sense over the chaos he’s created. Ariane Koizumi is pretty good as news reporter Tracy Tzu as this ambitious woman that covers the chaos of what is happening as she engages into an affair with White while being frustrated over his attitude. John Lone is brilliant as Joey Tai as this ambitious and ruthless young triad boss who wants to create a new world order for the Chinese triad while doing what it takes to survive. Finally, there’s Mickey Rourke in a tremendous performance as Captain Stanley White as this flawed yet determined man who wants to take down the crime underworld at any cost as it’s a performance that is full of charm, wit, and humor as well as be extremely intense and terrifying as Rourke’s scenes with Lone are just exciting to watch.
Year of the Dragon is a remarkable film from Michael Cimino. Thanks to the top-notch performances of Mickey Rourke and John Lone as well as Alex Thomson’s fluid camera work and the hypnotic score of David Mansfield. The film is definitely one of Cimino’s finest films in his otherwise troubled career as it includes a smart and unflinching script co-written with Oliver Stone. It’s also a film that explores the world of prejudices, ambition, and obsession as it isn’t afraid to get down and dirty. In the end, Year of the Dragon is an incredible film from Michael Cimino.
Michael Cimino Films: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot - The Deer Hunter - Heaven’s Gate - The Sicilian - Desperate Hours (1990 film) - The Sunchaser - To Each His Own Cinema-No Translation Needed - The Auteurs #35: Michael Cimino
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