The Sunday Film Review – Rourke Factor: Year of the Dragon
Year of the Dragon
Director: Michael Cimino (1985)
If you haven’t encountered them, I’ve got this whole gimmicky ‘thing’ going occasionally reviewing Mickey Rourke films. Basically I watch a Mickey Rourke film, review it, and then group said review with other reviews with the unimaginative banner ‘Rourke factor’, I don’t know, something to do with a Less Than Jake Gig and a quasi-right wing newspaper…….. Lately, during what I’ve termed my ‘huff copious amounts of diethyl ether days’, I find myself picking up Rourke Films without bothering to read the blurb.
I think this must have been the case with Year of the Dragon. After a particularly intense three day ‘ether trip’ (one that left me with the strangest sensation of just neutering a cat) I awoke to discover a peacock on my shoulder, a monkey on my shin and a DVD copy of the film in my arms………………. (Or maybe I just got a copy sent to me by ‘evil’ money corporation amazon offshoot, Lovefilm, you decide which is more entertaining).
Once the monkey clawing at my shins proved to be a figment, I read the title ‘Year of the Dragon’ and wrongly assumed I’d ether danced my way to another film from Rourke’s ‘cold phase’. ‘Cold phase’ being my insipid terminology for a period in Rourke’s career I’ve discovered somewhere between the end of the eighties (Shades) and 2008’s The Wrestler where a combination of dickish behaviour, substance abuse and boxing left Mr Rourke ostracised from the major American studios. I had (possibly ether influenced) visions of drawn out gun battles, clumsy plot points with a murdered wife or friend thrown in, some lazy direction and a haggard looking Rourke……………………………. Then the phrase ‘written by Oliver Stone (if you don’t know who he is that can only be described as tragic) and Michael Cimino (director of the Deer Hunter, every pretentious film watchers favourite Vietnam film)’ popped up, much intrigue followed.
Chinatown, New York, Ham-EriCA: an elderly Chinese man with insanely stereotypical Fu Manchu moustache (incidentally my ether dealer sports a similar work) is stabbed in a restaurant.
A massive social affair of a funeral follows with the inhabitants of Chinatown lining the streets to watch a procession of drummers and dudes in white suits. The local police captain sits on a horse enjoying watching proceedings when he’s approached for comment by local journalist Tracy Tzu (Ariane Koizumi, a fashion model of Japanese and Dutch descent………. who would have thought Dutch + Japanese origins = passable Chinese appearance…………………..except racist casting agents?). Tracy Tzu’s search for a quote gets rudely interrupted by Captain Stanley White (Mr Rourke), Stanley White it transpires has been recruited as the new police captain in Chinatown, because what more appropriate location to relieve a police captain of his duty than at a public funeral in front of locals and members press?
It turns out the murdered Fu Manchu dude wasn’t just any Fu Manchu dude, he was a senior member of the local Triads, (for those who never played Grand Theft Auto 3, the Triads are a global criminal syndicate stemming from China). On the heels of the funeral, the other local bosses meet and young up and comer Joey Tai (John Lone, an actor of incredible range) talks his way into being elected as their new head. His business plan is simple: piss people off. He pisses of the Italian Mafia by backing out of a drug selling arrangement, he pisses off the locals by shooting up bars, and he pisses off Stanley White by………….. actually Stanley White is already pissed off.
Stanley White, you see, is a Vietnam Veteran with a grudge against anyone who ‘looks Asian’. I’d suggest a man of such views may not be the most suitable choice for captain of your local Chinese community police captain, but far be it from me to accuse the New York Police Department of being indifferent to matters of race……………
……. they’re very focused in their approach to racism. Stanley also has problems at home, his wife Connie (Caroline Kava, not really given anything to do except weep and storm out of rooms) won’t have kids because she doesn’t trust Stanley to take care of himself or take multi-vitamins.
Between them, Stanley White and Joey Tai manage to completely rip up a truce that existed between the police and the Triads, isolate their peers and antagonize each other until there’s nothing left to do save have a shoot out on a bridge.
Plot summary ends
Watching a film directed by Cimino, co-written by Oliver Stone and starring Micky Rourke, I could be forgiven for expecting greatness. Instead it turns out my initial impression was sadly correct and I’m left thinking it wasn’t a coincidence I sat through Year of the Dragon in an ether induced coma. Year of the Dragon is bad, punch yourself in the ovaries bad, in all honesty you’d have to be on some substance to enjoy this film, the fact some dude named Quentin Tarantino lists Year of the Dragon as one of his favourites sort of enhances the point. There’s just so much about year of the Dragon that’s unlikeable when watched through sober eyes.
First I’ll start with the fluffy pink cloud issue of racism. Year of the Dragon came into criticism from some quarters for being racist as shit in its attitude towards Chinese people. I actually don’t think that rings true. Sure there’re tons of racist epithets; yellow-nigger and chink being probably the most abhorrent of the bunch, but they come from racist characters. It’s not the film pointing and laughing at Chinese people, it’s just certain characters. Stanley White is a racist prick with a chip on his shoulder, but the film doesn’t glamorise or celebrate Stanley for his actions, in fact the crux of Stanley’s story involves his attitude alienating and driving everyone who cares about him away. I can understand why the two get confused, because Stanley is the lead character you’re supposed to root for in the final showdown, but that’s not because of his attitude, it’s because compared to drug baron Joey Tai, Stanley is the lesser of two evils.
Year of the Dragon didn’t feel a racist watch then, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an incredibly-credibly misogynistic one. I can’t believe the treatment of the female characters in this one. Here’s a great scene; Stanley goes round Tracy Tzu’s house, the two exchange badly acted pleasantries (more on that later) and Stanley begins to undress, convinced he is, to quote the schoolyard, ‘in’. Ms Tzu calmly explains to Mr White he is definitely not ‘in’ as she has a boyfriend, to which Stanley gets annoyed, accuses Ms Tzu of being a tease and then, upon discovery that Ms Tzu’s boyfriend isn’t due to visit, dives on her. Ms Tzu lays passively as Stanley kisses her neck…………….. it was at this point I turned to the girl who occasionally lets me penetrate her and questioned whether this did or did not constitute rape? Her answer was to the effect of ‘if you don’t know you should never be around women’………………… which isn’t the first time I’ve heard that, am I right fellas…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Anyway, even after that things don’t get any better for Ms Tzu, Stanley basically stalks her while neglecting his wife, then when Joey Tai decides he wants to piss Stanley off, his first port of call is to have Ms Tzu raped, which Stanley then does nothing about.
Worst of all Ms Tzu isn’t even the female character hardest done by, the only other female character who gets any time at all, Stanley’s wife literally gets four scenes, 3 crying scenes and then brutally murdered, (yeah that should be a spoiler and I would have put a warning in, if her death actually meant anything in terms of the plot of the film). Post his wife’s murder Stanley never mentions her again, shows no remorse for being unfaithful and generally twatish to her, and then, at the end gets a heroic walk down the street with the woman he raped…………. That’s some messed up morality right there.
It’s here I will accept the argument ‘but Sam, you’re a dude, a macho manly manly dude who’s totally cool and definitely not a virgin, so you won’t be affected by such portrayal of female characters’……. To which I reply ‘not the case and shut up………………also you’re right, I’m not a virgin (manly cough)’.
Rourke Factor (this is the bit where I review Mr Rourke’s performance)
Away from gender politics, Year of the Dragon isn’t a particularly good showing for Mr Rourke either. 2 years after Year of the Dragon, Angel Heart, a far superior film with featuring an exceptional performance by Rourke was released; the difference between the superb Rourke of that film and the stinted wooden Rourke is palpable. There’s little emotion on show here, he doesn’t sound interested in the script, there aren’t any interesting character interactions and I’m left with the impression that Rourke really didn’t care about this film. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say maybe some of that’s to do with Cimino a fine director, but one with a reputation for a demanding and dictatorial style which I can’t see playing out particular well with a dude like Mickey Rourke. He looks in decent health though, so I was wrong when I guessed he’d look haggard, that may actually be damning with praise though, seeing as how Stanley White is most definitely a man who should look haggard.
I want to emphasise, Rourke’s performance is really only poor in comparison to what I’ve already seen he’s capable of, it’s a passable performance, Ariane Koizumi on the other hand, has no excuses. I don’t like singling out and bashing actors when I’m not paying them expenses (because nothing says wannabe indie like only covering expense), because most of the time I’ve found a poor performance is a failing in either the casting or direction rather than the talent themself. With Ariane Koizumi though, wherever the blame lies, her performance is woeful. She stumbles over lines, feels like she’s reading from an entirely different script that’s a few inches off screen and half the time doesn’t look like she even realises she’s talking to anyone. Ms Koizumi gained two raspberry nominations for her performance, and I really can’t argue against either.
Acting aside, Year of the Dragon is just a tedious and boring watch. Stanley White and Joey Tai are unlikeable fellows who behave downright stupidly; all they ever do is rant and make decisions you can see going wrong a mile off. The support cast just sort of exists without contributing anything meaningful and for once I’ve loathed watching a film so much I don’t even want to read the source material to see if the books better. Oh by the way, Year of the Dragon is a film adaptation of a book.
I could go on ranting about the little things, the plot holes and general lack of a clue this film seems to have had, I haven’t for instance touched upon on the oddly edited action scenes or the bit in the middle where everything turns into Raiders of the Lost Ark for ten minutes for no apparent reason, but it’d be boring for me to write. Instead I’ll try and see the positives…………………….. Year of the Dragon looks good for an eighties film and the locations are well chosen, there, they are literally the only two positive things I could think to say.
To summarise…………Year of the Dragon: poorly cast, poorly executed, poorly structured story, misogynistic, not racist, looks ok, I recommend you either watch after ingesting copious amounts of drugs or just don’t bother.
Written by Sam ‘A cat fast as lightening, a little bit frightening’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
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