Year of the Dragon
Year of the Dragon, Michael Cimino’s first film after Heaven’s Gate, was probably a dream project, seeing as he got to work with Mickey Rourke, one of the biggest and ballsiest stars of that era, and Oliver Stone (who co-wrote the script), whose sensibilities, especially at the time, were almost identical to Cimino’s. Both heavy misanthropes into limited portrayals of women crude dialogue and throwing heavy handed political messages into every scene, it was probably very difficult to step on their enthusiasm for a violent “expose” on Chinese gang warfare in NYC’s Chinatown.
It goes without saying that the movie is beyond embarrassingly terrible, one I remember fondly from my childhood (through watching edited TV versions on Sunday afternoon) as a fantastic example of garish and clueless 80’s excess and senseless machismo. There’s one scene (of many that were nominated) that deserves a Bond-villain-style laugh. After Rourke’s “renegade” cop has shot and killed a gang member who was driving away from a vicious crime, we even see the guy’s head explode, Troma melon style, the car goes into a wall and blows up. Rourke ignores the fact that the car is engulfed in flames (and that the guy has been killed, twice), he angrily goes right up to the car and pulls the burning dead guy from the driver’s side, which we immediately spot as a dummy, all the while, a fellow cop is screaming at him to run before he is killed by the fire.
I didn’t even mention the wiretaps which are interpreted into English by a 75 year old vegetarian white nun, in full habit garb.
There is little way to Rourke’s character as anything other than a boorish, ornery, idiot, who tries to get into as many fights as he can with superiors, gang members, etc. Supposedly, he is the most decorated cop in all of NY, but it’s rather hard to believe that he ever got anything done since he is constantly belligerent. He gives long, self-obsessed speeches about the meaning of what he’s trying to do by disrupting Chinatown, antagonizing people who aren’t even naysayers whilst Stone throws in simplistic history lessons about Chinese culture and makes constant references to Vietnam as an unwinnable war because of apathy and how this war is one we can win, amidst the cop movie clichés of fighting against the system because nobody cares. There’s even a hilarious bit of a dialogue where one of Rourke’s close cop friends says to him, “You care too much,” to which he replies “How can anyone care too much?” This is Stone’s attempt to turn Rourke into a martyr/hero rather than the moronic hooligan he is.
And while there are few scenes that take place after the 30 minute mark which are not utterly awful, the acting atrocious (the Asian reporter/mistress is incredibly stiff, though she’s mostly on display for the rape/nudity quotient), the movie endless (there’s an extraneous trip to Thailand that adds about 20 minutes to this already bloated 136 minute movie), what might have turned it around slightly and perhaps made it something you wouldn’t snicker at its limitations, would be the music score. Generally it is used to try to elicit sympathy for Rourke’s character when he gives a blustery speech, or when we see him crying, or when he does something questionable that we are supposed to see as noble. If the music hadn’t been trying to uplift, rather be a bit more critical of him, it would have turned the movie into an interesting critique of recklessness and thoughtlessness, as opposed to the brainless and non-sensical mess on display.
Regardless, I enjoyed it for its amazing lack of taste, coherence, and humanity. It is appalling, and therefore appallingly funny.
But think how different the movie would be if we weren’t supposed to root for Rourke’s character, just observe him. Labute doesn’t ask to cheer for Eckhart in In the Company of Men, just pay attention objectively. If the movie was an inspirational story about taking advantage of vulnerable deaf women, how different would it be*?