Reappreciation Society: Year Of The Dragon

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No-one does excess quite like Michael Cimino (Heaven’s Gate, The Deer Hunter). And when you factor in a co-writing credit by Oliver Stone and a hey-day bruising performance by Mickey Rourke, you get crimeland / cop procedural drama Year Of The Dragon. Light the touchpaper and step back, because “This isn’t the Bronx or Brooklyn. It isn’t even New York. It’s Chinatown, and it’s about to explode.”

Year Of The Dragon is often accused, as was The Godfather (by the Italian-American Civil Rights League) of being racist – Cimino says rather that it addresses racism, albeit with the blunt force trauma of a sledgehammer to a nut. Rourke’s character is Police captain and Vietnam vet Stanley White, a spade-calling Polack in his forties (Rourke ages up, not altogether convincingly) brought in by his bosses to quell gangland unrest in New York’s Chinatown. The upsurge in violence is the result of jostling behind the scenes by upcoming Triad boss Joey Tai (John Lone), to control the lucrative heroin trade being ferried through the city and district from Thailand’s Golden Triangle. While his bosses and the corrupt business face “uncles” of Chinatown want to ignore the underlying problems in favour of just keeping the blood off the tourist filled streets, White sees himself as a crusader, with a more root and branch approach in mind. He blows off concerns, calling himself the new marshall in town, bulldozing his way into meetings, all but dangling his spurs (he even wears a hat).

“How can anybody care too much?”

This is America you’re living in and it’s 200 years old, so you better get your clocks fixed,” White smirks, in response to the Uncles’ excusing of age-old secrecy and tolerance for illegal gambling. He’s an arrogant son of a bitch, the most decorated cop on the force, with the requisite troubled home life to boot, often testing the loyalty of his wife, and neglecting her desire for them to try for a family before her biological clock runs out. “Don’t bust my balls, Stanley!” Connie (Caroline Kava) barges at him. It’s no accident I think that Rourke’s character is reimagined as the Polish – American Stanley (the film is based on a middling airport potboiler) – at times the clash of extreme violence and domestic melodrama comes across like a marriage of Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront and Michael Winner’s Death Wish. Especially after another row, when a white vest clad Rourke, clutching a beer, ruminates on his failings: Connie cries in the bathroom, just before street thugs sent by Joey Tai slash her throat, and a demented White chases them out the door.

John Lone cuts a dash as a quiet, refined, polite figure, rarely losing his cool, His ambitions are big, and so is Cimino’s scope. In one section, Tai visits the Golden Triangle to buy off the local general. As he enters his fiefdom, hundreds of soldiers and drug smugglers line the jungle mountain horizon. Over dinner negotiations, Joey holds aloft a gift – the head of the “motherless fuck” who would come between them making business together. It’s one of the rare times he raises his voice.

White assembles his own army meanwhile. In a bravura tracking shot in the precinct house, he tells his cops – no more kickbacks – he’s a pissier version of Kevin Costner’s Elliott Ness.

The film gives an extraordinary, steadi-cam view of a Chinatown few outsiders knew existed, at times recalling the otherworldliness of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. White and his men wade knee deep through a swampy, steamy sub-basement soybean  factory, led to dumped bodies by an elderly worker, whose skin has barely seen daylight, it seems. He’s disgusted by what goes on above: “Young people, no respect. Steal. Shoot. Kill. Like white man.”

A chase by White after a restaurant shooting recalls Decard pursuing Zhora: a young chinese hit-girl in punky get-up and slit skirt crashes through glass and is bumped between jostling traffic in a neon-drenched street, White casually blowing her off her feet and taunting her until assistance arrives.

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“Aristocratic” Mandarin speaking T.V journalist Tracy Tzu (Ariane) gets mixed up in White’s messy crusade, trading impartiality for scoops on raids, while he trades the marital bed for her penthouse.  He mansplains how he understands that the Chinese railroad workers of the 19th century for example, embody the unwritten history of America. With no sense of irony he sends a jittery Chinese rookie undercover. Elderly, sardonic nuns from the missions translate his hard-won wiretaps. But the harder White pushes, the more the violence escalates, the more good people get hurt, and the more he is shut down. The conflict boils over to a personal vendatta between White and Joey Tai, as they both await the latest night time drug shipment at the Port Authority. White reverts to a war footing, discarding suit and tie for his veteran’s combat jacket, the combatants running screaming at each other across a bridge, brass flying, shots muffled by the blare of a train’s horn. White is symbolically shot through the palm of one hand.

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White in the end achieves nothing, and is reduced to disrupting another crime lord’s funeral, while the next generation looks on. Stone’s original final line of White’s, as he embraces Tracy, was vetoed at some level: “Well, I guess if you fight a war long enough, you end up marrying the enemy.” Altogether, the film is a none too subtle attempt to out-Friedkin William Friedkin, and his classic, The French Connection. The film failed to perform well, but holds a special place in the hearts of a generation raised on video rentals. “Don’t bust my balls!” is my “Show me the money!”

 

Originally posted 2015-04-01 22:02:34. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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