Y is for… Year of the Dragon
Let me start out by explaining that when I decided to do Year of the Dragon, I had high hopes. Okay, yes, part of me was just happy I had found an action movie that began with “Y,” but then I saw the names attached to it, like director Michael Cimino, and co-writer Oliver Stone. And then I read the back of the DVD case, which promised the movie delivered “adrenaline rushes of action and excitement.” So, great, a fun time was to be had.
Year of the Dragon was actually quite painful to sit through, especially the second time. I shouldn’t almost be falling asleep on a Sunday afternoon while watching an action movie. The problem was that the small bursts of action were few and far between, mired in long stretches of drama that seemed like they’d be better off if placed in another film entirely.
Throughout an overly complicated yet slow-moving plot, unlikeable Captain Stanley White of the NYPD, played by Mickey Rourke, is on a mission to cleanse Chinatown of its corruption. He tries to crack down on gang violence, extortion, and illegal gambling, but is up against “ancient” Chinese ways and specifically the ruling families, the organization of which is led by Joey Tai (John Lone). Stan knows there’s corruption, knows who is responsible for it, yet gets no real assistance from his police force, nor the aforementioned leading Chinese families, who profit from the aforementioned corruptions. Meanwhile, Stan faces estrangement from his wife, Connie (Caroline Kava), which is only exacerbated by his working relationship with, and attraction to, reporter Tracy Tzu (Ariane).
As Stanley digs deeper, he’s met with more opposition, and more chaos orchestrated by Joey Tai, who also arranges for heroin to be brought into the country from Thailand. Tai eventually kills Connie and also the rookie Stan placed undercover, Herbert Kwong (Dennis Dun). Stan is set to be reassigned back to Brooklyn, and Tai is set to become the full leader of Chinatown and all its corruption. In an extremely anemic climax, Tai and Stan have a shootout on some train tracks, and Tai kills himself.
And, somehow, Stan gets the girl, though what Tracy sees in him is not known.
Let’s struggle through the criteria!
A is for… Accents
There are plenty of Chinese accents, considering the film takes place in Chinatown. The Chinese people are, of course, the villains.
Ban Sung has a Thai accent, or at least I assume that’s a Thai accent considering he’s in Thailand and I don’t really know what the Thai accent sounds like.
Stan and some of the other cops have Brooklyn accents.
For some reason the port worker at the docks is Irish.
B is for… Bad Guys
Initially the bad guys are presented as youth gangs that extort business owners, and they kill people in plain sight.
However, the true villains are soon presented as four Chinese businessmen, one of whom, Joey Tai, is truly dominant. He wants power and systematically achieves it. In addition to the youth gangs and other underbelly of society dealings, Tai is also responsible for importing heroin into the country.
A criminal named White Powder Ma is mentioned as having power, but he is killed by Tai.
Ban Sung in Thailand makes the heroin Tai sells.
C is for… Chases
Go-Go girls attack Stan, and he then chases them on foot through the building and out onto the street, where one girl gets knocked around between cars like a pinball.
D is for… Damsels
First the viewer is introduced to Tracy Tzu, a reporter intent on covering all the news related to politics and corruption in Chinatown. She’s tenacious, and takes her job and Chinese ancestry very seriously. Despite all of that, she somehow sleeps with the cantankerous, awful Stan and even falls in love with him, though why is beyond understanding.
Connie is Stan’s wife, and while she is depicted as independent, she is also depressed. She seems to have given up on their marriage, yet also seems to think having a baby will fix it. Given that she seems so unhappy due to her husband’s stressful job, him not being around while she struggles with an infant doesn’t seem like the best sort of therapy. She seems to be the sort of woman who understands that her husband has a demanding job, but yet is angry he’s late for dinner when he’s at a homicide scene (doesn’t he tell her that’s where he was?) and cries when he leaves with Joey Tai, though to be fair he doesn’t seem to respect her anyway. She eventually kicks him out, though whether it’s because of his job or because she thinks he’s cheating with Tracey is unclear. Regardless, she’s killed during a conversation about how they should divorce.
E is for… Explosions
There’s a parade in the beginning that has some fireworks/firecrackers going off.
A thug getaway car smashes into a wall and explodes.
F is for…Flashbacks
There aren’t any flashbacks, so we might as well make “F” stand for “Funeral” for this film, because there are three: Harry Yung’s, Connie’s, and Joey Tai’s.
G is for… Guns
Check out details on the IMFDB
For a movie without a lot of violence, there are pockets of handguns throughout.
Gang members, thought to be under the control of White Powder Ma but really working for Joey Tai, use machine guns to shoot up a restaurant. They completely destroy the place and kill a bunch of people; they just don’t leave and they keep shooting and shooting.
During the shootout Stan has his service weapon, which he fires randomly and haphazardly. When he’s firing at the thugs outside the restaurant, they both level machine guns at him and cause damage to the wall on either side of him, but he remains unscathed.
Stan shoots the men who infiltrate his home and kill Connie, though he does run out in the street firing his gun blindly as he runs.
One of Tai’s thugs shoots Herbert at least a half dozen times, including through the cheeks. It’s actually pretty heartbreaking, because he’s the only character that’s remotely sympathetic.
When Stan confronts Joey Tai at the nightclub and beats him up, a shootout occurs in the bathroom between Stan and a Chinese woman with red hair I kept referring to as Rufio.
The climactic fight scene at the dock is anything but, as Tai and Stan shoot their handguns at each other as they run toward each other.
H is for… Helicopters
Sadly, there are no helicopters in the film. However, the train that almost squishes Joey Tai during the climax gets extra points for almost giving the viewer an interesting death for the uninteresting character.
I is for… Improvisation
For a renegade cop, Stan isn’t creative at all, and only brandishes his gun at people.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
Stan also keeps his feet on the ground and doesn’t jump or fall through anything, though he does run into a door and break the glass a little. At least it used real glass.
K is for… Kill Count
Despite seemingly having free range in the film, if Stan’s wild, blind shooting is any indication, he really only kills three people, the two thugs that kill Connie and the thug driving the car at the docks.
L is for… Limitations
Stan’s biggest problem is that he seems to have taken on Chinatown without any grand plan in place, and absolutely no support. His people don’t want to help, and the Chinese leaders (who are spearheading the corruption) don’t want to help. The mafia presence in China is clearly huge, even if the Chinese want to pretend it doesn’t exist. Also, as Tai keeps pointing out, the corruption in Chinatown runs deep, back thousands of years (somehow, even though, as Stan points out, America is only 200 years old), so even with full support, it would be a tough problem to fix with any sort of expediency.
M is for… Motivation
Part of the problem with the film is that while the viewer is told that Stan is a great cop, the film never quite explains why he’s so hellbent on cleaning up Chinatown. Is it simply because it’s his assignment? Does he have a personal connection to the area? Has he beaten mafia gangs in other areas and he wants to continue eradicating them? We do know that he wants to keep the Chinese Triads away from the Italian gangs. Stan also explains that he wants to end and minimize the Chinese jails, sweatshops, extortionists, TB levels, mental illness, and heroin distribution.
Not surprisingly, Joey Tai wants power and money. Très shocking.
N is for… Negotiation
Stan wants Joey Tai, and the other leaders of Chinatown, to help him collar the gangs and get them off the streets. Tai agrees that Stan can beat up the gang thugs. Stan simplifies his position as everyone needs to obey the law, or they all will suffer.
Joey Tai offers to help Stan put away the thugs by providing witnesses and evidence if Stan works with him to help the Chinese people prosper, which of course means allow the rich rulers to get richer. He also offers to give Stan security work after he retires, anywhere in the world.
Stan, of course, refuses and says he can’t be bought.
O is for… One-Liners
Tracy: I think you upset him.
Stan: I certainly hope so.
Joey Tai: There can be no success in business without harmony.
Stan: You look like you’re gonna die, beautiful.
Rufio woman: Don’t count on it.
Stan: I’d like to be a nice guy. I would. But I don’t know how to be nice.
P is for… Profession
Stan White is a police captain in New York City, recently reassigned to Chinatown. He is clearly smarmy, and even his own wife describes him as “arrogant, self-centered, and condescending.” He is also a sort of renegade, clearly looking forward to shaking things up and singlehandedly ending corruption in Chinatown. He’s really supposed to be fighting the gangs, not the ruling families.
Stan is also a Vietnam vet, though, unlike Rambo, he’s been able to assimilate back into society, more or less. He’s clearly a good cop, as it’s explained at least twice that he’s the most decorated cop in NYC, but he isn’t very popular. He explains that he can’t be bought, and that he doesn’t want corruption on the police force.
Q is for… Quagmire
Things get emotionally dire for Stan once his wife is dead, his girlfriend raped, and his undercover partner killed on the job. He is also fired, or at least taken off the job in Chinatown and reassigned back to Brooklyn.
As far as physical danger where his life seems to be on the line, Stan seems fine the whole movie. Really, though, if he had died, it only would have been fitting.
R is for… Reality, or Suspension of Disbelief
Sadly, the levels of violence and corruption in the film are plausible and likely probable.
S is for… Sidekicks
Tracy is sort of a sidekick, but she isn’t really on the job with him, she just provides him a home base.
Herbert is a rookie cop who works several jobs to send money home to his family in China. Stan needs him because he’s Chinese and can work undercover and keep an eye on Joey Tai. Herbert is innocent, and is literally thrown out of the car into his undercover work. He’s really the only likeable character in the whole film, and it’s awful when he dies.
Herbert and Stan work with a guy named Rizzo, who doesn’t seem to have a purpose other than work with Stan and the nuns who have Tai’s place tapped.
T is for… Technology
The plot doesn’t revolve around tech, other than the wiretapping. It’s one of those movies, however, with distracting antiquated technology like car phones and the three TVs at the foot of Tracy’s bed I assume are used so she can track the news on various stations at once.
U is for… Unexpected Romance
In this film, the “unexpected” part of the “romance” is only due to the fact that Stan starts the movie married. Unlike True Lies, the married couple does not strengthen their bond, and if Connie had lived I doubt Stan would still be married to her. Had Connie not been a factor, the “unexpected” part where Stan hooks up with Tracy would not have been unexpected in the least.
The “romance” part is also up for debate, because Tracy doesn’t even seem to really like Stan, yet she sleeps with him and falls in love with him and winds up with him, even though he’s arrogant, selfish, et cetera and takes advantage of her hospitality.
It’s just not a believable relationship, and it’s actually off-putting.
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
Stan engages Tai in a game of chicken, but neither shies away and they just have a head-on collision.
W is for… Winning
After two hours of relationship struggles and meetings, respectively, Stan and Joey Tai meet at the docks, where Herbert overheard that Tai would be receiving the shipment of heroin at dock 11. Stan forces Tai into a head-on collision, which has both of them getting out of their cars. Tai gets back into his car and drives across the railroad bridge, but into an oncoming train, which forces him to back his car down the tracks. He escapes the car and runs down the same tracks, while Stan calls him back. Actually, Tai just yells, “What?!” and starts running back down the tracks towards Stan. They fire their weapons at each other, and Stan manages to hit Tai a couple good times that will kill him. As Tai sinks to the ground, he takes the offered weapon from Stan and shoots himself with it.
The film ends with Stan causing a brawl at Joey Tai’s funeral, and Tracy rescuing him as they walk off laughing together.
X-rays, or Maybe You Should See A Doctor
Stan is shot in the neck by Rufio, and shot in the hand by Joey Tai.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem
Stan really could have taken everyone’s advice and not started his one-man crusade against all of Chinatown’s corruption. Some forethought also could have saved his marriage, and kept Connie alive in Witness Protection, or at least under police protection.
Z is for… Zone, in the
Stan is too erratic to ever be considered “in the zone.”
There is very little that is likeable in Year of the Dragon. The characters aren’t likeable, the pacing is too slow, the editing could have been much more precise, and the whole thing could have used a rewrite. As far as gritty cop dramas from the ‘80s go, it may hold up well, but that isn’t a genre of film with which I’m terribly familiar.
There were just too many things that made the film hard to sit through. Let’s look at a few:
I should have known something would be off with the pacing when the opening credit scene–red text against a black background–went on for two whole minutes. There’s also a parade sequence after the credits that goes on for another two whole minutes. There are better, more engaging ways to spend those four whole minutes.
This film is based on a book, and I have to wonder if the book is better, and what might have gotten cut out. The film Die Hard is actually much better than the book it’s based on, Nothing Lasts Forever, and I can only hope the book Year of the Dragon is much better than this film.
Stan and his wife have the exact same haircut, just brushed differently. Nice job, wardrobe.
More proof that the movie is from the ‘80s and it’s tough for a modern audience to watch, Tracy and Stan smoke in the restaurant, and it’s jarring to watch.
During the restaurant attack scene, at 00:31:41, watch a guy faceplant off the table on the left.
There are endless meetings between Joey Tai and other Chinese head honchos, and at these meetings they constantly slip between English and Chinese. It’s distracting.
The only black guy in the entire movie is Joey Tai’s right hand, which is strange because it’s New York City, so there should be more black people, and also because he doesn’t seem to have any lines, like the blonde second-in-command in Die Hard with a Vengeance.
The film has a crazy ‘80s soundtrack.
When the two thugs who shot up the restaurant are found dead, Stan gets his grubby paws and DNA all over their bodies. I know that DNA and crime scene investigations weren’t up to the standards they are now, but sheesh, even with the bodies in water you’d think Stan would want to keep the evidence clear of contamination as best he could.
What does being Polish have to do with anything? Stan mentions several times that he’s Polish. Who cares? Is part of the reason he’s taking the corruption of Chinatown so seriously because he’s familiar with corruption among Polish immigrants? If not, then stop yammering about being Polish.
The collapse of his marriage is one of those self-fulfilling prophecy things–Stan wasn’t cheating on Connie until she kicked him out, though it’s not clear if she kicked him out because he was late to dinner, or because he works too much, or because he walked off with Joey Tai and left her there, or if she suspected he was having an affair with Tracy.
Tracy, for all that she’s a professional and wants to be taken seriously, sure is giving off mixed signals when she invites Stan to stay at her place. First of all, he really doesn’t have other friends? His buddy Lou told he could stay whenever, and surely Rizzo would have put him up for a night. But no, he goes over to the attractive woman’s house. Regardless, she doesn’t want to be thought of as a whore, but she lies down on her bed to drink wine. The consensual-ish sex that ensues is not romantic, not liberating, and is just uncomfortable to watch.
An Italian mobster speaks using a voice box. It’s just needlessly distracting, as my only association with voice boxes is Ned on South Park.
Why does the surveillance team consist of nuns? Who the heck are they?
The film continues its weird portrayal of Tracy by having her do an utterly needless nude shower scene. She then puts on her robe, then sits back down in the bath. Who does that? After all that, and the anger and marital weirdness, Tracy tells Stan she loves him! Why? He’s a jerk.
The pacing in the film is just off. There are too many long periods of talking and nothing happening, especially considering how the film claimed to offer action and excitement. Watching a marriage implode is neither action nor excitement, nor is watching half a dozen meetings.
Another movie offering a beautiful view of the World Trade Center. It’s such a shame that movies and pictures are all we have left of such a place.
After a while, the film suddenly has scenes in Thailand. While the country is beautiful, the scenes that happened could have been discussed–at a meeting!–and we could have saved about twenty minutes on the run time right there.
The bizarre scenes in Thailand are really where the film becomes multiple movies spliced together into one long, meandering film. There’s the Chinatown corruption and the renegade cop story. There’s the relationship drama with Connie and Tracy. The scenes in Thailand almost look like historical fiction or Lawrence of Arabia or something, when Tai is riding his horse down the gauntlet of Thai soldiers. It’s too much, and if the extra drama was edited out, the film could have had a nice 100-minute run time. Connie’s funeral alone is three minutes and forty-five seconds that could have been sliced down to less than a minute and it wouldn’t have affected the film at all.
I don’t know how important the Vietnam angle is, because I’m too young to really understand the societal impact and the psychological impact on the soldiers, but the fact that Stan is a Vietnam vet is apparently really important to his character. However, it’s kind of lost on me.
More evidence that Stan is a loving man: Tracy is explaining to him that she was raped, and he grabs her by the shoulders and throws her to the chair. A rape victim probably wouldn’t take too kindly to being manhandled like that, but other than Tracy telling him he’s “gone too far this time,” she apparently doesn’t mind it. No one in this movie acts like a real person.
It’s one of my personal pet peeves, but Stan does a whole lot of firing his gun while running. It is almost impossible to hit something while running. Your arm, and therefore the bullets, are all over the place. Especially when Stan runs into his own street blindly firing his gun, I couldn’t help but cringe. He’s going to have to fill out paperwork for discharging his weapon, and also thank his lucky stars that he didn’t kill one of his neighbors who was out getting the mail or something.
Maybe I only noticed because the only other black person in the movie was Tai’s right-hand man, but all of the guys carrying Tai’s plaque during his funeral were black. It was noticeable, and strange.
While Year of the Dragon wasn’t the worst film I’ve watched for the labor of love that is this blog, because that honor still goes to Vehicle 19, it’s pretty far down the list. There’s just something about this last stretch of the alphabet that’s leaving a lot to be desired.