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Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Retro Review: Year Of The Dragon (1985)

Year Of The Dragon
Cast: Mickey Rourke, John Lone, Ariane, Dennis Dun, Raymond J. Barry, Victor Wong
Genre: Neo-Noir Action
U.S Box Office Gross: over $18.7 million

Plot: A police detective cracks down on organized crime in Chinatown after the murders of Triad & mafia leaders 

'What A Drag-On'

A critical and box office bomb in 1985 that secured 5 Razzie awards and apparently costing $24 million to produce, Year of the Dragon presents a misinformed & marred view on Asian American/Chinese American & Caucasian relations, which led to protests over its racial stereotyping and usage of the terms C****s, slant-eyed and Yellow n*****s . It was briefly and thankfully rectified by John Carpenter's fantasy comedy, Big Trouble In Little China, one year later. I found this movie to be a problematic watch in more ways than one: aside from the accusations of racism, the negative depictions of the Chinese characters, the use of the C-word in reference to the Chinese characters by Rourke's character and despite the end scene, Year of the Dragon was mostly drab, so drab it almost made me turn it off: as a movie, it just wasn't entertaining. At all. It was also co-penned by Michael Cimino & Oliver Stone, who had a hand in the production duties of 1993's The Joy Luck Club: another film that delves into Chinese American culture - and that film wasn't by means perfect through its occasionally sketchy characters & writing it paints. 

Based on the novel by Robert Daley, a Vietnam vet has become one of New York's most decorated officers in New York City history. When a businessman mob-leader is murdered in Chinatown, detective White is assigned to Chinatown to tackle the problem. Enlisting the help of a reporter, White is determined and obsessed with nailing kingpin boss, Tai and goes after him. 

Dennis Dun, who turned up in the superior Big Trouble In Little China as Wang- Chi, Jack Burton's sidekick, plays a geek, Herbert, but he isn't given much to do. Although John Lone impresses as a crime boss, Joey. Japanese American actress Ariane, dropping the last name Koizumi, who plays Tracey Zoo, comes across as monotone and wooden in the delivery in her lines, her performance almost bordered on amateurish and not impressive. The female Asian character was a non-entity, and as such, she was of little to no consequence to the plot, the fact that she is made to be an inactive and didn't play a major role that would have been doing a service to her character is baffling. There is no chemistry between Ariane and Rourke in the scenes they share together. 

At times offensive with the occasional C & N-words mentioned, sexist with not remotely one likeable character in sight (I noticed all the Chinese American characters were either weak & submissive (Tracey), gang members, or in the case of Dennis Dun appears as a side character - only to be killed off), as well as a tone that is so melodramatic that it drones on and one with not enough exciting action scenes to compliment the film, and it's burdened with troublesome characterisations of the Chinese characters. It's difficult to say momentarily whether Year of the Dragon is being truly honest and just showing the harsh realities of racism and racist acts committed by minority groups, or its direction gives the impression that the film is going to be straight up xenophobic and racist. 

The story was frankly all over the place and not very cohesive, and I suppose if it hadn't been taking itself so seriously, I'd be okay with it. The only highlight for me was the restaurant shootout scene. Otherwise, it just felt mostly ugly, dreary and an unsatisfying watch. Inbetween the action, which was minimal, the interactions of the characters range from okay to not overly engaging. The characters motivations are not made abundantly clear that the audiences share no emotional attachment to them. 

Final Verdict: 

Overlong in the tooth, bothersome and contentious portrayals of the Asians, a poorly written protagonist and with a story lacking in drive, passion and characters one feels for, Year of the Dragon is not and will not be remembered as one of the most memorable Asian-American based movies, ever. Like, far from it. It could have been the '80s answer to Chinatown. Yet as such, it ended up as the 47th highest grossing film of 1985. 

If you want a good film on or about Chinatown in America, check out Chinatown starring Jack Nicholson and Big Trouble In Little China


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