There's trouble brewing in New York's Chinatown district, and the cops are alerted to the situation when an influential pillar of the community is stabbed to death in a restaurant. This brings it to the attention of the media as well, so when the funeral takes place through the streets with curious crowds lining the procession, both detective Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) who is attending with the police to monitor the situation, and the reporters led by Tracy Tzu (Ariane) are there to join the jostling throng. And yet neither of them notice an Italian grocer with Mob connections being shot dead at the same time...
After the debacle of Heaven's Gate, Michael Cimino took five years to get another film made, and it was a production based on an Oliver Stone script which they collaborated on. Stone's career was about to go ballistic with Platoon the following year, eclipsing Cimino's, which made Year of the Dragon an interesting halfway point where two talents met, one on the way up and the other on the way down, but sadly if you thought this meant something special then you'd be faced with a mess of themes, variable acting and a confused sense of direction. Was this meant to be an anti-racist movie, for example? Because from some angles the opposite was looking to be the case.
This was a pity, because the subject of prejudice was one worth tackling in film, it was just that it appeared impossible to do so without utilising the most thumpingly unsubtle methods, so much so that one of the finest Hollywood instances of taking down the problem was one of the least sensitive comedies ever made, Blazing Saddles, which practically roared at the audience: "You're racist? THEN YOU'RE AN IDIOT!" Which was good that a joke could be made of the issue in such withering fashion, but not so good if you wanted to address it in more detailed, probing terms and get to the heart of why bigotry seemed to be hanging around when the world was ostensibly moving on to fresh understanding.
Understanding which was noticably absent from Cimino's film, and Rourke's absurdly overwrought performance for that matter. Detective White (hey, was that name supposed to be ingeniously symbolic? Sheesh...) was such a boor that the script offered to deepen the characterisation by making him a Vietnam War veteran, thus explaining his anti-Asian feelings, and somewhat less believably have him fall in love with ace reporter Tracy, who for some reason reciprocates to create one of the least likely chalk and cheese relationships in movie history. Not helping was White's wife Connie (Caroline Kava) as such a ball and chain to him that you had to wonder about the writers' attitudes to women as well.
There is of course a difference between penning a story (or directing a film) about a sexist and racist loudmouth and actually being one yourself, but as this took in all sorts of bits of business from domestic arguments to international drug smuggling, the results were a scattershot flurry of targets which they failed to hit to any great satisfaction. Second-billed John Lone was the main businessman behind the evildoing, but more of a Fu Manchu than some kind of authentic master Triad, and enjoying a complex connection with White which never resolved itself unless it was with predictable violence. The blood flowed freely in places, but such action setpieces were more likely to jolt the viewer out of their stupor than clear up any nagging plot points. The subject of how crime from a nation's ethnic minorities can be tricky to investigate when prejudice is always going to be on the agenda was one which could have given rise to a rich and substantial thriller: this was not it. Music by David Mansfield.
One of the most controversial directors to emerge from the burst of American talent of the nineteen-seventies. None of those directors had a totally easy ride from the critics or public, but he seemed to suffer the most, having started out moving from advertising to writing scripts for Silent Running and Magnum Force. Once Clint Eastwood noted his promise, he hired him to direct Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which some still believe is his best effort thanks to Eastwood reining him in. But next was The Deer Hunter, an Oscar-garlanded Vietnam War drama that the world responded to far better than any before, and he had his pick of projects.
Alas, this success went to his head and he became increasingly unbalanced, as the horror stories from his next movie Heaven's Gate would show, a huge flop that still divides opinion on its merits to this day. Cimino resurfaced with Year of the Dragon, a Mickey Rourke cop vehicle tainted by racism, and The Sicillian, an unpopularly benevolent view of an Italian crime lord. The Desperate Hours was a remake laughed off the screen in most places, and his last feature was spiritual drama The Sunchaser, barely seen in cinemas. He was discussing new projects to the end, but it seems his ego continually sabotaged his undoubted talent.