The commercial failure of Heaven’s Gate was responsible for a five-year hiccup in Cimino’s career. He bounced back with this commercial thriller, which shares many concerns with his two previous films. In many ways, Year of the Dragon provides a cauterising third chapter to the unofficial trilogy that began with The Deer Hunter. Stanley White (Mickey Rourke), the embittered Vietnam ‘vet’ turned cop, might be a 1980s reflection of the Russian-Americans who went to war in The Deer Hunter. Vietnam is at the heart of both films. The echoes are deliberate, and Cimino has said that he sees White as, in some sense, the Robert De Niro character of The Deer Hunter a decade down the road. The Vietnam conflict has left White with a blind prejudice against Asians. He regards the Vietnamese he once fought and the Chinese-American newscaster (Ariane) whose path he crosses as essentially the same. Both are the ‘enemy’.
In adapting Robert Daly’s novel, Cimino and co-writer Oliver Stone seem to have brought out the worst in each other by overindulging their racist central character. Yet the film is partly redeemed by Cimino’s extraordinary filmmaking skills. Working with the talented British cinematographer Alex Thomson, he creates images of great force and beauty. The film has an almost operatic sweep, with the constantly moving camera creating a blazing spectacle of everything from the crowded streets of Chinatown to exotic apartments. Like its predecessors, Year of the Dragon aims high and goes for broke.
U.S.A., 1985.Colour.Panavision anamorphic.70mm print.Dolby stereo.134 mins.