Year of the Dragon (1985)

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Released 11-May-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1985
Running Time 128:49
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (68:39) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Michael Cimino

Starring Mickey Rourke
John Lone
Leonard Termo
Raymond J. Barry
Caroline Kava
Eddie Jones
Joey Chin
Victor Wong
K. Dock Yip
Hon-Lam Pau
Way Dong Woo
Jimmy Sun
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music David Mansfield

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0
French Dolby Digital 2.0
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

††† With a script by Oliver Stone written back in his Scarface days, direction by Michael Cimino of Deer Hunter fame and Heavenís Gate infamy, and acting by Mickey Rourke during his prime, you know from the outset that you are definitely in for an interesting time.

††† Based on the intricately researched novel by Robert Daley, Year Of The Dragon follows the rise to power of Chinese crime lord Joey Tai (John Lone) and the quest by New York Police Captain Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) to bring him down. While certainly more a crime drama than an action movie, the film caused tremendous controversy at the time of its release and was almost unanimously vilified by the critics for supposed racist portrayals of the Chinese-American community. However, what the critics failed to note was that the problem with Year Of The Dragon is not its racist overtones Ė the problem is the scripting, the directing and the acting.

††† Letís start with the script: Sure, we have some elements that could be really good here. A New York backdrop, a story about the criminal underworld, two opposing sides of the law as utterly ruthless as each other. But this just rambles, at times almost incoherently. It lacks direction, pacing, and sometimes even any common sense. It moves way too slow most of the way, and then makes illogical jumps forward, so fast it loses coherency. The characterisation is poor and uneven, and you never really get a sense of any of the main players, let alone the peripherals. White should be as brutal and unfeeling as Tai, a violent racist whose cause is just but whose methodology is ethically unsound. Yet, he just comes across as an insensitive jerk with a high opinion of himself Ė a two dimensional character at best. The other players are just nobodies. In short, you just donít care whether they live or die.

††† Moving to the directing: Michael Cimino wants to make big screen epics, not taut claustrophobic crime thrillers/dramas. When Tai goes to Thailand, Cimino brings in so many extras for this one shot that you would be fooled into believing that you had just walked into a David Lean movie. The huge on location shot, the soaring music Ė you half expect the cast of Bridge On The River Kwai to walk past whistling. This is in stark contrast to the close quarters of New York Chinatown, with people wedged wall to wall in narrow streets and no score to draw on. Dead atmosphere. Indeed, the entire thing looks staged, as if there was not one spontaneous moment. The cinematography feels too much like an old 1960s movie, and not enough like a modern 80s film. The action sequences are clumsy and awkward. The drama sequences are contrived and ultimately heartless. There is no atmosphere to a film that should be jostling with atmosphere. It is all just a little too detached Ė a bit of a Cimino trait that might have worked okay in The Deer Hunter, but really ruins this film.

††† And then there is the acting: what to say? Mickey Rourke is really bad. At times he has this whole Bruce Willis in Die Hard thing going for him, but his dramatic capacity is sorely limited, and he is far better off sticking to movies where he can deliver snide one-liners. Plus, he doesnít seem all that Polish in this film, behaving far more like a redneck or poor white trash, when his Polish catholic heritage is an important part of his character. Ariane as reporter Tracy Tzu is so wooden it is almost scary, delivering her lines like a mannequin on Prozac. In fact, the only worthwhile acting in this film comes from John Lone as the ruthless Tai. Without his mix of sadistic gangster violence and cool businessman charm, this film would be nothing.

††† Perhaps the worst of it all, though, is that you can see that this could have been a really great film in better hands. With a lot of work on the script, most notably some tightening up, a different cast, and a director more suited to shooting moody and taut thrillers in close confines, this could have been a Chinese Mafia take on The Untouchables or even the classic Michael Mann crime thriller Heat. Give me Brian De Palma or Francis Ford Coppola, or even Oliver Stone himself. Better yet, give me a true New York director like Martin Scorsese. Give me some judicious editing, a quickening up of the pace. Give me a better score and some more even composing. Give me a new casting director and some better actors. Give me a new cinematographer. Give me a showdown ending that makes my heart leap and my palms sweat.

††† Just please, please, please donít give me this wasted potential.

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Transfer Quality


††† Presented in its original aspect ratio or 2.35:1, and 16x9 enhanced, this is a reasonable transfer for a film of this era.

††† Filmed in J-D-C Scope as opposed to regular Panavision, it feels at times as if this is a wider picture than normal. The picture quality itself is quite grainy, although never really descending into low-level noise. Shadow detail was mostly very good, and thankfully the darker shots are no more grainy than the ordinary daylight shots.

††† Colour is well saturated and mostly well balanced. You would pick this as a film from the late 1970s by its clumsy cinematography, but peg it as an 80s movie based on its colour scheme and bad costumes.

††† There are no MPEG artefacts, and only the faintest of low-level background aliasing Ė far better than this film deserves, after movies like Papillon get such terrible transfers.

††† There is a bit of dirt here and there, especially on the bottom left of the screen, but no cigarette burns or anything appalling like that. I noticed the odd hair here and there, but really this is a very clean transfer overall. I noticed a bit of telecine wobble at 28:16, but I think this is a source fault, not a transfer fault.

††† Subtitles are available in English for the Hearing Impaired, German for the Hearing Impaired, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Greek and Czech. They are white with a black border and are easy enough to read.

††† The dual-layer pause is at 68:39. It occurs during a pause in dialogue and is only marginally distracting.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


††† The 70-mm print done for limited cinema release of this film in the US had a 6-track surround sound mix. The DVD, however, has been released with only the 2.0 Dolby Surround track that was on the 35mm print for general release, encoded at a measly 192Kb/s. We also have a selection of alternate dubbed foreign language tracks, also in 2.0 Dolby Surround, which have a loss in ambient noise information due to the dubbing process.

††† The English track has reasonably well rendered dialogue, although at times it seemed a little unbalanced or incorrectly mixed. I had to strain a couple of times to hear what was being said, and thatís not a great sign.

††† There are lots of minor left-to-right directional cues, but nothing really noteworthy. Indeed, a lot of the surround information is obvious Foley work and has an odd tinny quality.

††† The score by David Mansfield does not suit the on screen action and is a rather uncomfortable mix of clashing styles. Thankfully it is not used often, but this in itself gives the film an uneven feel.

††† There were plenty of opportunities for the subwoofer to be used, but sadly it was never put into play due to the sound format.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



††† All menus are 16x9 enhanced. They are also silent.

Theatrical Trailer (2:09)

††† Presented in 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Surround, this trailer is actually pretty good, and you might be fooled into believing this film is better than it actually is.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

††† We seem to have beaten the US to the crunch on this one, and as yet there is no R1 release. The R2 release is identical to the R4 release.


††† Year Of The Dragon is a serious waste of potential. In different hands it could have been a great film, a landmark. As it stands, it is barely a note in cinema history, remembered for its racist overtones that were but a small part of the show. Not atrocious, but far from being good.

††† Video is very good for a film this old, and probably better than it deserved.

††† The 2.0 Dolby Surround track is not bad, but with such a big visual canvas this really needed the 5.1 Dolby Digital treatment.

††† The extras were limited to a trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Edward McKenzie (I am Jack's raging bio...)
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DVD-RV31A-S, using S-Video output
DisplayBeko 28" (16x9). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationMarantz SR7000
SpeakersEnergy - Front, Rear, Centre & Subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)'s a Michael Cimino film - wolfgirv