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Year of the Dragon

Reviewed By Jack Sommersby
Posted 01/28/11 10:06:04

"Dazzling 'Dragon'"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

It starts awesomely with David Mansfield's evocative score over the opening credits, and never lets up until the fantastic end.

Michael Cimino's Year of the Dragon, an adaptation of Robery Daley's excellent novel, is dumber than a ton of bricks but is executed with such extraordinary flair that it plays out in truly breathtaking fashion. It's totally nonsensical, and the logic loopholes are plentiful, which you wouldn't think possible in a screenplay written by two Oscar winners in Cimino and Oliver Stone -- then again, the former earned his for the odious The Deer Hunter and the latter for the trite Platoon. The dialogue is damn near sub-mental ("I'm not Italian, I'm Polish, and I can't be bought"), and the plot construction clunky to say the least. So why does the movie play out like absolute gangbusters and offers up zenith-level entertainment value from start to finish? Thats because Cimino is a born director with an uncanny eye for 'Scope composition and a penchant for tantalizing movement within the widescreen frame. He's strictly a visual virtuoso, and like a lot of talented directors (like Kathryn Bigelow before she wisely stopped co-writing her screenplays) he stumbles when he "thinks" -- he can't articulate what he wants to get across in intelligent literate terms. That's why the story -- that of New York supercop Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) determined to take down Chinatown crime lord Joey Tai (John Lone) -- has no gravitas and is nothing more than a collage of cliches. Still, Cimino manages (after a five-year hiatus after his notorious, studio-bankrupting megaflop Heaven's Gate) to keep the proceedings dazzlingly alive to where the scenes, which have no narrative sense but plenty of panache, are as well staged as one could hope for. Working with cinematographer Alex Thomson (who luxuriously photographed Excalibur), Cimino gives each and every scene a vitality that pops and crackles with cinematic aplomb -- even a standardized dialogue scene of characters talking in familiarities plays out much better than it should because the compositions are so dead-on and ungodly expressive. It's the texture of the scene that counts, and the numerous action sequences (like a shootout in a crowded Chinese restaurant and a contract killing on White that both fall out into the street, and a grand finale involving a Mercedes and a locomotive) are breathtaking in execution. (It also helps that the master French editor, Francoise Bonnot, is working in top form.) And while White is no more than two-dimensional (more the fault of the writing than Rourke's valiant effort), Lone, in an absolutely brilliant performance, makes for a hypnotic villain who's the ultimate mix of good manners and maliciousness -- he's got the Devil's eyes along with his fancy Armani suits. The movie is outlandish fun, and if you can see past all the sexist nudity and gratuitous violence, you can readily recognize Cimino for being the born entertainer he undeniably is. It's the ultimate in style-over-substance that you can more than respect in the morning.

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The Blu-Ray

I've owned Dragon on VHS and LaserDisc and DVD, and now Blu-Ray, and the overall result, unfortunately, is only so-so. It's not up to other stellar transfers in Warner's Archive Collection (like 1975's Night Moves), with skin tones sometimes inconsistent, distracting heavy film grain in certain scenes (especially the beginning ones), and the general sharpness not quite enough to make the primary colors pop like one wishes them to. But it's still nice to witness the movie in 1080p for the first time, and the robust audio makes excellent use of channel separations. The only special feature is an audio commentary by Cimino ported over from the DVD, and it's an enjoyable, very informative one, with Cimino acutely recounting the entire production process, praising Clint Eastwood for the many things he learned from him (Eastwood gave him his first directorial gig on 1974's excellent Thunderbolt and Lightfoot), and making clear he's never been a film theorist or intellectual. This commentary puts 90% of audio commentaries to absolute shame. I just wish the telecine operator responsible for this mediocre Blu-Ray had been equally up to the task.

A must-see.

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