Year of the Dragon

Year: 1985
Production Co: Dino De Laurentiis Company
Director: Michael Cimino
Producer: Dino De Laurentiis
Writer: Robert Daley/Oliver Stone/Michael Cimino
Cast: Mickey Rourke, John Lone, Ariane, Raymond J Barry, Caroline Kava, Victor Wong

One of the most interesting things about this film is whether it feels dated or not. Some aspects of it (the stunt casting by a popular multi-racial model of the day) are very much a staple of 80s cinema, but it has the sprawling crime epic air of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America that also gives it a timeless feel, putting it somewhere between the neon zeitgeisty cool of Beverly Hills Cop and the dark-wooded, ageless class of The Godfather.

It's a dichotomy you can only see with a couple of decades of distance – the same way movies that feature computers or technology a certain way age badly and end up looking silly no matter how cool they looked at the time.

There's another gray area, and that's the character of Mickey Rourke's hard-bitten police detective Stanley White. Sporting a shock of white hair and doing his best at real acting at the height of his powers, Rourke's character is a mass of contradictions. He has the most 80s movie cop character traits – disdainful of the politics of policing and constantly butting heads with colleagues and superiors with his straight-talking, blue-collar manner.

But he's also doing his best to cheat on his wife Connie with pretty Chinatown reporter Tracey (famous-for-five-minutes model Ariane) even as their marriage crumbles. You're never sure if you're supposed to love or hate Stanley no matter how good a cop he is – almost like the script wanted to reference the morally dubious heroes from the 70s like Popeye Doyle.

New York's Chinatown is exploding, killings, reprisals and violence spilling into the streets as the expansionist organised crime aims of Chinese Triads meet the entrenched Italian Mafia. With bodies piling up, politically embarrassing public executions in restaurants and bullets flying, Stanley is told by his superiors to tread carefully among the local Chinese business community – men the city needs on side.

He's having none of it, busting in on meetings of high ranking crime lords and telling them he's going to take them down (the devil-may-care attitude is another 80s staple), not shy about swinging his fists or shooting first and asking questions later.

The waters are further muddied when Tracey starts poking her nose in – especially when Stanley seems as determined to get into her pants as he is to bust the gang activity.

Eventually it comes down to Stanley and Joey Tai – a younger and more vibrant overlord than the old men who currently run the Triad crime empire who manoeuvres his way to the top of the tree and sparks off the current wave of violence in an attempt to take over the city.

It goes to some pretty dark places that make Stanley anything but heroic – probably thanks in part to Oliver Stone's script (himself riding high at the time thanks to Platoon), and the scope and running time of over two hours take what's essentially a run-of-the-mill cop drama and make it feel epic. If you can look past the elements that feel like a neon flashing sign telling you when it was made, it's

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