The actor plays an NYPD captain who arrives in Chinatown on the very day of the funeral of a powerful Chinese Triad boss.
On his first day, he realizes this is no fluke, and the top echelons of power at the head of city crime are about to change.
Indeed, behind the boss’s death is his daughter’s husband, an arrogant and ambitious businessman aiming to conquer all illegal trafficking and rout the competition of black and Italian gangs.
Likewise, the Captain immediately wants to make it clear there is a new sheriff in the neighborhood, setting up a special squad with the sole task of blowing up every deal of these criminals.
Moreover, he deals with a young woman journalist, agreeing to give her confidential information in exchange for a media campaign against the Chinese Triad.
Besides working together, they become lovers, further straining the policeman’s long-standing marriage.
Police raids and numerous arrests make a lot of noise, yet the young boss still has a firm grip on the small gangs covering all his illegal activities.
To destroy the Triad for good, the Captain decides to infiltrate a young Chinese policeman, still clumsy and inexperienced, yet his face is unknown to the Triad.
At that point, an all-out war breaks out in the city, while the cop’s superiors and the boss’s accomplices are increasingly terrified by this violence.
Finally, it does not take long for the situation to degenerate into a face-off between these two unstoppable men, ending up hurting their colleagues, friends, and families as well.
A unique and inimitable director
Although he was an extraordinary director, Michael Cimino‘s filmography actually consists of only seven movies.
However, I have always preferred Year of the Dragon, an unrepeatable crime movie with an amazing Mickey Rourke at the peak of his career in 1985.
The actor would still go strong until the early 1990s and then begin a descent after Desperate Hours, also directed by Michael Cimino.
In this case, Rourke‘s catharsis with his character is complete: he does not play but literally becomes this police captain with a machine-gun-like mouth and a charming white-aged hairdo.
No one is safe from his fury, be it his superiors, his wife, or his mistress, much less does he show any weakness against the criminals of New York City whom he intends to crush mercilessly.
This character’s madness is contagious, capturing our attention from the first moment he enters the scene by breaking down the door of an underground gambling den and confronting the Triad bosses face to face without hesitation.
However, don’t expect a Die Hard-style hard-boiled super cop because this man is also full of flaws and insecurities, letting his exaltation in the job ruin every aspect of his life.
Cimino sticks the camera behind this incorruptible character, dragging him through Chinatown’s streets like a hurricane sweeping everything in its path.
But obviously, for this story to work, you need an equally excellent and unimpeachable supporting cast.
The legendary faces of 80s cinema
As we said, numerous other characters revolve around Mickey Rourke, yet I want to mention only those who impressed me the most.
Among the female roles, the best is undoubtedly the one played by Ariane Koizumi, a stunning actress and model of Japanese descent who bursts the screen with her beauty from the very first shot.
It is not so easy to frame her a stereotype, seeming at first to be a TV star seeking easy notoriety, then proving genuinely to eager for justice along with the policeman.
As a young rich girl engaged to a brilliant lawyer, he is as far from her usual type as it gets, yet she falls in love with him anyway while retaining a fair amount of hatred against such an insufferable man.
Equally important is the character of Dennis Dun, an undercover cop who, despite being a bit stupid and irritating, will give the final twist to this crime story.
Everyone my age remembers the funny actor together with Kurt Russell in the hilarious Big Trouble in Little China, one of John Carpenter‘s most unfairly underrated 80s cult hits.
The latter is the faultless nemesis of Mickey Rourke, a perfect cunning and aggressive villain always one move ahead of his rivals.
Year of the Dragon marked Michael Cimino‘s comeback to theaters in 1985, five years after the financial crash of Heaven’s Gate, a movie threatening to wreck United Artists, despite being a milestone in the western genre.
Unfortunately, making a masterpiece is only sometimes enough because the audience needs more time to prepare for such an unusual movie.