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Year Of The Dragon (Blu-ray Review)

I love the Warner Archive Collection. With such a large and vast catalog the studio has, a ton of it still has not seen release to DVD, let alone Blu-ray. WAC picks up a lot of the slack with some good audio/video upgrades as they don’t really create new special features for their releases. And with their monthly releases they are announced usually a month before and usually they are from a wide variety of different decades and genres. And most of the time we have no clue what’s coming (Cleopatra Jones FINALLY next month! Cross it off the wishlist, HELL YEAH!). This month brings some excitement with Academy Award winning director Michael Cimino’s follow up to his notorious bomb Heaven’s Gate, the Mickey Rourke starring Year of the Dragon. Its available now, but I hear there’s a been a bit of a backorder on many sites, so it could take a minute to get to you (DiabolikDVD has come through, cuz “duh”). Pre-order using the link below.

Film 

In New York, racist Capt. Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) becomes obsessed with destroying a Chinese-American drug ring run by Joey Tai (John Lone), an up-and-coming young gangster as ambitious as he is ruthless. While pursuing an unauthorized investigation, White grows increasingly willing to violate police protocol, resorting to progressively violent measures — even as his concerned wife, Connie (Caroline Kava), and his superiors beg him to consider the consequences of his actions.

Michael Cimino is an interesting figure that maybe many a younger film geek doesn’t understand just how important a figure he was. Only having directed 7 films (He also directed a segment for a sort of anthology film called To Each His Own in 2007), the sample size is light, but effective. Cimino, a screenwriter (2 great ones too; 1972’s Silent Running & the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force) turned director, won a best director Oscar for the 1978 film The Deer Hunter (Also the Best Picture winner) and had directed the terrific Thunderbolt and Lightfoot starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges. While he landed fame for that, he also became the poster boy for the end of the director/artist driven film industry with his overindulgent follow-up Heaven’s Gate. A famously costly production that both bombed and was destroyed by critics, that film almost single-handedly gave the power back to the studios.

Year of the Dragon is significant in the Cimino canon as it was his first film after Heaven’s Gate, coming 5 years later. It wasn’t some grand return or anything as the film had an okay box office take and was a bit down the middle for critics (But who knows who wasn’t just done with him or still holding a Heaven’s Gate sized grudge still). Dragon showed Cimino still had the chops and could make a hard boiled thriller. Uncomfortable for modern audiences, the film is a bit blunt and brutally honest in its language and darker characters. Bad people do and say bad things, and that extends all the way to our troubled protagonist. The film is also ruthless and hits you in the gut with the snap of a finger. Cimino paces the film quite well and the scenes of mere dramatics work very honest and engaging.

Mickey Rourke is pretty amazing in the film. He is a bit wildly miscast for the film in the fact that he’s about 10 years too young for the part. They were aiming at someone like Nick Nolte for the role (Perfect and typical for him at the time). While they try and age up Rourke by giving him dashes of gray on his hair and a full blonde do, its his acting chops that power through. His prowess here delivers the apt experience and rightful hardened experience that one wouldn’t have expected from an actor of his youth. While year, he technically could qualify on being the youngest possible end of the spectrum for the role, on paper its obvious that wasn’t the case. But, no matter, Rourke is awesome in this movie and it always makes me miss the pre-boxer era Rourke when I revisit a film of his from the 1980s or even the early 1990s.

Year of the Dragon is a fun, pulpy crime thriller that boasts Mickey Rourke’s acting chops, Cimino’s terrific directing and a beautifully shot backdrop for all to play in. This plays out as a sort of Chinatown meets Charles Bronson action film, both taking the best cues from both films. Its pretty, dirty, grim and has some fist pumping moments. Overall, I’d say, while not perfect, its definitely a candidate for one of the most overlooked films from the 1980s and an unappreciated bounce back for Michael Cimino following one of the biggest failures in cinematic history (Regardless of whether you like it or not is not up for debate, the film did what it did). Unfortunately, his comeback was during a time where most everyone from the 70s hey dey were falling off and struggling to make films as good as the decade in which they dominated the industry. Year of the Dragon is worth seeking out and discovering or re-discovering.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Year of the Dragon comes to Blu-ray with another terrific restoration courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection. The film is crisp with terrific attention to detail in a rather sharp looking picture. There are a couple moments that show a little blurry as they were shot which is a nice touch on how good the restorative process was. While the film is basically light on the extras, it is nice to see that good attention and care is put to where it does count most of all.

Depth:  The film features some honest, film-like quality in its depth of field here. Many of the city exteriors prove to have some good foreground/background relations and the characters all move smoothly and cinematically with no motion distortions present.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and complimentary of the atmosphere and aesthetic they are creating. They can be a tad heavier in the grain, but overall quite well saturated and able to sustain the details. No crushing present.

Color Reproduction: Colors are quite strong here, especially in the neon dripping scenes where signs and lighting really pops of the screen. Punk-red dyed hair, blood and such really stick out and the greens are really wells saturated in here, too.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial features and textures are pretty terrific in close ups and most medium shots. Some of the (naturally) blurring shots mare a little harder to discern, but overall its pretty impressive.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Year of the Dragon proves to have a pretty rock solid 5.1 track. Its plenty loud and engaging. It has an attention to balance and layering that really gets the job done more than you’d likely expect.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Things do bump quite well with glass shatter, guns firing and music beats.

Surround Sound Presentation: This primarily hangs out up front with good attention to the back and forth. Rear channels provide good ambiance and help build exterior downtown sequences.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals prove to be clear and crisp. Rourke’s light voice captivates from any scene.

Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • By Director Michael Cimino

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:25)

Summary 

Year of the Dragon is a terrific crime, neo-noir drama that could qualify as one of those forgotten gems from the 1980s. Its also a must and one of the best film from academy award winner Michael Cimino. Warner Archive Collection brings it to Blu-ray with a terrific restoration and ports over an essential commentary track making this the best of upgrades and a title to snag to add to most Blu-ray fanatics and cinephiles collections.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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