“The Year of the Dragon”, on Arte: Michael Cimino’s magnetic New York Chinatown

Iconic thriller of the 1980s, The Year of the Dragon (1985), fourth film by Michael Cimino (1939-2016) - and his last masterpiece -, marked the filmmaker's return behind the camera after four years of directing

“The Year of the Dragon”, on Arte: Michael Cimino’s magnetic New York Chinatown

Iconic thriller of the 1980s, The Year of the Dragon (1985), fourth film by Michael Cimino (1939-2016) - and his last masterpiece -, marked the filmmaker's return behind the camera after four years of directing. banned by Hollywood after the financial fiasco of Heaven's Gate (1980).

Adapted from the eponymous novel by Robert Daley (Albin Michel, 1982), the film, whose original screenplay was written with Oliver Stone, depicts the crusade of a cop, Captain Stanley White (Mickey Rourke, intense and battered), transferred to the Chinatown district of New York, against the triads, more precisely against Joey Tai (John Lone), the young, long-toothed businessman who becomes their leader.

A Vietnam veteran, White transfers the resolution of this dirty war to the streets and rubs his Polish origins against a Chinese community that he considers closed in on itself, responding to laws other than those of the flag for which he stood. beaten.

Beyond the controversy over its supposed racism which has long screened the reception of The Year of the Dragon, Michael Cimino films Chinatown like an opaque maze, following the lurches of his characters in a series of corridors, tunnels, enclaves and winding spaces. Stanley White's obsession with purity, sick with idealism, comes up against the illegibility of a hermetic world which is not so much attributable to the Chinese community as to the indifferent complexion of reality.

Advent of an aesthetic

The Year of the Dragon can be viewed for its devastating energy and murky magnetism. But also for the way in which the film, in line with Blade Runner (1982), by Ridley Scott, announced the advent of a certain aesthetic, directly linked to China's entry into the global economic market – aesthetic whose laboratories were then located in its satellite cinematographies, in Hong Kong (the thrillers of Ringo Lam or John Woo) or in Taiwan (the desolate urbanity of Edward Yang).

Cimino saturates his shots with details – accessories, decorations, signs, inscriptions – which not only give the whole a dramatic density, but already prefigure the proliferating multiplicity of signs in urban space.

Likewise, his appetite for luminosity and synthetic materials (the nightclub chase scene), his contribution of a media dimension to the story (the character of Tracy Tzu, TV reporter), his integration of the simulacrum into the very form of the setting (the restaurant scene), make this Year of the Dragon much more than an excellent thriller or a reflection on the American melting pot: a pioneering film, which had perfectly felt the pulse of its time and felt at what his near future would look like.