• Year of the Dragon
    receives high praise for its realism from ex-Hong Kong mafia member Jimmy Tsui, who rates the gambling-house scene a near-perfect 9/10.
  • Director Michael Cimino spent a year and a half researching and constructing a detailed replica of New York City’s Chinatown for the film.
  • Despite its realistic elements,
    Year of the Dragon
    faced criticism for perpetuating Asian-American stereotypes and its impact on New York City’s Chinatown community.

Year of the Dragon receives a near-perfect score for realism from a mafia expert. Directed by Michael Cimino, with a script he co-wrote with Oliver Stone (based on the 1981 novel of the same name by Robert Daley), the 1985 neo-noir crime thriller follows a police captain in conflict with a ruthless Triad boss in New York City’s Chinatown. Mickey Rourke leads the cast as Captain Stanley White alongside John Lone as Joey Tai, the head of the Triads.

In an Insider video, an ex-Hong Kong mafia member, Jimmy Tsui, broke down Hong Kong mafia scenes in movies and TV, specifically the accuracy of triad activities in the United States, including the gambling-house scene in Year of the Dragon. Watch the portion of the video below:

Tsui, a former Sun Yee On triad member in Hong Kong and Tung On in New York City’s Chinatown, broke down the gambling-house scene in Year of the Dragon. Tsui saw very few inaccuracies in the scene and rated it a near-perfect 9/10 in terms of total realism, saying “the story is real true.” Read his full comments below:

It’s true at my time there’s a lot of gambling house in Chinatown. For cop who picking in the gambling house to bust the gambling house, in the real life, is not like the movie. This one, the gambling house got one door, the cop just break one door and then go straight to the gambling house. But in the real life, there’s people 24 hour watching the CCTV, so when the cop come in the first door, he already saw it and tell everybody got out by the back door.

During the ’80s, a reporter come down to Chinatown and do the report, a couple of large shootings, small things like cracking down a massage parlor, cracking down a gambling house, I hardly see a reporter, only for last shooting.

It’s true that a lot of corruption cop at that time, yes. When I was there, we have to pay the cop salary every week. So even though a crackdown and we already knew before they come. But after the ’90s, the FBI strip the whole Chinatown and the Tong association still exists in Chinatown, but they are not allowed to young people to go up anymore. That’s why it’s no more gang in Chinatown. This one I give them a 9. The story is real true.

How Realistic Is Year Of The Dragon?

The 1985 Film Generated Much Controversy

Mickey Rourke in Year Of The Dragon

Cimino, also the director of The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate, is known for his meticulous attention to detail and relentless pursuit of perfection. For Year of the Dragon, the director spent a year and a half researching for the project. Most of this meticulous research was dedicated to capturing the film’s setting. Since shooting on location in New York City’s Chinatown would have been too expensive, a detailed replica was constructed so shooting could take place on soundstages. The sets were so realistic that they famously fooled Stanely Kubrick, who believed it was filmed on location.


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Though Year of the Dragon does contain a high degree of realism in terms of capturing its setting and its gambling-house scene, its legacy is much more complicated. The film split critics right down the middle with a 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 20 reviews, coupled with a 53% audience score. It didn’t perform well at the box office either, grossing $30 million worldwide on an approximately $24 million budget. The movie received both Golden Globe and Razzie Award nominations, underscoring just how divisive it was.

Year of the Dragon
received two Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture for John Lone and Best Original Score for David Mansfield, and five Razzie nominations for Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Actress, and Worst New Star (the latter two for Ariane Koizumi).

Year of the Dragon‘s portrayal of its Asian-American characters and cultural dynamics were especially criticized for perpetuating stereotypes. At the time of its release, members of the Asian-American community protested the film, criticizing its racial stereotypes, xenophobia, and use of racial slurs. There were also concerns the film could jeopardize safety in New York City’s Chinatown and negatively impact its economy. While Year of the Dragon does capture the organized crime and police corruption in New York City’s Chinatown, it has been criticized for taking too many liberties and venturing into problematic territory.

Year of the Dragon is available to rent/buy on digital platforms.

Source: Insider

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