Controversial Oscar winning (Deer Hunter, 1978) director of seven features, Michael Cimino, a one (short) time Hollywood artistically free filmmaker, died on July 2nd . He was 77.

In 1985, Cimino directed the overlooked Year of the Dragon, produced by Dino De Laurentiis and starring (then rising) Mickey Rourke, Ariane and John Lone. Dragon was Cimino’s fourth feature and follow up (after five years) to the troubled released of Heaven’s Gate which became the new unit of measurement in box office disaster for decades. Like Heaven’s Gate, Dragon was surrounded by controversy before it was even released. This time for the dark portrayal of Chinese American from Oliver Stone’s screenplay.

Rourke plays a NY top Cop on the trail of a Chinatown Triad. As nothing is politically correct in the whole depiction, part of the controversy, at least at the time, lied in this misogynistic racist selfish and obsessed cop (like there is in real life) Rourke is portraying. Fact is, it was simply more believable than your usual cop movie. All this negativism toward  a pretty basic storyline (nothing new here), added to the fact a whole mob was waiting for Cimino’s post Heaven’s Gate project with hostility. It kept critics from seeing the exceptional cinematic qualities of the film.

From the  opening credits, with furious Taiko drumming, to an exploding and colorful Chinese festival sequence, ending with a violent death, we jump to an  amazingly shot funeral parade as we are introduced to Rourke’s character that smells like trouble from the start. And it is just starting. It keeps getting furious as the man runs around like some mad dog. Cimino knows the tools. The great Francoise Bonnot’s (Z, The Tenant) nervous editing with Alex Thompson (Excalibur) glaring cinematography within many scenes offer an evocative visual power  that many directors can only dream of. The original colors and rhythm of various sequences are a rare visual feast (providing you see it with a proper print). And that is what Dragon is about. The concept is pure cinema.

Cimino’s family and friend lost their beloved, but film buffs lost Cimino quite a while ago. Year of the Dragon was his last great visual work.


Festival screening:

October 8th, 6:30 PM (Cinémathèque Québécoise)

For more info :