I still remember the trailer for this movie in the cinema and how much it gripped me - the intercut between a line crossing the screen and various set pieces: "Is Chinatown so bad now?", shoot outs, Arianne interviewing John Lon,e Mickey Rourke looking pensive. I really wanted to see the movie and always felt a little dissatisfied by it - so dark, such an unlikeable hero, yet with so many amazing sequences.
Watching it years on and the virtues remain intact - it looks fantastic, with sumptuous production design; amazingly, a film focusing on Chinese gangsters still has novelty (you think it would be a natural for Godfather type sagas but filmmakers tend to steer clear).
The action sequences are brilliant - a shoot out in a Chinese restaurant, the climax where Rourke and John Lone run at each other across a train bridge blasting away, the scene where some gang members are forced to kill assassins, Rourke taking on two female assassins, the hit on Rourke and his wife.
The movie is full of imaginative touches, like the Italian gangster who speaks through an electronic device, the nuns used as translaters. It's genuinely visually impressive (there's even a sequence in the Golden Triangle) - for all Cimino's indulgences as a director he knew how to fill a frame.
There is some very good acting too - John Lone is a superb villain (even though the character's background could have been flashed out a little more), Dennis Dun a touching nerdy undercover agent.
Rourke does everything he can he's simply ten years too young - the part needed to be played by someone who looked like they served in Vietnam, who had pain and years. Rourke would come to look like that but there he's just Mickey Rourke with powdered care. His character is hard to spend too much time with, with his constant racist cracks, misogyny and ignoring of procedure - he's not eve a particularly good cop either (Dennis Dun's work is more effective).
I can predict the argument that Cimino and Oliver Stone (the screenwriter) would make - "we're not endorsing the point of view of the hero, it's what real life cops talk like, it's based on historical fact" - but the film is racist. The hero is white, most of the villains are Asians, the one decent Asian cop is knocked off in time honoured tradition of the faithful servant, the one sympathetic Asian woman is basically a prostitute (badly acted by Arianne) who lives in a fancy apartment, falls in love with Rourke's character for no real reason whatsoever.
The version of the movie I saw felt cut down -parts like the corrupt cop and Rourke's wife felt as though there were more scenes in them.
I've got to say though, it is a film of power - it's intense and something lively always comes around the corner at you.