A police detective cracks down on organized crime in Chinatown after the murders of Triad and Mafia leaders.
Where do I start with this incredible film? Its impossible! Its impossible to sum up in a blog post how GREAT THIS FILM IS.
The noise and excitement of a Chinese dragon parade through New York’s Chinatown opens the film and ends in the dramatic killing of a triad boss. This is a great example of ending the scene in the exact opposite way to how it opened, turning it on its head and one of the rules of screenwriting I have been mindful of.
The funeral cortege is one of my favourite moments of the film, I love this in Live and Let Die too “Whose funeral is it?” – “Yours”… GREAT! Back to this movie though, as the coffin is slowly escorted through Chinatown we are introduced to the mourning family behind. Dressed in traditional white mourning clothes and obviously of very high status, this is the first chance to guess some dynamics between them all. PLUS this is the first introduction to John’s character, Joey Tai – the son-in-law to the murdered triad boss.
Mickey Rourke’s cop character, Stanley White, an ex-Vietnam solider and ball breaker isn’t afraid to upset the apple cart in Chinatown. A confrontation with the remaining triad leaders still in their mourning clothes displays this perfectly “No policeman has ever gone to the gambling club – we will have to tell your superiors” He responds…”I’ll give it you fast – there’s a new Marshal in town, me, new Marshal means new rules – new rules means no more street violence....” The established, not so legit way the cops have always worked with triads and mafia is now blown out the water with his arrival.
What can I say about Mickey Rourke – I have always been a BIG FAN of his acting, from Angel Heart to The Wrestler – he has played some epic, diverse characters with ease and I think in this movie both himself and John were so well cast to play opposite each other. Each with their tremendous talent – they complimented each other perfectly.
I felt his relationship to Tai was far more convincing than the rest and this leads me onto the character of White’s love interest, Tracy Tzu (Ariane). I wanted to like her character more than I did. As a reporter of the incidents in Chinatown she just seemed a vehicle for telling backstory through her news reports. This irritated me at times.
Personally, I felt the relationship between White and his wife, Connie (Caroline Kava) was much more realistic, emotive. A woman of 35 desperate for her husbands attention “You missed target practice” she was desperate for children too and obviously the only one in the couple putting in any effort. Fixing the washing machine herself, it was evident that he was never at home. You could still see a love underneath the crumbling marriage which made it even more heart-breaking – my heart bled for her when she cried at the table alone. It just seemed wrong that he would fall into the arms of Tzu so quickly. A moment I did find amusing was the scene his trousers fell down after trying to seduce her though. I would’ve liked it if White had no love interest in this story and faced his crusade against the triads as a cop struggling with his failure as a husband.
Back to Connie, her death to me was the most shocking scene and to this character too seemed so cruel. The funeral scene afterwards was touching – Rourke again pulling out a superb performance.
The restaurant scene where White had met Tzu to discuss ‘bringing down Chinatown’ we were taken back and forth to the cabaret singer at certain moments. I am not sure what the significance of this was…and would love to know! If anyone does know please comment! It seemed to be placed strategically in pace with the dialogue between the two characters. The mass shooting in this restaurant is a brilliant scene, the fish tanks getting smashed and flowing out the doors as White explodes through them.
Another great scene was Tai checking in on some triads – you can hardly hear any of the dialogue due to the subway train noise – this effect was GREAT, I liked the confusion of it. Quite amusingly he told them to clean up – where in fact they lived in such a sty no amount of cleaning would touch the surface.
Stanley makes the point that he’s a ‘Polack’ quite a bit throughout the story – this always fascinates me in movies where American characters have a strong identity to the land of their forefathers and would opt to state their origins first when asked their identity. Its like me saying I’m Irish – where my blood dictates I am from – but I would only identify as English. In fact I am more Scandinavian than British even… however this is not about me.
The elderly Italian mobster with the electrolarynx (believe that’s the correct terminology) – is a great example of giving your character that ‘thing’ that people will remember them by – this could be a whistle, a catchphrase or just anything to give them some extra dimension “You’re flying too high kid and the air is very thin up there” – is more effectively delivered to Tai through the electrolarynx! Genius.
Amongst the colourful New York accents I heard the sweet Nun’s English voice as she was translating Hakka for the police. – one of other favourite scenes The accents sit perfectly next to each other, completely alien. What on earth she was doing there will remain the great mystery and intrigue about this film to me.
Thailand is now very much on my list of holiday destinations after the scenes there, the gorgeous temples in the background added so much to this crucial part of the movie as Tai strengthens his position against the drugs barrens. The head of his old buddy smashing onto the table left no doubt as to his status and what this character is capable of.
I could go on and on and on about this film, to me it was Michael Cimino’s best. This blog falls very short of giving it the credit (and analysis) it deserves – I’m no professional, but from a fan’s perspective I hope its made good reading.