In 1985, Rourke, who’d played a supporting role in “Heaven’s Gate,” had reached the apex of the first phase of his career on the strength of bravura turns in “Body Heat,” “Diner” and “The Pope of Greenwich Village.” He was a roguishly handsome man blessed with the seemingly endless invention of a young Marlon Brando, which made his performances tremendously rewatchable.
“Year of the Dragon” was not, on paper, an ideal fit for Rourke. The character of Stanley White was a good 10 years older than the 33-year-old star. He was a Vietnam veteran with loads of experience on the force. This prompted Rourke to age himself up by dying his hair gray, which is both a very cool look and a seemingly intentional one for the character. From the outset of the film, you’re wondering why this no-nonsense cop likes to frost his locks.
As the film’s August 16, 1985 release approached, it was clear that some hugely influential critics were sharpening their knives, while Asian-American activists were preparing full-throated protests. This turned the press tour into a gauntlet for all involved, but especially Rourke, who was on the cusp of big-screen superstardom. The trouble began with a “Good Morning America” interview, which was taped but ultimately scrapped because, according to Rourke, he was “too supportive of Michael” (ABC claimed the tape had been “inadvertently damaged”).