John Lone did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Joey Tai in Year of the Dragon.
Year of the Dragon does not work as a film, though it is not a standard failure. Its problems largely stem from the parts of the film focusing on our "hero" played by Rourke. The set up is already strange because it seems the character was suppose to be far older than Rourke was, judging by the grey hair they gave him. This side of the story fails, aside from a few directorial touches by Michael Cimino. This in part in its inability to tell one story, or at the very least balance its various facets well. It seems like it might be a Scarface style gangster film, then others possibly a more serious minded one. At others it seems like it might be trying to be a straight one man's revenge type thriller. It also throws in a misguided romance which could never have succeeded due to the atrocious performance by Ariane Koizumi as the Asian reporter Stanley gets involved with. It also includes in there one man dealing with his racism which seems like just a footnote put into the end of the film in an attempt to balance some of the remarks made by Stanley. There is yet another portion of the film though which is the best part of the film, which stars John Lone.
Now I wish I could say that John Lone borders on being co-lead since the film would be better if that were the case. Actually I wish I could say that John Lone merely was the sole lead to the film as it could have potentially been a great film that focused on the rise of power of this criminal in the Chinese underworld. Instead we get glimpses of this story, which more often than not seem oddly detached from the police Captain's story, yet these glimpses are still the high points of the film. John Lone plays Joey Tai who we meet early on when Stanley goes to try to intimidate those in power in Chinatown. Lone brings the needed intensity to the moment as he eyes daggers back at Stanley as he makes his accusations which the men deflect. Lone finds nuance in this moment and is very effective in the way he portrays Tai analyzing Stanley in the moment seemingly determining whether or not he will be a threat to him. Lone is terrific in this scene as he manages to give Joey Tai a definite presence this early on even before he does much of anything, but makes it clear he will have an impact as the film proceeds forward.
After that scene Lone is rarely in scenes that directly engage with the main story, which is a good thing for Lone. These scenes focus upon Tai as he attempts to ensure deals go down, as well as increase his control over Chinatown. These things theoretically could have been more simplistic as basically a villain setting up his villainy so to speak, but that's not what happens due to Lone. A lot of these scenes showcase just how good of an actor Lone is, especially in the scenes of negotiating with other criminal elements. Lone carries himself so well again because he never forces Tai to just be a standard gangster stereotype. Lone exudes the confidence needed for the role as Tai goes face to face with various other dangerous men, and the power of the man is made into a fact by Lone's assured work. Lone never defines these scenes one way such as when he speaks with the Italian mob. Lone is subtly able to give the sense of Tai considering his actions before he takes them alluding to just a hint of apprehension before going for the throat to get what he desires. Lone earns the confidence of the character by building to it in these scenes, and portraying a growth in Tai to a "better" criminal in these scenes.
Lone never wastes his screentime, I particularly love the sequence where he meets with a military group in Asia. In the scene the men try to force him to kill someone who he he shares a history with. Lone says a great deal in the silence of the moment brilliantly suggesting the past between the two men as he avoids the murder. The most remarkable element of this scene is that Lone manages to pivot in the scene to Tai revealing he had another man decapitated who was one of is competitors. Lone shows this side of Tai as the cutthroat businessman who will do what it takes to secure his interests. Lone is quite menacing through this approach in any of the scenes where Tai orders violence to be carried out. Lone does not portray it as a maniacal villain, but rather is quite chilling by presenting him as a man just meticulously removing obstacles out of his path. When Tai orders a murder, Lone does not yell the order, he calmly orders it as though it is a standard transaction. The film technically undercuts all that Lone is doing by having him just be a straight villain to be defeated by ending the film in a gunfight between Tai and Stanley. To Lone's credit he does not compromise avoiding going over the top even as he gets into a duel on a train track. Lone even goes out on a high note by finding a modicum of actual humanity in the character as Tai somberly asks Stanley for an easier way out. Lone delivers beyond the call of duty by giving a compelling portrait of an ambitious gangster, when it seems the film would have probably settled for just a one note bad guy.