The Year of Living Dangerously (film)

The Year of Living Dangerously is a 1982 Australian romantic drama film directed by Peter Weir and co-written by Weir and David Williamson. It was adapted from Christopher Koch's 1978 novel The Year of Living Dangerously. The story is about a love affair set in Indonesia during the overthrow of President Sukarno. It follows a group of foreign correspondents in Jakarta on the eve of an attempted coup by the 30 September Movement in 1965.

The Year of Living Dangerously
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Weir
Produced byJim McElroy
Screenplay by
Based onThe Year of Living Dangerously
by Christopher Koch
Music byMaurice Jarre
CinematographyRussell Boyd
Edited byWilliam M. Anderson
Distributed by
Release date
  • 17 December 1982 (1982-12-17)
Running time
114 minutes[1]
  • English
  • Tagalog
  • Filipino
  • Indonesian
BudgetA$6 million[2][3]
Box office

The film stars Mel Gibson as Australian journalist Guy Hamilton, and Sigourney Weaver as British Embassy officer Jill Bryant. It also stars Linda Hunt as the male dwarf Billy Kwan, Hamilton's local photographer contact, a role for which Hunt won the 1983 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.[6] The film was shot in both Australia and the Philippines and includes Australian actors Bill Kerr as Colonel Henderson and Noel Ferrier as Wally O'Sullivan.

It was banned from being shown in Indonesia until 1999, after the forced resignation of coup-leader and political successor Suharto in 1998.[7] The title The Year of Living Dangerously is a quote which refers to a famous Italian phrase used by Sukarno; vivere pericolosamente, meaning "living dangerously". Sukarno used the line for the title of his Indonesian Independence Day speech of 1964.


Guy Hamilton, a neophyte foreign correspondent for an Australian TV network, arrives in Jakarta on assignment. He meets the close-knit members of the foreign correspondent community, including journalists from the UK, the US, and New Zealand, diplomatic personnel—and Billy Kwan, a Chinese-Australian dwarf of high intelligence and moral seriousness. Hamilton is initially unsuccessful because his predecessor, tired of life in Indonesia, had departed without introducing Hamilton to his contacts. He receives limited sympathy from the journalist community, which competes for scraps of information from Sukarno's regime, the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), and the conservative Muslim Indonesian military. However, Billy takes a liking to Guy and arranges interviews for him with key political figures.

Billy introduces Guy to Jill Bryant, a beautiful young assistant at the British embassy. Billy and Jill are close friends, yet Billy subtly manipulates her encounters with Guy. After resisting Guy because she's returning to the UK, Jill falls in love with him. Discovering that the Communist Chinese are arming the PKI, Jill passes this information to Guy to save his life, but he wants to cover the Communist rebellion that will occur when the arms shipment reaches Jakarta. Shocked, Billy and Jill end their friendships with Guy, and he is left with the American journalist, Pete Curtis, and his own assistant and driver Kumar, who is secretly a member of the PKI. Kumar, however, remains loyal to Guy, and tries to open his eyes to all that is going on.

Billy, outraged by Sukarno's failure to meet the needs of most Indonesians, decides to hang a sign saying "Sukarno feed your people" from the Hotel Indonesia expressing his outrage, but is thrown from the window by security men, and dies in Guy's arms. His death is also witnessed by Jill. Still in search of "the big story", Guy visits the Presidential palace after the army generals have taken over and unleashed executions, after they learned of the Communist shipment. Struck down by an Army officer, Guy suffers a detached retina. Resting alone in Billy's bungalow, Guy recalls a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, "all is clouded by desire", which Billy told him. Kumar visits him and tells him about the failed coup attempt. Risking permanent damage to his eye, a heavily bandaged Guy implores Kumar to drive him to the airport, where he boards the last plane out of Jakarta and is reunited with Jill.




A number of filmmakers were interested in buying the rights to Christopher Koch's novel including Phillip Noyce. It was Peter Weir who was successful. Koch wrote an early draft but Weir was unhappy with it. Alan Sharp wrote three more drafts, then David Williamson was brought on to do several more drafts. Koch later came back on to work on some of the voice over, although he never spoke with Peter Weir. Koch later claimed that the final script was "55% Williamson/Weir, and 45% Koch".[8]

The film was originally backed by the South Australian Film Corporation and the Australian Film Commission, with international distribution arranged by MGM/UA Entertainment Company. However, the SAFC then dropped out and Weir's agent suggested MGM provide the entire $6 million budget themselves, which is what happened.[2][9] It was by far the most ambitious Australian film undertaken at the time and was one of the first co-productions between Australia and a Hollywood studio.


Dancer David Atkins was originally cast as Billy Kwan. However, during rehearsals Weir began to feel that the relationship between his character and Mel Gibson's was not working so he decided to recast. Several actors auditioned, including Bob Balaban and Wallace Shawn, when Weir saw a photo of Linda Hunt. He asked for her to audition and decided to cast her.[2] To accomplish the role during production, Hunt shortened "her hair and dye[d] it black[,] wore padding around her waist, shaved her eyebrows, and carried something in her shirt pocket."[10] In her 1986 interview with Bomb magazine, Hunt remarked that Billy Kwan "is supra-personal [with] layers of sexual ambiguity[.]"[11]


Although originally set to be filmed in Jakarta, permission to film in Indonesia was denied, so the bulk of the film was shot in the Philippines. Death threats against Weir and Gibson from Muslims who believed the film would be anti-Islam forced the production to move to Australia. Gibson downplayed the death threats, saying, "It wasn't really that bad. We got a lot of death threats to be sure, but I just assumed that when there are so many, it must mean nothing is really going to happen. I mean, if they meant to kill us, why send a note?"[12][13]

Gibson described his character Guy, saying, "He's not a silver-tongued devil. He's kind of immature and he has some rough edges and I guess you could say the same for me."[14]


"L'Enfant", a track from Vangelis' 1979 album Opera sauvage, was featured in the film.


The Year of Living Dangerously was entered into the 1983 Cannes Film Festival[15] where it was well received by audiences and critics.[16]

Home media

The film was originally released on VHS and the on DVD.[17] Warner Bros. released The Year of Living Dangerously in the United States on DVD in June 2000 with a theatrical trailer as the sole extra.[18] An Australian copy was released in July 2002.[19][20]


Box office

The film opened in Australia on 17 December 1982. Filmed on a budget of $6 million,[3] The Year of Living Dangerously grossed $2,898,000 at the box office in Australia.[4]

The film opened in the United States via limited release on 21 January 1983 before receiving a wide release on 18 February 1983. In its limited release opening weekend, the film earned $35,000 at the domestic box office.[21] When released nationwide, the film ranked twelfth in the box office with $1,716,040.[22] At the end of its run, the film grossed $10,278,575 in the United States.[5]

Critical reception

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 87% rating based on 31 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The site's consensus states: "Both a smart, suspenseful tale of intrigue and a sweeping romance, The Year of Living Dangerously features excellent performances from Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver as a pair of journalists covering political unrest in Indonesia."[23] Metacritic reports a 65 out of 100 rating based on 9 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[24] Film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars and praised Hunt's performance: "Billy Kwan is played, astonishingly, by a woman—Linda Hunt, a New York stage actress who enters the role so fully that it never occurs to us that she is not a man. This is what great acting is, a magical transformation of one person into another".[25] In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby praised Gibson's performance: "If this film doesn't make an international star of Mr. Gibson (Gallipoli, The Road Warrior), then nothing will. He possesses both the necessary talent and the screen presence".[26]

However, Richard Corliss of Time wrote, "But in his attempt to blend his preoccupations with the plot of C. J. Koch's 1978 novel, Weir has perhaps packed too much imagery and information into his movie ... The plot becomes landlocked in true-life implausibilities; the characters rarely get a hold on the moviegoer's heart or lapels".[27] In his review for the Washington Post, Gary Arnold described the film as "a grievously flawed yet compelling tale of political intrigue, certainly a triumph of atmosphere if not of coherent dramatization".[28] Newsweek magazine called the film "an annoying failure because it fritters away so many rich opportunities".[29]

For their work in the film, Weir was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival and Hunt won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress[3], becoming the first person to win an Oscar for playing a character of the opposite sex.[30]


Award Category Subject Result
AACTA Awards
(1982 AFI Awards)
Best Film Jim McElroy Nominated
Best Direction Peter Weir Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
David Williamson Nominated
Best Actor Mel Gibson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Linda Hunt Won
Best Cinematography Russell Boyd Nominated
Best Editing William M. Anderson Nominated
Best Original Music Score Maurice Jarre Nominated
Best Sound Jeanine Chiavlo Nominated
Peter Fenton Nominated
Lee Smith Nominated
Andrew Steuart Nominated
Best Production Design Wendy Stites Nominated
Herbert Pinter Nominated
Best Costume Design Terry Ryan Nominated
Academy Award Best Supporting Actress Linda Hunt Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Award Best Supporting Actress Won
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Peter Weir Nominated
Cinema Writers Circle Awards, Spain Best Foreign Film (Mejor Película Extranjera) Won
Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Linda Hunt Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award Best Supporting Actress Won
LAFCA Award Best Supporting Actress Won
National Board of Review Award Best Supporting Actress Won
National Society of Film Critics Award Best Supporting Actress 3rd place
New York Film Critics Circle Award Best Supporting Actress Won
Writers Guild of America Best Adapted Screenplay Peter Weir Nominated
David Williamson Nominated

See also


  1. "THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 17 February 1983. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  2. David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p166-171
  3. Formica, Serena (2012). Peter Weir: A Creative Journey from Australia to Hollywood. Bristol, UK: Intellect Books. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-84150-477-3. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  4. Film Victoria – Australian Films at the Australian Box Office Archived 18 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  5. "The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  6. Worrell, Denise; Clarke, Gerald (23 April 1984). "The Night off the Great Prom". Time. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  7. Da Cunha, Derek (2002). Singapore in the new millennium: challenges facing the city-state. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 258. ISBN 981-230-131-3. Retrieved 5 February 2010.
  8. Christopher Koch, "Screenplay by...", Cinema Papers, March 1983 p10
  9. Bob Thomas (15 February 1983). "Mel Gibson Has All Ingredients For Superstardom". Associated Press.
  10. Unger, Bertil (15 January 1986). "Size Is Small Problem for Hunt". New Straits Times.
  11. Hunt, Linda (Summer 1986). "Linda Hunt". Bomb (Interview). Interviewed by Vincent Caristi and Craig Gholson. Archived from the original on 16 March 2013.
  12. Davin Seay (February 1983). "An American from Kangaroo-land hops to the top". Ampersand.
  13. GTV 9 Don Lane Show, Interview with Peter Weir and Mel Gibson, 1982 on YouTube
  14. Vernon Scott (24 February 1983). "Mel Gibson: Australia's new hunk". United Press International.
  15. "Festival de Cannes: Forbidden Relations". Retrieved 17 June 2009.
  16. Dionne, E.J. (23 May 1983). "Cannes Over, Films Face the Public". The New York Times. p. 13.
  17. The Year of Living Dangerously | 1982
  18. The Year of Living Dangerously | Warner Bros. | DVD review
  19. The Year of Living Dangerously | DVD | United States | Warner Bros. | 1982 | 115 min | Rated PG | Jun 06, 2000
  20. The Year of Living Dangerously | DVD | Australia | Warner Bros. | 1982 | 114 min | Rated M | Jul 01, 2002
  21. "Weekend Box Office Results for January 21–23, 1983". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. 24 January 1983. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  22. "Weekend Box Office Results for February 18–21, 1983". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. 22 February 1983. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  23. "The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  24. "The Year of Living Dangerously reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  25. Ebert, Roger (1 June 1983). "The Year of Living Dangerously". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  26. Canby, Vincent (21 January 1983). "The Year of Living Dangerously". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  27. Corliss, Richard (17 January 1983). "Waist-Deep in the Big Money". Time. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  28. Arnold, Gary (18 February 1983). "Tale of Political Intrigue Is Flawed but Compelling". Washington Post. pp. C1.
  29. "Our Man in Jakarta". Newsweek. 24 January 1983. p. 66.
  30. "Oscar Trivia". Daily Mail. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
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