REVIEW: Revenge of the Green Dragons (2014)

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2014, IM Global/A24 Films

Directors:
Andrew Lau
Andrew Loo
Producers:
Andrew Lau
Stuart Ford
Ara Katz
Allen Bain
Jesse Scolaro
Writers:
Andrew Loo
Michael Di Jiacomo
Cinematography:
Martin Ahlgren
Editing:
Michelle Tesoro

Cast:
Justin Chon (Sonny)
Kevin Wu (Steven)
Harry Shum Jr. (Paul Wong)
Eugenia Yuan (Snakehead)
Leonard Wu (Ah Chung)
Jin Auyeung (Detective Tang)
Jon Kit Lee (Teddy)
Shuya Chang (Tina)
Ray Liotta (FBI Agent Michael Bloom)
Ron Yuan (Born to Kill Dai Lo)

Based on Frederic Dannen’s article, this film depicts the Triads of 1980’s New York City’s Flushing Chinatown and two best friends whose lives change forever.

As kids, immigrant kids and brothers Sonny and Steven had come to New York City to start a new life. However, relegated to working in a restaurant with their mom, they find themselves constantly yelled at by staff members as well as family members. When Steven witnesses a beating at the hands of a young gang known as the Green Dragons, he is beaten mercilessly until he is rescued by the gang’s leader Paul Wong. Steven eventually joins the gang and convinces Sonny to join as well. When Steven’s gun is jammed during an assassination attempt, Sonny becomes the back up plan and succeeds, thus initiating him in the gang.

Years have passed and both Sonny and Steven have risen through the ranks to become top members of the Green Dragons. However, with notoriety comes a deadly price. It starts when Sonny falls for Tina, the daughter of low level Dragons member Teddy, who unwittingly finds himself transporting heroin in moon cakes between the Green Dragons and White Tigers. This begins to cause serious conflict between the gangs. In addition, the FBI are hunting down the Dragons for their involvement in human-traffcking. When Sonny learns what dire consequences result around him, he is forced to make a decision that will change his life forever.

Executive produced by the legendary Martin Scorsese, who took Hong Kong director Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs as the basis for his Oscar-winning film The Departed, this film is meant to be a depiction of the true story of 1980’s Triads in New York City. The script, by co-director Loo and Michael Di Jiacomo, looks to be interesting, but seems a bit rushed. It starts off very promising as we see the central characters as boys who are relegated to working cheap labor before joining the gang. When the central characters become adults, this is where it begins to somewhat have a rushed feel to the film. Had it been at least 20-30 minutes longer, then it had the potential to be a decent film.

In a far cry from his days as Eric in The Twilight Saga, Justin Chon pulls it off well as Sonny, the young narrator of the story who finds himself and his world around him crumbling as he rises through the ranks of the Green Dragons, while Kevin Wu’s hard-headed Steven, who tends to act before thinking despite the eventual consequences. Harry Shum Jr. plays it cool as gang leader Paul Wong. Here’s where we have a yang to Shum’s yin. Leonard Wu tends to overdo it sometimes when it comes to his acting as Dragons enforcer Chung. He acts a mentor and eventual brother figure to Sonny and Steven, but remains loyal and even goes as far as taking some drastic measures himself. Ray Liotta makes the most of his limited screen time as Bloom, who plans to take down the Dragons.

The feel of the film seems to be a combination of a Martin Scorsese film with that of a Hong Kong Triad film and that’s understandable, considering the talent behind the lens. There are some unexpected twists in the film, especially the ending of the film. That alone brings a sense of redemption into an otherwise American-made Hong Kong Triad film.

Revenge of the Green Dragons is worth a watch, but don’t expect anything spectacular. If you have seen some of the standard 90’s Hong Kong Triad films of yore, think of that done-Hollywood style.

WFG RATING: B-

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