Director: Andrew Lau, Andrew Loo
Writer: Andrew Loo, Michael Di Jiacomo
Cast: Ray Liotta, Justin Chon, Shuya Chang, Harry Shum Jr., Kevin Wu, Billy Magnussen, Eugenia Yuan, Jin Auyeung, Joanna P. Adler, Alysia Reiner, Linda Wang, Jim Ford, Ron Yuan, Jon Kit Lee
Running Time: 95 min.
Revenge of the Green Dragons is a Hong Kong/US co-production based on “true events” sourced from Fredric Dannen’s 1992 The New Yorker article of the same name. The piece explores the Green Dragons, a Chinese triad operating out of Queens, New York that terrorized the neighborhood in the ’80s. They specialized in human smuggling, extortion and drugs.
The film focuses on the rise and fall of two sworn brothers thrown together by fate. Young Sonny Tan (Alex Fox) and Steven Wan (Michael Gregory Fung) are both illegal immigrants who land on Ellis Island, New York. Because Sonny’s mother did not make the perilous journey to America, the smugglers force Mrs. Wan to take him in as her own and care for him.
Not long after their arrival, the Green Dragons forcefully enlist Steven using their usual tactic of “beating” potential recruits into submission. Sonny soon follows and they both leave the care of Mrs. Wan and join the family of Paul Wong (Harry Shum Jr. of Glee), their charismatic leader. In Wong, Sonny and Steven find a surrogate dailo (or “big brother”), thus begins their fateful lives into the dark side.
Justin Chon (The Twilight Saga), the adult Sonny, provides the narration. Chon’s monotonous voice needs work. There is almost no intonation in his delivery to liven up what is reflected on the screen. At times, he sounds bored. A more authoritative semi-baritone cadence would have served the film better. As far as screen acting, Chon does a passable job.
Frequent YouTube users will be familiar with Kevin Wu, better known by his stage name, KevJumba. He’s built quite a following for some of his unusual, comedic clips throughout the years. Wu’s portrayal of the adult Steven is unconvincing and wooden. He’s given the chance to dramatically personify his character after a near death experience. Unfortunately, he’s only able to exhibit little or no change in his demeanor in his subsequent scenes.
Fox, as the young Sonny, is a breath of fresh air. He doesn’t appear intimidated by the other adult co-stars in his presence. He’s able to emote with his eyes and facial expressions on point. The same can’t be said of Fung, portraying the young Wan, who basically spends the entire time looking bewildered and disengaged.
Other than Fox and Shum, none of the actors are “realistic.” Most, if not all, of the triad members over-act with over the top glares, screams, and posturing that don’t add any substance to the film. Shum’s character wasn’t given much to do except for popping in and out, barking orders and pseudo-philosophizing in front of his men. Shum definitely deserved more screen time. Chon and Wu were not household names, so casting them as leads for the film were most likely due to budgetary constraints (the movie has an estimated budget of only $5M).
Two directors on board – Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo – for such a simplistic movie is somewhat puzzling. I can only surmise that due to Loo’s inexperience as a director, Lau was brought in to “help” out with the project. Lau, who has made a name for himself in Hong Kong – having worked with A-listers such as Andy Lau, Leon Lai and Tony Leung – has misfired. Or was it Loo, his co-director, to blame?
Having Martin Scorsese (Casino) as executive producer didn’t help either. Other than lending his name – emblazoned in big bold letters – on the movie’s poster, his participation was obviously minimal. There isn’t a single hint of grit, taut or an engrossing story we would expect from Scorsese being involved. Even Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) couldn’t salvage this mess. Rumor has it that Scorsese’s involvement was merely a favor to Lau for his support in his film, The Departed, the American remake of Lau’s blockbuster, Infernal Affairs.
Revenge of the Green Dragons’ inane, generic script could have been lifted from any triad flick from the 90s. I found myself unable to identify with any of its underdeveloped characters. I also found it difficult to get through the movie in general. It’s such a pity that its a weak adaptation of Dannen’s fascinating New Yorker article.
oneleaf’s Rating: 3/10