Crime has been a part of the human condition about as long as rain has been part of the British summer, so perhaps it is only natural that there's a whole variety of films dedicated to shootings, ganglands, and hits. Over the years, the Crime genre has given us some thrilling highs in Coppola's The Godfather, Scorsese’s Goodfellas and De Palma’s Scarface. However when we talk about exciting crime flicks, many fans will immediately list some films of Asian origin- like John Woo’s Hard Boiled, Johnnie To’s Election and more recently Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2: Berandal. So as Revenge of the Green Dragons blends the best of American (the film is executively produced by Martin Scorsese) and Asian (the film is co-directed by Internal Affairs’ Andrew Lau) Crime Drama, this really ought to be a shoe-in for a gripping, violent, stylish and perhaps poignant experience. Sadly, this is not an apt description for Revenge of the Green Dragons.
The film centres on a (based on true events) 1980s New York-set story of two Chinese immigrant brothers Sonny (Justin Chon) and Steven (Kevin Wu), who are recruited by and rise up the ranks of violent gang “The Green Dragons”. However the gang’s brutal activities and criminal dealings soon force the attention of the law and the brothers’ bond is severely tested. What sounds like a potentially hard story of police negligence, illegal immigration, brotherhood and a deconstruction of the American dream (mentioned but not explored), is in fact more an occasionally stylish violent caper with very little to distinguish it beyond that. Revenge of the Green Dragons has a potentially exciting story here but only ever seems to posture and not perform. The opening is brutal and attention grabbing and while some of the wincing scenes of violence are effective by the time of the limp finish (which veers away from the story’s later revenge set up), the film becomes little more than a beige Crime/Drama.
The influence of Scorsese is not felt much and the direction is disappointingly straightforward and by the books. True the final twist may surprise some but when you don’t particularly know why you should care it means nothing. Some of the film’s most violent moments feel forced (a rape scene in particular) in order to try and provoke a response and, as a result, many may find the film reprehensible attention-seeking at points. It is a very unfortunate result to a film that certainly is not the out and out garbage some critics have suggested but is just a film that will disappear from your memory shortly after its end titles roll.
It is not all bad, Justin Chon gives a great performance as Sonny and there is an amount of appeal to his character and his connection to Wu’s Steven. The film also looks great at certain points (even if style often takes over substance) and there are the occasional flourishes to the story (especially in it’s earlier moments). Sadly this is drowned out to a great degree by the film’s messy flaws, the biggest of which is it’s thoroughly lacking plot, which just chooses the usual routes taken by the gangster genre and makes it do. The film has very little to say and when it makes a point; often the movie leaves it unexplored. It says it all that after viewing the film, we felt the most lingering aspect was its great looking dragon gun smoke poster that recalled the Danish film adaptations of Steig Larson’s Millennium Trilogy. In fact, watch those movies instead or just revisit Internal Affairs or Goodfellas because there is very little here that demands to be seen. Maybe we have been spoilt over the years with excellent Crime Drama and as a result we are being a touch harsh here with what is a fairly average (not entirely awful) film but considering the talent and potential involved in this project, the results can’t help but come as a pretty big disappointment. In short you may find something to enjoy in this film but unfortunately it suffers greatly next to the copious back catalogue of the genre and in the end the biggest crime here is the lack of memorability and fire in this dragon.
Extras: Audio Commentary with Directors, The Not So American Dream, A Claustrophobic World, Stitches In Time, Deleted Scenes
INFO: CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: WAI-KEUNG LAU, ANDREW LOO / SCREENPLAY: ANDREW LOO, MICHAEL DI JIACOMO / STARRING: RAY LIOTTA, JUSTIN CHON, SHUYA CHANG, KEVIN WU, HARRY SHUM JR. / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 29TH