This is an interesting spin on the genre. A gangster drama set in the Chinese immigrant community of New York in the 1980’s. Hyping up the accolades of being co-directed by Infernal Affairs‘ Andrew Lau and exec produced by Martin Scorsese, the film sets a precedent for the style and quality of this particular gangster tale. So what’s the result?
With the story inspired by true events from an article of the time, Sonny and Steven are two Chinese-American immigrants surviving in the impoverished world of 1980’s New York in the only way they know how, as members of the notoriously violent street gang, The Green Dragons. They quickly rise through the ranks, tightening the gang’s grip on Chinatown and the surrounding neighbourhoods, attracting the unwanted attention of rival gangs, cops and the FBI, all of whom are determined to shut them down by any means necessary. Tensions soon reach breaking point, both internally and externally, and bullets begin to fly in what would lead to one of the most violent street clashes that New York has ever seen.
Overall I liked the vibe of the film, which definitely took inspiration from earlier Scorsese works like Mean Streets and Goodfellas, with a distinct Hong Kong feel, no doubt driven by Lau’s experiences on the Infernal Affairs trilogy. And lets not forget that Scorsese remade the first film as The Departed, which may also explain both the working collaboration and unifying of these styles. You’ll even spot some nods and references throughout. Here, “the American Dream” is referenced time and again through Sonny and Steven’s actions and struggles to make it in their chaotic world, which all fits into the universe of these filmmakers.
The film has a distinctly 80’s feel, which I happen to love, and therefore I enjoyed these key elements alongside the electric guitar soundtrack courtesy of Mark Kilian which creates a throwback to, and enhances, that vintage tone.
Co-directed by Lau and Andrew Loo, the film features a largely young, up-and-coming ensemble of stars alongside a couple of well known veterans, namely the great Ray Liotta, all playing out against an urban backdrop loosely based on real news events. The performances are mostly strong and its nice to see young Asian actors afforded the opportunity to play a variety of three dimensional roles, from multi-faceted criminals and gang bosses through to civilians and cops.
While its always fun to see Liotta on screen, his minor role is little more than a glorified cameo without any real, notable scenes, except showcasing the cops’ indifference to crime affecting the immigrant community at that time. Also, the modern method of slapping the biggest star on the cover is once again employed here, so don’t be too surprised!
Even with the positives, such as those attached names, the gritty urban setting and the rarity of seeing an East-Meets-West Triad story set in the USA (definitely something which should be explored further) the weak pacing of the script and generic story, ticking every cliche box you can imagine, results in what I felt to be a perfectly enjoyable but unexceptional movie. Fine, but nothing special. It’s a shame as Green Dragons felt, at times, like it could have elevated itself beyond this with a tighter script, richer development of the plot and characters and some braver choices within the story. The end, for example, throws up a twist (really shoehorned in) that pays too much homage to one of the filmmaker’s previous works, and feels completely out of place without context or earlier scenes to back it up. I just wish they had either finished what they started and ended on a predictable, but probably satisfying note, or done something far cooler and brave, which could have drawn things to a heightened conclusion.
In terms of DVD special features, it includes a director’s commentary, three ‘making of’ featurettes and deleted scenes, which do shed some interesting light on the production and the level of attention to detail paid in recreating the vibrant look, feel and imagery of Flushing in Queens, New York during the late 1980’s and early 90’s. It’s always nice to see the level of care that goes into these elements.
If you’re a fan of the gangster genre (or loved playing video games like Sleeping Dogs!), this is worth a look and will no doubt entertain, but it remains a pity they didn’t take a bigger swing to do something bold and drastically different. Still, seeing the unexplored potential for these American set Chinese gangster stories, I hope to see more in the future.
Revenge of the Green Dragons is released in the UK on DVD and On Demand on 29 June from eOne. Check out the trailer below.