TIFF 2014: Revenge of the Green Dragons Review
The film Revenge of the Green Dragons came into the festival with certain expectations given the crew behind it. The film is directed by Andrew Loo and Andrew Lau, with Lau having directed the highly successful Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. This film was given an English language remake as The Departed, directed by Martin Scorsese. With this team’s latest film, Scorsese returns the favour and Executive Produces here. This time set in 1980s New York, Green Dragons tells the story of two childhood friends rising through the ranks of the notorious Chinese gangs. The film however, is nowhere near the level of its predecessors.
Set in 1983, and based on true events, Revenge of the Green Dragons takes place in Queens, New York which has become hub for Chinese immigrants, both legal and smuggled. As part of the crime landscape, several gangs roam the city. Young best friends Sonny (Justin Chon) and Steven (Kevin Wu) are targeted by the Green Dragons gang for recruitment. Given that they don’t have much family in America and that Americans themselves look down upon the Chinese immigrants, the group gives them a sense of belonging and they soon join. They are taught how to kill and who to kill and rise through the ranks. The FBI begins tracking the Green Dragons when one of their members accidentally murders a white man. Over the span of a decade, they target leaders of rival gangs, rob crime rings, and stare down bullets, all in a violent misappropriation of the American Dream.
In an attempt to be in line with typical Hong Kong crime action films, this one is not for the faint of heart. In general, the violence through the majority of the film is on par with a typical American crime thriller but there are several brutal scenes that may push the boundaries. Those who cannot stand to watch such horrific actions of murder and torture may find themselves looking away. The violence doesn’t necessarily feel gratuitous given that this is reflective of what took place but it may be hard to stomach at times.
Unfortunately this film doesn’t compare to the directors’ previous work or Scorsese’s The Departed. Many hoped coming into the festival that it would be on the same level of these films as this crew partnered up to try and recreate the success of their earlier projects, but they were much less successful this time around. The script and dialogue were sloppy, falling down in many spots and several acting performances were weak, which all combine to unravel the film. The story needed some polish before filming began to make it more cohesive and less unintentionally comical.
There are obviously mounds of filmmaking pedigree behind this film but for a variety of reasons the project did not come together in such a manner as to compare it to its more successful counterparts. The handheld camera techniques, the set designs, the wardrobe of the characters, and the soundtrack choices all create an effective representation of the time period but the story structure and the script writing were just not strong enough to make this a successful film.