REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONS
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Andrew Lau, Andrew Loo
Screenplay: Michael Di Jiacomo, Andrew Loo
Cast: Justin Chon, Kevin Wu, Harry Shum Jr., Ray Liotta, Jin Auyeung, Shuya Chang, Carl Li
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 9/8/14
Opens: October 24, 2014
If I remember the dates correctly, during the late 1970s, decades after the Communists took control of the Chinese mainland, power shifted outside of China, as the Communists destroyed the local gangs, some of whose members emigrated to New York. Wars raged in New York’s Chinatown in 1977 between Chinese gangs centering on Mott Street (which could give a new interpretation to the song that goes “And tell me what street/ Compared to Mott Street in July?”) When Congress changed the Chinese Exclusion Act allowing more Chinese into the U.S., competition was fierce, work was hard to come by, so Chinese men organized street gangs modeled after the gangs that the Communists destroyed on the mainland. One of the so-called Triad gangs was called the Ghost Shadows, led by one Nick Louie. This was presumably the background to Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo’s new movie “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” adapted from an article by Fredric Dannen by Michael Di Jiacomo and Andrew Loo.
None of this background information came forth from the film, but the events depicted in this violent celluloid, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, no less, presumably happened. Still, it’s strange that Mr. Scorsese attached his prestige to what is, to wallow in understatement, no “Godfather,” but instead is a generic, originality-free, plodding story filled with people that nobody can care about. Even the gangsters in the movie say at numerous times that the authorities don’t care what happens to Asians, which is why the cardinal rule among the low-lifes was “Do not shoot white guys.” According to them, only a bad incident occurring to a white would bring in not only the New York police but, since international drug smuggling was involved, the F.B.I. as well.
The story finds two brothers, Sonny (Justin Chon) and Steven (Kevin Wu), despairing of the poverty of their situation in Chinatown, joining The Green Dragons. Ultimately, several gory murders later—one involving a hara-kiri type stabbing of one gangster who overstepped by killing a white guy during a shoot-out in a restaurant and another dealing with the torture of a rival gang member who loses a finger after Green Dragon pummels his hand with a hammer—Sonny determines to take revenge against the very gang that made him the man he became.
Ray Liotta as an ambitious F.B.I. agent, Michael Bloom, is the only character with whom most in the audience would be familiar and also the guy who pushes his boss, the indifferent Captain Higgins (Geoff Pierson), to take action against the gang, not because they threaten other Chinese but because they are importing indentured servants and huge amounts of heroin stuffed into cookies and bags of basmati rice.
Among the stereotypes on hand are Eugenia Yuan as Snakehead Mama, wearing a perpetual sneer, who brings Chinese in from the mainland for big bucks and then farms them out to work off their debts; and Harry Shum, Jr. as Paul Wong, the obvious leader, because he wears a sports jacket, open collar shirt, speaks with confidence and radiates charm. By contrast, many of the gangsters act like big feral cats.
Rated R. 94 minutes. © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C-
Acting – C
Technical – C+
Overall – C