“There’s a storm coming detective, and I don’t know of any umbrellas that will keep this city dry,” says the protagonist of “The Revenge Of The Green Dragons” at one point. It’s spoken with a sincerity that had us scratching our heads in bewilderment, a statement that’s not exactly directed at this ludicrous, over-the-top mess of a movie, but at Martin Scorsese, who will have his name forever attached to it. Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo team up for directing duties (Lau’s “Infernal Affairs” gives you hope) with Scorsese executive producing. On paper, the film looked like it could be a boatload of extravagant, gun-toting fun. Little did we know that, in reality, reading “Martin Scorsese Presents” in the opening credits would be the closest this movie comes to being great.
Sonny (Justin Chon) and Steven (Kevin Wu) are two Chinese-American brothers, who grew up in late-80s Queens, New York. This is when we first meet them, not looking a day over twelve. Asian gang violence is booming and “The Green Dragons” gang is one of the most prominent players, going around and basically doing whatever they want, pillaging other Asian communities. After bullying Steven, they integrate him into their clique and he, in turn, convinces his brother to join the club. The gang is lead by smooth-talking Paul Wong (Harry Shum Jr.) in public, and ruthless human trafficker Snakehead Mama (Eugenia Yuan) in private.
Fast-forward to the 1990s, and Sonny and Steven are all grown up and still very much part of “The Green Dragons,” with FBI agent Michael Bloom (Ray Liotta) and local NYPD Detective Tang (Jin Auyeung) always in hot pursuit, one step behind them. The brothers have drastically different personalities: Steven is a hothead who wields a gun in lieu of a handshake, and Sonny is the quiet, sensible type who looks like he’d rather be helping old ladies cross the street than managing the finances of a violent gang. The film follows the evolution of the gang, through various personal conflicts along the way, slowly building towards a climax that sees Sonny’s devotion to his brother, and his girlfriend Tina (Shuya Chang), in tempestuous conflict.
For the first five minutes of ‘Dragons’ (Sonny’s mundane, expository, voiceover notwithstanding), the energy Lau and Loo inject into the pace makes one believe the film will be, if nothing else, a brainless, popcorn-munching affair with a modicum of class. The further it goes down the rabbit hole, however, the less we believe, until it hits us mid-way: the only thing with any taste or class in this putrefying motion picture is Steven’s mullet. And that’s long before the “umbrellas” line. The fact that the story’s events are loosely based on a true story almost saves it from complete disaster, because on some level it’s fascinating to watch how populated Queens was with Asian gangs who controlled the streets. Unfortunately, Loo and Lau’s ‘Dragons’ is too busy reveling in tilted angles, music video editing, mind-numbingly clichéd dialogue, wooden acting, and a one-dimensional story about brotherhood.
By the time the climax saves us, tied around a plot-twist we admittedly didn’t see coming, our thoughts circle back to Martin Scorsese, and how his name ever got attached to this picture. In all fairness, it’s even hard to recommend “The Revenge Of The Green Dragons” to lovers of B-movie crime action films, because this is a whole different level of mess. Consider yourselves warned. [D-]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.