Martin Scorsese and Andrew Lau have had a rather interesting working relationship over the last few years. Scorsese was so taken by Lau’s thrilling police procedural Infernal Affairs that he remade the film into the Oscar winning film The Departed several years later. Though Scorsese is only listed as executive producer on Lau’s latest crime saga, Revenge of the Green Dragons, his influence is clearly felt.
Set in the Queens, New York in the 1980s, the film follows two friends, Sonny (Justin Chon) and Steven (Kevin Wu), whose lives are first intertwined when they arrive in America as illegal Chinese immigrants. Recruited into the ruthless Green Dragons, one of six Asian criminal syndicates in the area, they are exposed to a vicious cycle of violence and excess. The Green Dragons are led by “business man” Paul Wong (Harry Shum Jr.) who has his hands in numerous criminal activities that span from human smuggling to drug trafficking. Paul has a strict set of rules he expects his men to follow, the most important rule is to avoid killing any white people as that brings unwanted attention from the police.
Rising up the ranks, Sonny and Steven learn the hard way that getting on Paul’s bad side has dangerous consequences. When Steven’s loose cannon ways begin to jeopardize business, Sonny finds himself not only questioning his loyalties, but also ends up in a desperate fight for his own survival.
While the Scorsese vibe is prevalent in overall tone, Revenge of the Green Dragons does not reach the level of craft that one expects from a film with such a legendary director attached. In fact, it is not even amongst the best of Lau’s works for that matter. It is enjoyable on a basic level but does not stay with the viewer long. Co-directors Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo create a film that plays like a standard Hong Kong style crime drama. Everything thing from conventional characters, such as the dogged FBI agent (Ray Liotta), to double-crossing plot twists, are included in the film.
There are several violent moments, such as a hammer infused interrogation scene, that nicely breakup the formulaic melodrama. These energetic jolts are few and far between though. Revenge of the Green Dragons spends so much time trying to line itself up with other classic crime sagas, which include unnecessary exposition delivered through voice-overs, that many of its beats are predictable. When the film does veer off a familiar path it strolls into the realm of excessive with moments like the disturbing rape scene.
Those looking for a crime tale that touches on familiar tropes will no doubt find enough to enjoy in Revenge of the Green Dragons. After all the film does a solid job of telling the real-life story with a sense of style. However, those seeking something slightly more original and daring will walk away disappointed. Despite the wealth of talent behind the scenes, Revenge of the Green Dragons is nothing more than a mildly satisfying crime saga that pale in comparison to others in its genre.