While Revenge Of The Green Dragons is supposed to be a historically relevant glimpse into the Queens gang scene circa 1980, it feels very much like a cartoonish riff off of Walter Hill’s The Warriors. The Scorsese-produced film comes with a certain pedigree since Wai-keung Lau (Infernal Affairs) represents half of the directorial duo, joined by Andrew Loo, yet the clunky narrative scripted by Loo and Michael Di Jiacomo fails to properly grasp the thematic gravity of illegal immigration. The Green Dragons are the baddest mamma jammas this side of Queens, yet their foolishly ambitious nature only paves a cinematic road towards random gang shootouts, weightless acting and a faulty focus on pulpy action over more emotionally jarring factors about immigrants chasing the American dream.
The story follows Sonny (Justin Chon) and Steven (Kevin Wu), two brothers who are inducted into a Chinese street gang at a very early age. Earning their keep as Green Dragons, the two boys quickly ascend the ranks and become trusted members, but their criminal infamy brings unwanted attention into their lives. While the NYPD typically turns a blind eye whenever crimes involve only immigrants, a few ambitious officers look to put a stop to illegal immigration rings flooding US soil with new “citizens” every day. As the Green Dragons turn into targets, tensions rise when Sonny and Steven find themselves in a world full of corruption, death and danger.
There’s one particular scene early on in Sonny’s journey that really stands out as one of the biggest “facepalm” moments that Revenge Of The Green Dragons has to offer, highlighting a screenplay that favors outlandishness over principal. Opting for an obvious training montage, we see Sonny and Steven practice their criminal skills on the backstreets of New York City in a typically rambunctious fashion. From target practice to buildups, the children earn their stay in the Green Dragons like most other gangster movies would establish, but it’s the punctuation mark that signifies their approved status that bewilders. In broad daylight, in a typical Queens alleyway, the entire Green Dragon gang whips out a vast array of guns and goes into a wild bullet-frenzy while firing the weapons in a brutish display of acceptance. We have no idea what they’re shooting at, but can only assume the massive amount of firepower going off is confused with an ill-timed Chinese New Year celebration.
It’s this kind of Hollywood disconnect that transforms Revenge Of The Green Dragons into a generic brawler that ignores a larger, informative dramatization depicting the nation’s influx of Asian immigrants. Ray Liotta’s character Michael Bloom establishes himself as one of the few characters who cares about rising crime rates due to immigration increases, yet he only pops in to conveniently arrest someone or crack another big case point. Bloom falls to the wayside in favor of Steven and Sonny’s larger-than-life criminal adventures, which creates an all-too-coincidental story that would rather play real-life Streets Of Rage than establish poignant, ripe commentary on a lesser-known time in New York City history.
Pulling audiences even farther from a comprehensive story are some lackluster acting chops, as numerous performers struggle to pull their weight. Some of the quirkier gang-bangers are funny in the interim, proving how viciously sadistic life on the streets can be, yet some scenes are lifeless beyond resurrection. Be it overly-hardened thugs or forcibly awkward actions, characters never have time to be fleshed out amidst all the territory battling and street cruising, which is one of many blunders leading too a wholly disconnected experience.
Revenge Of The Green Dragons is like bad Americanized Chinese food – dull, tasteless and unfulfilling. Your cinematic stomach will be left grumbling in the hopes of a second course, unappeased by a periodic rehash that misses numerous opportunities to define itself as a criminal drama about immigrants who aren’t always in the spotlight. The dark, gritty reality of gang retribution intertwines itself in a distorted embodiment of America’s freeing wonders, but beyond torture and drug-smuggling thugs, Revenge Of The Green Dragons is anything but a modern-day Gangs Of New York.
Revenge Of The Green Dragons sorely misses a "true story" backbone that's removed in favor of flashy, synthetic action. And even those moments foolishly go up in smoke.