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USD $1 ₱ 58.59 0.0000 June 14, 2024
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‘Revenge of the Green Dragons’ Takes Too Many Shortcuts to Matter

'Revenge of the Green Dragons' is disappointing considering its pedigree.

Revenge of the Green Dragons is largely about Sonny (Justin Chon), a Chinese illegal immigrant who arrives in the US in the 1980s. His mother did not survive, and he is taken in by the family of Stephen (Kevin Wu). Sonny and Stephen grow up to be best friends, and end up recruited into the same Chinese gang, The Green Dragons. Stephen is eager to please within this organization, but it is Sonny who turns out to be more suited to this life. But as time goes on, Sonny comes to realize that this life can only bring tragedy to the people that he loves.

The movie is loosely based on a true story, much of its material adapted from an article detailing the exploits of Chinese gangs in New York City written back in 1992. Verisimilitude hardly seems to be a concern for this film, however. The movie mainly deals in gangster movie clichés, offering very little in terms of cultural or historical specificity. The story struggles to find a focus and a point as it stumbles into rank nihilism.

The film is actually kind of compelling at the start, where it sketches out the life of these illegal immigrants in the 1980s. The film posits that the Chinese at the time were an invisible population of indentured servants, suddenly filling up entire neighborhoods with hardly anyone noticing. This situation creates the perfect environment for the rise of crime. With no one paying attention, ambitious people are given the room to operate. The film does well to document this particular story, which we see repeated throughout history.

But soon enough, the plot takes, and the film starts to get tedious. The film finds its focus in Sonny, who as a character just isn’t very interesting. He is a contradictory figure, willing to do terrible, violent things, yet still driven by conscience. He is a convenient figure for this movie: a means of delivering both violence and a narrative of redemption. But this doesn’t quite work out. The film just doesn’t go deep enough into this character to make these contradictory impulses work. It instead relies on cliché to explain away the struggle at the heart of his character.

Sonny is loyal to the Green Dragons, except when it comes to a girl. Sonny is okay with seeing people die, unless it’s his best friend. The Green Dragons are portrayed as being good to Sonny in turn, until it’s time not to be. The film takes shortcuts at every narrative juncture, which makes much of what happens feel false. Not helping matters is Justin Chon, who isn’t able to turn this character into something worth watching. The film does offer some strong performances from Harry Shum Jr., Eugenia Wong, and Ray Liotta. But it is Chon who is at the center of this picture, and the film suffers because of it.


'Revenge of the Green Dragons' is disappointing considering its pedigree. The film is produced by Martin Scorsese, and is directed by Andrew Lau of 'Internal Affairs' fame. The last time those two names were brought up together, the result was 'The Departed'. 'Revenge of the Green Dragons' is a long way from the reputation of those two names. It is a leaden, gangster cliché-ridden mess that never manages to bring real insight into these true events.

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Revenge Of The Green Dragons
Action, Crime, Drama
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