Friday, October 24, 2014

The Andrews' (Lau and Loo) ode to Chinatown gangs, REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONS

Crazily piling into 94 minutes what ought to have been a multi-chapter saga for maybe cable television (or at the very least a two-and-one-half-to-three hour epic movie, REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONS tells the story of two inseparable Chinese immigrant friends, who, in young boyhood -- via the kidnapping of one, followed by the forced recruitment of the other -- grow up to become gang members of the notorious Green Dragons of New York City's Chinatown back in the down-and-dirty (and bloody) 1980s.

Full of action, nasty deeds and enough subsidiary characters to choke one of those Chinese celebratory dragons, the movie certainly does not drag, but by telescoping so many events and introducing so many characters only to have most of them disappear quickly enough to immediately forget, the movie -- co-directed by Andrew Lau (left) and Andrew Loo (right), shown flanking the film's most famous executive producer, Martin Scorsese  and co-written by Loo and Michael Di Jiacomo -- becomes little more than a serviceable action thriller with a slightly exotic Chinatown millieu.

The screenplay is also just serviceable with little memoranble in it save the revved-up action and gore, nastiness and betrayal, and some particularly weary cyncism. If any or all of this had been better fleshed out (and there is nothing to suggest that the writers and directors would not have been up to this task), we might have had a memorable story, well told.

As it is, we have some interesting characters -- the two boys, together with their young men selves (Justin Chon and Kevin Wu, the latter shown at right, two photos above); the young and classy criminal kingpin (Harry Shum Jr.,.just above); and his number one woman-in-charge (a really frightening and excellent Eugenia Yuan, below) -- who hold the screen for this short time and then disappear into the miasma of all the other movies of this particular genre.

As I say, there's plenty of action here, much of it murderous and ugly; the noise-level alone should preclude your dozing off. But by the finale, when the ultimate cynicism unfolds, I suspect you'll be a bit annoyed at the whole been-there/done-that sensibility at work. Which might have been avoided by telling this story in something closer to its full detail. (Yes, that's Ray Liotta -- center, below -- as a casually racist but relatively effective NYC detective.)

From A24 and running a sleek 94 minutes, Revenge of the Green Dragons opens today in New York City at the Village East Cinema and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Noho 7.

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