Film Review: Revenge of the Green Dragons (Andrew Lau/Andrew Loo, 2014)

by Matt Strackbein

Not all good movies should have been great, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch them, and it doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy them either. For example, I don’t really like Once Upon a Time in America (1984), but it’s a classic, which I’ve seen half a dozen times anyway. Don’t get me wrong, as a movie, it’s a pretty big deal. To be sure, it’s an epic film in scope, and a true accomplishment for cinema. Seriously, if all of the movies in the universe suddenly vanished except for the ones directed by Sergio Leone, with music by Ennio Morricone, I’d be more than content. Leone always went big, and he was able to make more with less, and able to produce better results than some fully funded directors can. All that said, I still don’t really like Once Upon a Time in America. It’s too long for me, (not that I hate long movies) and certain aspects feel overly drawn out to the point where it’s plain hard to watch. At the same time, I can’t look away. It’s as if, when you watch certain films, fully comprehend it or not, you sense there’s something incredible happening. Be it a purer form of the art, or a director’s vision fully realized, there are certain movies that for all their potential problems still blow you away. It’s just on a different level than usual, like you’re aware only of the fact that – whatever the creator’s intent may have been – it’s always going to be over your head. I think that’s enjoyable. That’s why I claim that not all good movies need to be considered great. Besides, sometimes striving for greatness, is more remarkable than achieving it.

When I first found out about Revenge of the Green Dragons (2014) all I needed to hear in order to convince myself to watch it was: New York City, 1980s, and Chinese gang wars. Add Martin Scorsese producing, and the American film debut of Director Wai-Keung Lau (Infernal Affairs, 2002), and you’ve got the ingredients for a must-see flick. I gotta say, after watching it, the movie did feel like Once Upon a Time in America, orMean Streets (1973), raw, gritty, graphic, and just bad enough to be really good. I’m going to keep trying to articulate my original point here, and so by “bad” I mean it felt like they left everything in without a single revised, or cut scene. For better or for worse, this movie seemingly comes across like every single piece of the script actually mattered all the way to the final credits, and I just can’t believe that was necessary. Whether that’s true or not, it is exactly why I think the movie should be watched. It made me want to get into the director’s head (there were two of them on this film by the way), to know what he was thinking, or what mood he was in when he made certain decisions. To me, that’s something.

The story of Revenge of the Green Dragons follows the lives of two friends, from little kids to adulthood as they, like it or not, enter into gang life. From the outset it’s a wild ride, although nothing too shocking happens, and there’s no new or innovative contribution to this genre, but like I said, they cram a lot into an hour and a half. I liked the characters, but their portrayal wasn’t always spot on. I liked the story, but it wasn’t always easy to follow. And ultimately, I liked the movie, although it isn’t anything special. I’ve watched it twice since it came out on DVD and I can say one thing for certain, for all of it’s chances to be a great movie, it was good.

Matt Strackbein is an Apparel-Designer working in the Outdoor and Ski industry. He is also a self-published comic book creator, as well as an accomplished Letterhack with over 200 hundred printed letters in comic book letter columns.