True Action: Revenge of the Green Dragons
If you are going to make a movie about a gang in New York, it is never a bad idea to have Martin Scorsese involved.
Scorsese, as executive producer, teamed up with directors Wei-Keung Lau and Andrew Loo for the 2014 film Revenge of the Green Dragons.
An interesting side note, it was Wei-Keung Lau’s 2002 film Infernal Affairs that inspired the movie that finally won Scorsese the Academy Award, The Departed.
Revenge of the Green Dragons is based on actual events and chronicles the rise of Chinese street gangs in New York City in the 1980’s.
- The Movie: The movie focuses on the story of two Chinese immigrants who come to the United States (Flushing, Queens to be exact) at a young age. Steven (played by Kevin Wu aka YouTube sensation Kev Jumba) is recruited by one of the big brothers (or dai los) of The Green Dragons, Ah Chung (Leonard Wu). The Green Dragons were one of the six Chinese gangs that were running amok in Queens in 1983. Steven eventually brings his best friend Sonny (Justin Chon) into the fold. While Steven may have been recruited first, it is Sonny who catches the attention of the leader of The Green Dragons, Paul (Harry Shum Jr). Paul is impressed with Sonny’s natural aptitude for underworld dealings and sees some of his own qualities in Sonny. Paul is an effective leader. In one fell swoop Paul manages to increase The Green Dragons drug operations and eliminate rival gang and his biggest source of competition for the drug money, The White Tigers. Paul’s ruthless ways were at least in part inspired by another of the movie’s main villains, Snakehead Mama (Eugenia Yuan). Snakehead is responsible for smuggling immigrants (like Sonny and Steven) from China and placing them in homes and jobs in the United States and as you may imagine these services she provides are not free. As the movie progresses we get to see the rise and fall of Sonny and Steven as they grow up as members of New Yorks’ most notorious street gang. One more note about the film, Ray Liotta plays FBI agent Michael Bloom. Bloom sees history repeating itself as the Chinese gangs follow the same path that the Irish and Italian gangs took decades earlier and is persistent with his superiors that the Chinese gangs are the real deal and need to be taken down.
- The True Story: Revenge of the Green Dragons was based on an article written by Frederic Dannen in the November 16, 1992 edition of The New Yorker. Dannen covers in great detail the true events that inspired the film, you can read the article in its entirety by clicking here. After reading the article, I can say this is one case where the movie really did a great job mirroring the actual historical events. Although due to time constraints, some things didn’t make it into the film, mostly the legal proceedings. One detail of the story that I thought the movie may have taken some creative license on was the character name of Snakehead Mama. But Chinese gangs that specialize in smuggling people to wealthier countries are actually known as Snakeheads. (I learn something new everyday!) So calling the woman in charge of this illegal operation Snakehead Mama is not a movie embellishment. The actual woman behind the Snakehead Mama character was sentenced to 35 years in prison for human trafficking and this became the biggest immigration smuggling case investigated by the INS and FBI in history. Chen I. Chung (or Ah Chung in the movie) was sentenced to 9 consecutive life terms and currently resides in a Pennsylvania penitentiary. The real life Paul Wong could very well be nicknamed Teflon Paul. Wong was arrested in 1993, but never convicted. Wong has since dropped off the grid proving he was always one step ahead of everyone else, just like in the movie.
I don’t think Revenge of the Green Dragons will bump The Godfather, Scarface or Goodfellas off the top spot of anyone’s favorite mob movie list, but I thought the movie was well done and if you are a fan of the gangster genre you should probably check Revenge of the Green Dragons out.