Although the 2014 film Revenge of the Green Dragons was not directed by Martin Scorsese, this epic crime drama set in the turbulent Chinatown neighborhood of 1980s New York features plenty of cinematographic elements that are in line with the legendary director’s style.
Scorsese has produced more than 50 films during his illustrious career; however, only a few epic crime dramas have not featured his masterful direction. Scorsese had already directed a few acclaimed crime films when he was awarded an Oscar for Best Achievement in Directing for The Departed, which was a remake of the hard-boiled Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, directed by Andrew Lau. For Revenge of the Green Dragons, Scorsese chose Lau as director. The result is a film that evokes the Scorsese classic Goodfellas, but with a Kung-Fu twist. The New York City-based production company A24 and DirecTV are partnering to release the Hong Kong/New York action film, which is based on Frederick Dannen’s depiction of the Asian-American gang world in the 1980’s and 90’s. Here are five Scorsese-isms to look for:
Based on a True Story
Like Goodfellas, the script for Revenge of the Green Dragons is based on non-fictional account of organized crime. This topic has been well covered by Scorsese, and regularly brings a sense of real-world excitement to the screen. The New York City setting is another Scorsese staple, which Lau pays respectful homage to. And as Scorsese would, Lau presents the audience with numerous gritty details in regard to certain aspects of criminal life.
The “American Dream” Lie
The gang members in Green Dragons turn to crime after coming to realize that achieving the “American Dream” is not an easy task — a motif often seen in other Scorsese films. Casting Ray Liotta from Goodfellas, playing an FBI agent whose insight regarding the social problems is brought about by inadequate policies on immigration, is a nice touch as well.
As in other crime masterpieces directed by a skilled auteur, sordid and un-idealized violence permeates much of Revenge of the Green Dragons. Issues surrounding the ideas of masculinity, victimization, family, and honor are handled in ways that do not bring glory to the concept of organized crime. This is a dirty business, and neither producer nor director shy away from that fact. If anything, this film is more violent than others in the Scorsese canon, and the influence of the Hong Kong style of filmmaking can be felt from beginning to end.
Slow-motion scenes that accentuate violence are plentiful, and the same goes for stylistic freeze frames. These, of course, are the legacy of controversial American director Sam Peckinpah, whose characteristically minimalist style often included scenes of gruesome violence. In the hands of Lau, however, the slow-motion and freeze frame scenes look a bit clumsy and heavy-handed, although this may just be an editing issue rather than a directorial fault. At times, it almost seems as if Lau did not want to shoot so many purely stylistic scenes, but then the editing room decided otherwise.
As can also be expected from a Scorsese film, the cohesive soundtrack of Revenge of the Green Dragons accentuates the tension between characters. The use of rock guitar passages during certain scenes is classic Scorsese. Book-ending the storyline as time goes by is another staple of Scorsese’s directing, though admittedly, it’s not handled as gracefully by Lau.
Ultimately, the criminal Kung-Fu aspects of Revenge of the Green Dragons pay effective tribute to the impressive canon of work already produced by Scorsese, a director known to reflect the styles of films he admires. The end result, while not exactly a movie that dedicated Scorsese fans will consider a masterpiece, is nevertheless a thoughtful tale that provides a window into the world of the famed Italian American director.
Article by contributor Beth Kelly.