It’s not that kind of story, one where everyone lives happily ever after,” narrates the hero of Revenge of the Green Dragons, announcing the film’s attempt to avoid one cliché by indulging in another.
Set mainly in the late 1980s, when the gang of the title ran roughshod throughout Queens, Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo’s organized-crime saga is a study of marginalization and reactionary violence. Feeling like outsiders in their adoptive country, two kids named Sonny and Steven are forcibly initiated into the Green Dragons and used as child soldiers.
Over the next several years, they learn to love their captors and carve out a place for themselves in society the only way they feel they’re capable of doing: with guns and knives. Martin Scorsese receives an executive-producer credit, presumably because he was flattered rather than offended by how much the project owes to his own gangster pictures; Ray Liotta likewise appears as an FBI agent who connects the dots between a surge in immigration rates and violent crime, continuing his streak of receiving surprisingly little screen time in would-be gritty crime dramas.
His presence is both a boon and a distraction, as Lau and Loo invite enough unfavorable comparisons to Goodfellas without throwing Henry Hill himself into the mix: Green Dragons wants to be spaghetti with marinara, but it’s closer to egg noodles and ketchup.