When I initially heard that Martin Scorsese was working with director Andrew Lau (whose 2002 film Infernal Affairs was the direct inspiration for Scorsese’s The Departed) to produce a film about Asian crime gangs in New York City, the idea seemed destined for greatness. The resulting product, entitled Revenge of the Green Dragons, held its worldwide premiere at TIFF this week, revealing that some things are in fact too good to be true.
The shocking story – which is based on true events – follows a pair of brothers growing up within a violent NY gang called the Green Dragons in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Faced with death at an early age, and feeling isolated from their family, the brothers jump at the chance to build a new life amongst the pack of criminals. As time passes, they learn the heavy price that comes with a life of crime, and begin to discover that it is not just them but also their loved ones that will inevitably pay the price for their decisions.
The film is co-directed by Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo and produced by Scorsese, and let me just say that the experience of watching it is a heavy one. There is no happy ending, and there was far more violence and brutality than I was expecting, which was occasionally jarring considering some of the cheesy writing that occurs in other scenes. It approached greatness at moments – especially when dealing with issues of Asian cultural identity within a mixed-race society – but as a whole the film fell flat more than it soared, and it committed the worst crime of all in casting Ray Liotta in a supporting role, and then giving him absolutely nothing to do.
The newest film from prolific Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike is a disturbing and nightmarish retelling of the classic horror tale Yotsuya Kaidan, following a contemporary theatre production that is putting on a play of the age-old Japanese ghost story set in the samurai era. As rehearsals of the play progress, the personal relationships of the actors begin to mirror those of the characters they portray. The result is a story that takes place in two different eras, and maintains a slow, steady increase in suspense and dread before a shocking turning point changes everything. Did I mention it was shocking? It was actually horrifying, and something that I still can’t wash clean from my mind.
But this wouldn’t be a Miike film without us getting that feeling at least once, and the veteran director certainly knows how to deliver genuine scares to match the grotesquery. The final act feels like a nightmarish fever-dream, and a shocking ending left me exiting the theatre with a big smile on my face. The cinematography and art direction are also wonders to behold, and the eerie music and sparse sound design work to elevate each scene and give the entire film a heightened artistic sensibility. This is surely the work of a master, even if it does feel like somewhat of a lesser work in the director’s overall career. Not for the squeamish by any means, Over Your Dead Body remains a terrifying retelling of a classic ghost story, and another success for director Miike.