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Two Types of Tragedy: OnDemand films offer a worthy alternative to theatrical offerings

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Early December sees a strange glut at the cineplex. For some reason, every major holiday release waits until mid-December to unleash their big-budget, four-quadrant crowd-pleasers (like “Annie,” “Exodus” and “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”).  So early December becomes a kind of frozen wasteland for movies. It’s a good time to reflect on all the movies we saw this year, get ready for the ridiculous award season and get a head start on those “Best Of” lists, which we critics are all so fond. In lieu of this lull in the cinematic season, I decided to skip the theatrical offerings in favor of some OnDemand features seeing their first wide release online. I viewed “Camp X-Ray,” which stars Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”) and the Martin Scorsese-produced gangland drama “Revenge of the Green Dragons.”

camp x-ray

A CAREER BEST: Kristen Stewart emotes in “Camp X-Ray” with more humanity than she’s given in any other performance. Courtesy photo.

I won’t lie.  When I saw the title “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” I was thinking I was going to be seeing a movie like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” or “House of Flying Daggers.” To my surprise, “Revenge of the Green Dragons” isn’t a wire-fu, chopsocky spectacular. Instead, it’s a very dark look into the world of 1980s Asian gangs in New York City. It’s a very brutal, unapologetic tragedy that wears its inspirations squarely on its bloody sleeves. 

If you weren’t already aware, being an illegal immigrant isn’t a lot of fun. Sure, the Republicans would have you believe it’s a paradise where people enter the country and do a Mexican hat dance on the U.S. Constitution while impregnating our women, taking our jobs and  mocking our average-sized genitalia.  The reality is a little more grim. It involves torture, exploitation, and being forced to grow up way too fast. Sonny (Justin Chon) and his brother Steven (Kevin Wu) are brought to America for a better life but end up being brutalized by local gang members who slowly bring them into their fold.

The life of a Green Dragon isn’t easy. They are respected by their peers and feared by outsiders. For the first time in their young lives, they finally have a sense of community. The film evolves into a more complex crime story. As they grow into their roles in the gang, they wind up in a series of conflicts that ultimately lead to their ruination. “Revenge of the Green Dragon” doesn’t glamorize the gang life. It paints it with broad, horrible, bloody strokes that spill off the canvas.



Seeing Martin Scorsese’s name credited as producer makes sense: The film apes the style of Scorsese films like “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” The connection is made even more clear by Ray Liotta’s appearance in the movie. There’s a lot of narration, which feels like a device used to tie everything together. The film is rough, both in subject matter and technique. “Revenge of the Green Dragons” tries to be an Asian version of the aforementioned Scorsese films and movies like “American Gangster,” but the cast never brings the kind of gravitas that makes the movie feel anything other than sleight. 

Likewise, “Camp X-Ray” deals with another kind of tragedy: the continued incarceration of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay.  Many have forgotten about the detainees who are still rotting away as our endless “war on terror” shifts focus to threats like ISIS. September 11, 2001 feels like a lifetime ago. It would be like having the internment camps where we housed Japanese Americans in World War II and just leaving them there well into the 1950s. 

In the film, Cole (Kristen Stewart) is transferred to Gitmo a.k.a Camp X-Ray, where she helps guard the militants our government believes are too dangerous to be set free. She finds her assignment frustrating. This is not the war she signed up for; it’s not war at all.  Cole suffers abuse from her fellow soldiers as well as the detainees. The only real connection she makes is with an inmate named Ali (Peyman Moaadi). Their relationship is complicated and difficult.  “Camp X-Ray” avoids easy interactions and opts for the awkward difficulty of two people from different cultures forced to interact; both of them looking for a semblance of sense in a world that provides them little.



I genuinely was surprised by “Camp X-Ray,” most notably by Kristen Stewart’s performance. Her chilly demeanor works well for the part of Cole, and she delivers the most human performance of her career.

So many movies about the consequences of our decade-long, unofficial police action against countries like Afghanistan and Iraq have tried to do too much. “Camp X-Ray” sets the right tone. It’s a movie about people. While the message that we might not be so different after all is about as original as the wallflower getting the handsome dude at the end of the romantic comedy, I still found myself enjoying this subtle and well put-together drama.


Revenge of the Dragons

Starring  Justin Chon and Kevin Wu

Directed by Wai-keung Lau and Andrew Loo; Rated R

Camp X-Ray

Starring Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi

Directed by Peter Sattler; Rated R

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  1. Casey

    December 17, 2014 at 11:54 am

    ” September 11, 2001 feels like a lifetime ago.” tell that to someone who lived in New York or had family there on that day and I’m sure you’ll get punched in the face. For the people who lost loved ones on 9/11 it will never feel like a lifetime ago. It’s a part of every passing day.
    You should be ashamed of yourself for writing something like that.. You should use your real name for your posts so people know who you arebut your nothing but a asshole who hides behind their computer writing for a free magazine.

  2. anghus

    December 18, 2014 at 6:55 am

    A movie review is something from my perspective. It’s subjective. The product of the writer’s personal point of view. A review isn’t supposed to represent the collective opinion of mankind. That sentence that so inflamed you is simply me stating that it feels like 9/11 happened a lifetime ago. It isn’t intended to rub someone raw. I would imagine anyone that has lost a loved one in such a tragic event would be present to them on a daily basis, but i am not one of those people. I am in the vast majority that didn’t lose a loved one on 9/11 and doesn’t have a personal connection to that day. Nor did i live in New York when it happened. I was here, in Wilmington, which is where i live, write movie reviews, and share my perspective on a weekly basis. For the record, i’m not in the least bit ashamed for writing that sentence, because it is simply my perspective which is the only one i can offer with any degree of sincerity. I’m a little embarassed for you because i’m dumbfounded how someone could take a benign, personal statement like ‘9/11 feels like a lifetime ago’ and think ‘Them’s fighting words.’ Also for the record, i don’t think those who lived in New York City would punch me in the face for saying it feels like a lifetime ago. I think New Yorkers are smart enough to realize what an inherent connection they have to that event, and how someone who wasn’t there couldn’t imagine what that day was like, nor how deeply it cut them. I think it would be more insulting to use false sentiments or act as if the event is as prevalent to me as it is to someone who knew someone impacted by the event or lived in the city and witnessed the terror of that day.

    On the ‘real name’ front , i go by Anghus. My friends call me Anghus, my wife calls me Anghus. Everyone in town knows me as Anghus. I’m not trying to hide anything or from anyone. I’d say i was sorry that line rubbed you the wrong way, but that would be a lie. What i would say is that sharing an honest opinion shouldn’t generate such anger. Even if you disagree with me, you should at least respect my right to share a perspective. And you have the right to be offended by nothing, which you have done resplendently.

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