By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—In the violent, based-on-a-true story crime drama “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” Harry Shum Jr. plays a cold, ruthless gang leader, who is involved in a range of criminal activities including heroin distribution, human trafficking, extortion and murder.
Based on real life criminal Foochow Paul, who ran his illegal operation in New York with an iron grip in the late 1980s through the early 1990s, Shum plays a man who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.
The character is a far cry from the kind-hearted high school jock/dancer Mike Chang he plays on the popular music-filled Fox TV series “Glee.”
Shum, who was born in Costa Rica and raised in San Francisco, says he had heard of the Triad Asian gangs while growing up, but wasn’t completely familiar with the story of Paul and the other gangsters depicted in “Green Dragons” until he read the script by Michael Di Jiacomo and Andrew Loo. Loo (“It Had to Be You”) co-directed the intense drama with Andrew Lau (the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy). The story is based on an article written by investigative reporter Fredric Dannen and published in “The New Yorker” in 1992. One of the film’s executive producers is Martin Scorsese, who knows a little something about New York gangs.
Justin Chon (the “Twilight” trilogy), Kevin Wu (“The Amazing Race”) and Ray Liotta (“Field of Dreams,” “Goodfellas”) also star.
Having recently wrapped production on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II: The Green Destiny,” the sequel to the Oscar winning 2000 martial arts drama, which won four Academy Awards, including one for best foreign language film. Yeun Woo-ping directs the sequel from screenplay by John Fusco, based on the Du Lu Wang novel “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Due out next summer, Shum stars alongside MMA expert Donny Yen and Michelle Yeoh, reprising her role from the original.
Recovering from jet lag after traveling home to Los Angeles after several weeks of filming in New Zealand, Shum spoke about depicting a real-life gangster, who is still at large.
Q: You just returned from New Zealand. How was it working on the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sequel?
Shum: It was a mind-blowing experience. It was really really fun. Shooting in New Zealand was great. I’d never been there before. It was a really interesting cultural experience as well. Very cool.
Q: Meantime, we have “Revenge of the Green Dragons.” What drew you to this story? Were you aware of these events?
Shum: I knew about Triad and Asian gangs in different cities, including San Francisco, where I grew up. In New York, you heard about it but you never got to know why. That’s the most important part. You hear about these things. Your parents say don’t go out there because of the Triads, the gangs. But to go deeper into it was what interested me. There’s always a motivation or reason for people to do things, whether they be good or bad. For this particular story, reading The New Yorker article just blew my mind. The fact that it was a lot of these kids, mainly, that were coming in and not having any direction, and the only thing that kind of gave them a direction, were these gangs. And it was definitely a bad direction. For my particular character, Paul Wong, he is almost a master manipulator, and also pursuing his version of what he thought was the American Dream. I thought that was an interesting take on this immigrant story. I definitely wanted to be a part of it and help tell the story.
Q: This is quite a departure from what we’ve seen you in before?
Shum: You’re right.
Q: “Aside from “The New Yorker” article, and of course the script, was there additional research you did?
Shum: What was really interesting about this was you read this story and a lot of it is about Sonny, Tina and Steven, but for my character Fu Chow Pong-Wong, there wasn’t much on him, outside of him leading the gang and bringing in heroin and human trafficking. Those things are there (in the article) but there wasn’t much about the character, who he was as a person or where he came from. When I got on set—I went there about two or three weeks before (we started production)—and visited as many of the locations as I could in order to understand what it used to look like. The actress who plays Steven’s mom actually knew Tina, and she had met Paul Wong. I talked to her about the mannerisms and how she was when she was around him. She said that when she was talking to the directors—they were pulling a lot of stuff to put in the movie—she told them how he had a baby face, and he was soft spoken and looked very trustworthy. “Anything he said, you would believe him,” she said. Those kinds of things helped me a lot and I was able to put them into this character, and bring my own spin on it.