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Sleeping Dogs: The Movie and The Power of Change - Two Left Sticks
Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs: The Movie and The Power of Change

Whatever advances are made to make games more cinematic, the transition to becoming a movie often doesn’t work out. With exceptions such as the Mortal Kombat film, which came out twenty-two years ago, recent attempts at bringing World of Warcraft or Assassin’s Creed to life have had middling results. In those instances, even heavy doses of fan service weren’t enough to cover up cobbled together scripts and mediocre acting.

Yet the hopes of video games fans are high once again with the announcement of a new game set for Hollywood – none other than Sleeping Dogs. Despite not being on the level of Grand Theft Auto, the arrival of a Sleeping Dogs film could have a resounding impact on both the games industry as well as changing the current climate of Hollywood.


Set to star in the Sleeping Dogs film is action legend, Donnie Yen. Recently making a splash as the spiritual warrior in Rogue One, Donnie has been active in the Asian film industry since the 1980s.

While Donnie may not be a household name in America, he’s one which has a fanbase in China and abroad among those who follow Asian cinema. For Donnie, stepping into the role of Sleeping Dogs protagonist Wei Shen should be easy, not because he’s a veteran, but since the role is familiar.

What helped make Sleeping Dogs a success among players was that it told a familiar story, a deep undercover cop, but executed it well thanks to memorable characters and writing. Stepping into the role should be easy for Donnie since he did a similar thing in the film Special ID, which had his character undercover within a gang.


Barring dramatic narrative changes such as forgoing the locale of Hong Kong in favor of New York, the premise of Sleeping Dogs is so simple it’s hard to screw up.  Whereas properties like Assassin’s Creed have complex lore which can be easily muddled, Sleeping Dogs is a simple tale of good guys vs. bad guys and those stuck between.

Sleeping Dogs may not be the most extravagant video game from a premise standpoint. But the less than fantastical plot could work in its favor. With a modest budget and a direct focus, the Sleeping Dogs film should have a simple action movie flair. Even in a worse case scenario where it’s more Romeo Must Die than SPL, the results shouldn’t be that bad. If the talent surrounding Donnie is good, then Sleeping Dogs could also erase the stink surrounding video game movies.

Though putting Donnie in the lead role of Sleeping Dogs could have ripple effects which may finally change Hollywood standards beyond the perceptions surrounding video game films.


Over the years, society has changed for the better. As a culture, we’ve become more accepting of people of various races, creeds, and sexes. Unfortunately, this has had little effect on the depictions found in most film and TV projects produced in America. Aside from the Fast & Furious franchise, which features a prominent cast of various ethnicities, or the forthcoming Black Panther movie, there aren’t many high-profile American action films with proper diversity.

More often than not, lead roles in Hollywood films go to the usual actors – those of caucasian backgrounds which audiences know and have accepted. People of color usually have secondary roles in films/TV shows as opposed to being a lead. Even the upcoming Marvel/Netflix series Iron Fist has come under fire for its casting choice and narrative, that of having a caucasian “savior” for Asian characters.

With the arrival of a Sleeping Dogs film, perceptions can finally change in Hollywood. This could show that yes, an Asian male actor can lead an action movie without any “assistance”. This would be a monumental occasion if the Sleeping Dogs film is successful domestically in the U.S. It would also bring validation to campaigns like Starring John Cho which highlighted the unjust white-washing in Hollywood casting.

One can hope that the Sleeping Dogs film will follow suit of the game and feature an Asian cast. With Warner Bros. securing Crazy Rich Asians the times could be changing for the betterment of society. Perhaps actors such as Brian TeeSteven Yeun or even Will Yun Lee (who played Wei Shen in the game) will help bring Sleeping Dogs to life.


Garnering solid scores and an 83 Metacritic, Sleeping Dogs won folks over who then began to lobby hard for it.

The “failure” of the game stemmed from the expectations Square Enix had for it. Forecasting high sales, Sleeping Dogs only went on to sell 1.7 million units. Square Enix did resurrect the franchise but in an unlikely form. Created by developer United Front was Triad Wars, a free-to-play multiplayer PC game set in the Sleeping Dogs universe. Missing the elements that made Sleeping Dogs popular, the reaction to Triad Wars was tepid.  After a beta, Square Enix shut the game down in January 2016.

Unbeknownst to players, United Front did pitch an official sequel to Sleeping Dogs. Uncovered by Waypoint, the sequel would again feature Wei Shen but have more dynamic elements. As evident by the lack of a sequel on shelves now, Square Enix passed on the project.

Will the arrival of a Sleeping Dogs film help motivate Square Enix to give the franchise another shot? It may, but it’s too early to tell. With the Avengers project, the Western studios of Square Enix seem focused on Marvel, Tomb Raider, and Hitman.

With United Front closing their doors in October 2016, the studio can’t even put together a pitch for Square. So a third party studio would have to handle Sleeping Dogs – which would be no easy task.


The future of Sleeping Dogs’ fate as a video game franchise is uncertain. Yet it’s encouraging to see a film appear – helping to usher in a change within the Hollywood system. If the action is good and familiar elements are present, a Sleeping Dogs movie is bound to be a success; that’s of course if pork buns are still included.

Ian Fisher
A Chicago native, I'm a six year veteran of the game press industry with a deep passion for smaller indie games and all things Sony.

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2 thoughts on “Sleeping Dogs: The Movie and The Power of Change

  1. Donnie F’n Yen! Better recognize! This man is an action film legend. I care not about sleeping dogs, but if Donnie is in it, you know the action will be good.

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