Queens quakes in Revenge of the Green Dragons

by Mark Burger

Both in real life and reel life, New York City has played host to a wide diversity of criminal gangs, including Italian, Irish, Russian, Jewish and Asian “” and it’s the latter ethnicity that figures prominently in Revenge of the Green Dragons, a film “inspired by actual events.” That it’s not a horror film lends that designation some distinction these days.

Under the auspices of executive producer and “presenter” Martin Scorsese, this crime saga has been co-directed by Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo. Lau previously co-directed (with Alan Mak) the popular 2002 crime thriller Internal Affairs, which became the basis for Scorsese’s The Departed (2007) “” the film that finally earned the notable filmmaker a long-overdue Oscar for Best Director.

It is a refreshing change of pace that the film is conveyed almost entirely through the eyes and actions of Asian characters played by Asian actors, but such novelty is not enough to distinguish this stylized but standard chronicle of bad guys blasting their way to the top of New York City, only to (inevitably) fall just as violently. The territory is simply too familiar, and though the film isn’t particularly long (92 minutes), it’s in no hurry to get where it’s going.

Like other films of its ilk, the story follows two youngsters as they are inexorably drawn into a world of crime. Sonny (expressive Justin Chon) and Steven (Kevin Wu) were brought up as brothers after illegally immigrating to the Big Apple as boys. Sonny, who narrates much of the story, is the pensive one while Steven is the hair-trigger wild card. Again, these are extremely familiar archetypes in the gangster genre. How they rise and how they fall is rendered in rote terms.

Shuya Chang plays the girl who captures Sonny’s heart, Jin Au-Yueng plays a fellow Chinese immigrant who instead turned cop “” only to contend with xenophobia on all fronts “” and Goodfellas graduate Ray Liotta plays an FBI agent whose constant complaints about illegal immigration go unheeded.

Most impressive is Harry Shum Jr. as Paul Wong, the smooth Green Dragon leader who on the surface appears more a fashionable ’80s Yuppie than a ruthless crime czar. He never appears to get his hands bloody, but there’s no doubt they that are.