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Chinese American gangs fight in 'Revenge of the Green Dragons'

Chinese American gangs fight in 'Revenge of the Green Dragons'
A scene from "Revenge of the Green Dragons." (A24 Films)

"Revenge of the Green Dragons" — executive produced by Martin Scorsese and co-directed by Andrew Lau, whose "Infernal Affairs" was remade as "The Departed" by Scorsese — recounts the real-life turf war among Chinese American gangs in Queens, N.Y., in the 1980s and early '90s.

The Green Dragons gang plucks fresh-off-the-boat types from school while they're young and impressionable, and then turns them into delinquents. After a particularly brutal initiation, Sonny (Justin Chon of the "Twilight" series) and Steven (Kevin Wu, a.k.a. KevJumba on YouTube and former contestant on "The Amazing Race") rise through the ranks.

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As competition intensifies in the underworld, gangs raise the stakes by smuggling humans and drugs alike, all to diminishing returns. Authorities turn a blind eye until a white bystander dies in the crossfire.

Fredric Dannen's reportage, which appeared in a 1992 issue of the New Yorker and serves as the film's basis, contains lurid details that leap off the page in a cinematic way. The "Dragons" script by Michael Di Jiacomo and co-director Andrew Loo preserves many, but few register on-screen. Their co-opting a linear structure and a self-serious voice-over also make the proceedings seem like so much posturing.

That said, the representation of Asian American men as hot-blooded toughies in the film does put a dent in the omnipresent nerdy eunuch stereotype and the model-minority myth.

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"Revenge of the Green Dragons."

MPAA rating: R for strong violence, language, drug use and sexual content.

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood.

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