Ben is a perfectionist and overachiever whose tunnel vision leads to nothing less than graduating at the top of his class. As he struggles to achieve social success, he discovers his darker side. He and his friends: Virgil, Daric and Han lead a double life of mischief and petty crimes to alleviate the pressures of perfection. As their adopted identity grows, the gang tumbles into a downward spiral of excitement, excess and fun. Written by
According to an April 2003 NPR radio interview with Elvis Mitchell, Justin Lin's production company was on the verge of folding unless he could secure a certain amount of funding. Lin had essentially resigned himself to failure; but on a whim called a celebrity he had met once in Las Vegas. Lin got a call the day before the deadline from the celeb saying that he had read the script and wanted to provide some backing. Two hours later, the new investor had wired Lin the money and saved the production. The celebrity: MC Hammer. See more »
When the camera rotates around Ben at the free-throw line, he casts different shadows from each new camera angle. See more »
As a theme, Kids Who Kill has been a staple of movies ever since that cherubic little blond girl attempted to do in her very own mommy in 1956's `The Bad Seed.' Now, almost 50 years later, we have `Better Luck Tomorrow,' a film inspired by the true-life activities of a `Chinese Mafia' made up of a bunch of Asian high school honor students in Orange County, California.
What makes Justin Lin's film even more depressing than the average `disgruntled teen' flick is that the protagonists here represent `the Best and the Brightest' modern America has to offer. Like their far less brainy counterparts in `Rebel Without a Cause,' these suburban malcontents hail from comfortable upper middle class homes and have just about everything they could wish for in terms of material possessions. Yet, unlike the rebels in that earlier film, these are smart, highly motivated achievers who can ace any entrance exam and choose virtually any college they want, and STILL they feel the need to push the envelope of legality and morality - with ultimately fatal results. These are children for whom the good things in life come too easily - yet, like the kids who have nothing, they too need that challenge, that risk, that `rush' that tells them they're alive and in control of their own destiny and not just pawns in a game whose rules for success were prescribed long before they arrived on the scene.
Lin, along with co-writers Ernesto M. Foronda and Fabian Marquez, has fashioned a chilling portrait of suburban life, pinpointing just how ethically rudderless so many of today's young people seem to be. It's particularly disturbing in that these are the very people who seem to have it all together on the surface and can therefore get away with illegality and murder since no one in his right mind would think to suspect them - and, more to the point, these are the people who hold the future of our civilization in their hands. Yet despite the grimness of the subject matter, the film contains an amazing amount of humor, as Lin and his writers take an almost lighthearted, satirical approach to the material, skewering the values of an emptily materialistic society with razor-sharp precision.
If I have a complaint against the film, it is that the writers have made a conscious decision to exclude virtually all adults from their cast of characters. I understand that they are trying to draw us into the world of these teens, but by draining that world of all adult presence and influence, the filmmakers remove a crucially important element from the equation. We want to know what kind of parents these boys come from in order to better understand how these offspring got to where they are today, though, I guess, the point might be that, because these appear to be `problem free' kids who get good grades, the parents treat them with a sort of benign neglect that allows this amoral behavior to flourish. Still, this total removal of the parents as characters makes the film feel less totally honest and realistic than it otherwise might. This insistence on a hermetically sealed, teen-only world also results in a strain on the film's credibility, as when the boys go off to Las Vegas for an Academic Decathlon competition without a single chaperone in attendance. While there, the youngsters end up procuring the services of a hooker and one of the boys even brandishes a gun around the motel room - both events extremely unlikely given the highly litigious nature of our society and the subsequent stringent rules governing such school-sponsored activities.
The acting by a cast of virtual unknowns is outstanding, with Parry Shen, in particular, distinguishing himself as Ben, the likable, too-smart-for-his-own-good model student who functions as the film's voiceover narrator and who finds he has a dark side buried deep within him that he never really knew existed. Jason Tobin, Sung Kang, Roger Fan, John Cho and Karin Anna Cheung, natural-born actors all, offer superb support.
It is the incongruity between the familiarly shiny surface of its suburban setting and the malfeasance at its core that makes `Better Luck Tomorrow' such an unsettling and disorienting social document. We're thrown off balance because these kids seem to embody everything we envision when we speak about the ideal, goal-oriented, forward-looking teen. With its bravely inconclusive and nonjudgmental ending, the film takes us to a world we may not want to visit but which we ignore at our own peril.
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