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Being Asian and a film study graduate doesn't validate what I"m gonna
but I thought it would get somebody's attention.
What I did like about this film is that it reminded me a lot of what I did in Highschool, minus killing people and playing with guns. I got really good grades in school, and after a while me and my friends would goof around and cause a lot of trouble. Add in all the alcohol, parties, and drugs, you have an interesting side story for bored students. Most people wouldn't agree with what I said, but hey its my review.
Two, being Asian American and growing up in a middle class-uppermiddle class area, it was strange being one of the few asian americans around. people might look down on this film as "gimicky" because it gained attention because it was an all asian american cast. well here's something peole who are not asian american maybe should consider: when you're asian american, and you live in an area heavily populated by caucasions and feel like an obvious minority, you'll naturally start a clique of your own, that, low and behold, has other asian americans primarily in it. the group of friends in this film are asian american not just to start some gimmicky marketing scheme. this is what often happens in real life. certain subtleties like this can't be overtly explained, but will be appreciated by its asian american audience because it hits pretty solid. this is very much an asian american film, even though people don't like all the violence and blah blah blah.
now from a film perspective, i like the stylistic techniques lin used. he changes film speed a lot, which is a lost art in film. this film reminded me alot of Scorsese's "Mean Streets," plus with the obvious "Good Fellas" homage in the film w/ the continuous shot where the group walks into the party where the fight breaks out. i like how this film worked hard to challenge general film conventions. this film breaks down into five acts (not the standard hollywood three), has asian americans playing roles that are reserved not for them, and has a post modern ending. american audiences are used to having everything resolved at the end, with clearly defined moral positioning. i don't think people knew how to respond to the ending, and felt kind of empty. well guess what, osama bin laden was never caught, and some 30% of murders are never solved or have their killers brought to justice. i felt that the ending was appropriate
Director Justin Lin's drama, Better Luck Tomorrow, brought back memories of
seeing Larry Clark's Bully on TV, which was also about teens who looked for
partying to have something to do with their time in the midst of dreary,
same-temperature-all-the-time suburbia. But this time, Lin has his teenage
characters not as aimless- these kids, and at least the lead, have futures
and/or aspirations, thanks to rich families, and because of which feel
secure in their side life's of drug-dealing and robbery.
The beginning sets a perfect mood, as two Asian-Americans lie in their backyard, basking in a hazing heat, think they hear one of their beepers, and realize that the sound is coming from under the soil, alongside with a body. This is set up not to spoil the story (this tale is inspired by true events some eleven years ago), but to set up the slick, if bleak, atmosphere.
The central character of Lin's film is Ben, a JV Basketball player who rarely gets picked to play, repeats words he picks up in the dictionary over and over in preparation for SAT's, and works a part-time job in a food court so he'll have something to put on college applications. Along with this are his friends, Virgil, Han, and Daric, the last of which being the most intriguing of the supporting characters.
Instead of Lin getting overtly cocky with his plot ideas and characters, he creates a study of them, and of the paths they are each on in their high times of adolescence. He does this in a style that is kinetic even in scenes that slow down or just have minor dialogue, and when things pick up they pick up (and slow down) at the right pace. We get a sense where the movie will take us, yet by the time it does it's surely not as expected.
When the last scene rolls around, and Ben has made decisions that will possibly effect the outcome of his life, it's clear that Lin has made a film for MTV that has a life-force, a cool if sorrowful spirit, and an understanding of the additudes of youth that skims close to the line of a soap, but never is stupid enough to even try it. Some will leave cheated; I think this it may be one of the best films of the year, a little gem for the Asian-American community. Between A and A+ (A because of a slightly weak side-plot with the character of Stephanie)
"Better Luck Tomorrow" has attracted much IMDb comment despite being shown
in few theaters and then over a short period. Now available in DVD it
clearly garner a slowly widening audience by word of mouth. And it
This idie film operates on several levels. The story of a loose cohort of high school high achievers, mostly Asian-American, they are simultaneously self-challenged to make it to the Ivies while at the same time drifting in an affluent bubble of moral emptiness. They volunteer for public service project for points to strengthen their "apps" without any real commitment to the values of service.
Ben is the central character, a youth of untapped ability and boundless promise who seems unable to find any real meaning in his academic goals. The others are a cross-section of teenagers running from the daring to the reckless to the pathological.
He slowly falls hard for Stephanie, a beautiful classmate (actually almost thirty when the film was made but you'd never know it). She has a manipulative, rich boyfriend, "Stevo," and her relationship with him is both resistant and dependent. Girls in this film are ancillary arm candy for the males. Stephanie, who has issues of her own, she refers to her obligatory therapist, knows she's dominated by Steve but resisting submissiveness is very hard. Asian-American or not, Stephanie is a very recognizable teenager. Not too different a story from many high school buddy films, that part.
What is different and distinctive about this story are two factors. The first is that Ben and his friends start running scams at stores to get money for stolen merchandise returned for refunds and then graduate to both selling and using drugs. Their criminal activities become both more sinister and essentially aimless as challenge predominates over possible gain. To describe more would be to give away a genuinely original story line.
The second factor that separates "Better Luck Tomorrow" from the usual run-of-the-mill teen angst flick is the total absence of adult authority figures- parents, teachers (one biology teacher has a brief, colorless classroom presence), police (a sole cop is shown in a couple of seconds in a hallway, almost an opaque shadow). These kids have wheels and money but there's no evidence of their being accountable to anybody. Their ambitions and schemes are their sole interior reality.
Many IMDb comments are from Asian-Americans who view the characters as reflecting their own background. There is a brutal fight scene between the Asian boys and white kids at an unsupervised (of course) booze bash but much of the behavior that escalates into disaster isn't limited to any racial or ethnic group. I'm not even sure I feel comfortable dismissing the behavior as just another example of SoCal teen life.
The acting here, by a cast unknown (check IMDb for their names) is outstanding as is the direction and cinematography that pictures a slightly bleached suburb mirroring the superficiality of the central male characters. Anomie rather than evil is the malevolent controlling force for most of the boys.
A very disturbing film-one that does and should arouse discussion.
First of all, this is a film about wealthy middle-class Asian teens. Too
much smoking? Too much profanity? It seems a lot of IMDB users are out
touch with suburban teen culture.
One user even complained about the "the ubiquitous melancholy feeling you'll have throughout watching the movie (which) will stick with you hours after thanks to the resolutionless ending." That's like complaining about Nietzche because he's depressing.
That said, this is an EXTREMELY good movie. Anyone trying to understand today's affluent youth culture would do well to start here. It is true that the leads in this movie did not have to be Asians, but anyone who thinks this is a valid complaint should go visit a SoCal high school and check out the student population. Guess what you'll find? And while you're at it, could you please name a drama starring Asian people? Joy Luck Club? Okay, what else? Exactly.
I think it's also important to point out that MTV had no part in the creation of this movie. All they did was see the movie AFTER it had been made and agree to distribute it. Makes you wonder how valid most of these comments are when the writers don't even bother to read about the movie to understand it better.
I picked this film up on a whim, and I thought that I knew what it was going
to be about, but I was mistaken; I didn't expect the dark comedy/tragedy
that the film ended up being. However, this was not bad. I have watched
tons of films wherein at one point, you say to yourself, "Ok, this is just
not possible", and you want to think that it's not, because the characters
don't seem to deserve what you know what will happen to them. "Very bad
things" with Jon Favreau comes to mind, but "Better Luck Tomorrow" actually
connected me to the characters and made me really feel like I just wanted to
scream at them and say tell them not to go down the road they were
following! This is something that not many films can do ("Bad things"
This film is quite impressive, especially considering it was shot for a VERY shoestring budget, and had some great camera work and very solid editing. It did not in any way look like an amateur film, at all. I don't understand how this film has been branded "shallow"; it takes an original story and tells it in a convincing manner not characteristic of many films lately.
On one final note, all the acting is great, and I really don't care if anyone in it was thirty years old playing a seventeen year old, they were great performances and they had actual heart behind them.
If you have a chance, see this film, but be prepared to get a little more than what you thought you would.
4 Asian high school friends seem to have it all, good grades, a bright
future where colleges are going to be fighting over their applications and
the world is their oyster. But beneath the suburban undercurrent lies a
group of the most jaded Asian-American kids who get in over their head in
The film is narrated by Ben, a smart kid who is going about his usual run of the mill life. Eventually he is approached by Derrick a born class leader who finally mentions to him, Why are you being a second class benchwarmer on a basketball team?? When you can be your own man?
It turns out Derrick first starts asking Ben to write up cheat sheets for $50 bucks, and then with the enlistment of scrawny Virgil and his no nonsense cousin Han, the guys end up with a reputation that leads to bigger and riskier things...
The film has a great fresh style and pace to it, Justin Lin's direction is impecable. Slow motion edits, fast cuts, perfect timing with the soundtrack, good cinematography are all apparant and enjoyable and not to annoying as they sometimes can be when they are thrown at you constantly. What's probably the most telling thing about this movie is the focus on Asian-Americans in a not so seen light. All these kids have the world ahead of them, perfect grades, homes, money, but they are all dead inside and lacking direction. It doesn't help also that their parents in the film are nowhere to be seen, and no doubt non existent. All the trappings of success and great intelligence that the kids have is no match for there lack of faith and spiritual deadness which Better Luck Tomorrow shows off impecably!
Most important is the camradare these kids share and the wonderful casting that was chosen. Derick exhudes confidence and smarts like a crooked politician, Han is the cool guy doesn't say much looks like he can break your face with his intesnse stare, and Ben is the guy we follow through all his dillemas and trials with much anticipation and hope. But the best is saved for the scrawny Virgil played AMAZINGLY by Jason J Tobin.
He's the small kid who ends up a lot like the whipping post, and over compensates his rash bravado and toughness to hide his obvious weaknesses and extreme vulnerability. He is the guy you can't help smile and appreciate but also pray for knowing that he is in someway doomed cause of his lack of self esteem.
Rating 9 out of 10.
I saw this film at the Toronto film festival, and was completely
absorbed in it. It is both an intelligent observation of teenage culture and
a great achievement in style and cinematography Follows in the footsteps of
masterpieces like "Goodfellas" and "Menace to Society". Like them, this film
plunges us into the lifestyle of its characters, and unrelentingly attempts
to relate us to them. One wouldn't think that it is possible to be so
consumed by a world occupied by those quiet over-achievers we overlooked in
high school, but this film offers a darker, edgier vantage point that is so
involving we cannot look away.
What I enjoyed so much about this film is that its characters are intelligent, but their intelligence is constantly overwhelmed by hormones and social pressures typical of the American teenager. It begins as a story of four Asian-American high school students, all with promising futures and crystal clean records, who decide to enter a life of crime and violence. Their crimes are easy because their reputations as do-gooders make them inconspicuous. The film follows Ben, whose richly observant narration offers a voyeur type insight into their declining souls. We watch, with unblinking eyes as harmless vices transform into drugs and murder. Soon enough the lives of these characters collapse, rendering one a surviver of a botched suicide attempt, and another a paranoid killer. The brilliance of these characters is not simply an excuse for their crimes, but an added weight on their shoulders. Their intelligence breeds conflict; they are smart enough to know that their lives are being jeopardized, but logical enough to see that when the extra pennies are so easy to attain, the crime is to lose the opportunity.
The crown jewel of this film is Stephanie, strongly portrayed by beautiful Karin Anna Cheug, possibly the hottest new thing to hit Hollywood in years. Her character is strong, on par with the boys in terms of intellect and achievement, but her heart is gold. Mark my words, after the release of this film, this girl is going to be on the cover of every magazine in this country. Wonderful girl, Wonderful film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Let me start of by saying that it's very refreshing to see an American movie
starring Asian American actors. There simply isn't a enough of
Better Luck Tomorrow is another solid independent movie that is somewhat derailed or should I say lowered by the un conclusive ending. I think it was ironic that it was Ben committed such a violent act. I thought it would of been Virgil or Han. I'm not really sure that I bought into the fact that his character was capable of that as he hadn't shown any violent tendencies previously in the film. His character was pretty calm, and low key. Anyway, the film has very good acting performances from relative unknowns. I was enchanted with the actress that plays Stephanie. This was apparently her introducing role, and I think she has a bright future. The actor that played Ben was very good as well. In all, a very good film. I really liked the direction of Mr. Lin. He's one to watch. By far, the best movie that MTV films has been associated with.
Just came back from a screening of this movie in NYC. Being Chinese
American, I felt I could vicariously live through the characters' mishaps
and adventures. I think this film is a manifestation of some unconscious
fantasies I had during high school. Unfortunately, during high school I was
too busy trying to land a spot in the incoming class of an Ivy League to
think about power trips from petty crimes or even relieving the stress of
perfectionism. Being female also dramatically reduced my access to the
possibility for petty crimes and other risky experimentation. Chinese girls
are raise to be good, dutiful daughters, who in turn become their own slave
drivers feeding off of their need for perfectionism. Thanks to the
oppressive histories of East Asian cultures, Asian parents brook no
rebellion from girls. Girls are constantly taught that the slightest
transgression will bring harsh criticism. And, having already fallen out of
favor for not being born male, girls are dealt much harsher punishments than
boys for rebellious behavior. The patriarchal adage "boys will be boys"
resonates through Asian cultures with the accompanying implication that
"girls must also be girls". Unfortunately, "Better Luck Tomorrow" makes no
mention of the double standards imposed on Asian-American girls. It was
disappointing to see the sole female actress become a pawn in the brokering
of power between two high school boys.
The Asian girls in my high school who exhibited risky behavior were always sidelined by more daring male exploits. Essentially, female risky behavior amounted to wanton sex with men and occasional petty thievery. How little it differs from our non-Asian counterparts!
But if anything, at least this movie is not about kung fu fighting Chinese actors coupled with black or white male leads in movies like "Bulletproof Monk". Justin Lin's "Better Luck Tomorrow" aptly reminds the audience that Chow Young Fat, Jet Li, and Jacky Chan are not Asian-American men!
Criticisms aside, "Better Luck Tomorrow" is a clever film featuring some fine acting. The strengths and vulnerabilities of the Asian American boys are explored in a hitherto unprecedented way. Kudos to Jason Tobin for some fine acting!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*WARNING:POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD (ACTUALLY, DEFINITE SPOILERS, SO WATCH
I suppose the topic of race should be brought up first and foremost. Yes, the main characters are Asian American, but the movie itself is NOT about BEING Asian American. The issue of race is irrelevant in this film, and that's one of the points the director and the actors are trying to make: that Asians are the same as any other nationality. It seems to bother some people that the race of the movie's characters is inter-changeable, but that just proves how universal the message of this film is.
"Better Luck Tomorrow" follows the lives of 6 Asian American teens living in suburbia: Ben, the narrator, is the over-achieving nice guy pining after Stephanie, the cheerleader with a brain, who dates Steve, the prep school rich boy. Included are Ben's friends: Daric, the slimy yet slick mastermind; Virgil, the deeply insecure goof ball with a knack for screwing things up and a penchant for porn; and Han, the "muscle" who takes pleasure in kicking his cousin Virgil's ass despite caring about him at the same time, in a tough guy kind of way.
Each character has a bright future ahead of them in Ivy League colleges around the nation, yet they're unsatisfied with what life has to offer. That's when Daric introduces Ben, Virgil, and Han to the world of petty crimes. The foursome begin distributing copy sheets to the student body, making $50 a pop and acquiring more money than they know what to do with. Soon the group find themselve delving deeper into the crime business, ripping off computer parts from the school and dealing drugs. It's no surprise that they soon find themselve in over their head.
I don't want to dwell any longer on the plot, if you've seen it you know it and if you haven't, well obvously you haven't heeded my spoilers warning. After watching this film, the first thing that ran through my mind was, "What the f*** was that??" At first I didn't like it much to tell the truth, only becaust i didn't immediately understand its message, but as i replayed multiple scenes in my head I realized how good this movie actually was. I haven't seen such a realistic portrayal of high school life in a long time. In Ben, Daric, Virgil and Han I saw my own friends and people at my school: the pressure to succeed in school at any cost (for example, Ben's coccaine habit that gives him the stamina needed to finish copy sheets and the homework from each of his honors classes, which in fact is not completely unrealistic seeing as some top students at my school are known to dabble in drugs to keep up with they're hectic schedules), the desperation, the insecurity, the supression of emotions to the point of bursting irrationally and inexplicably, and the overall feeling of unsatisfaction with one's life despite the commendable academic acheivements meant only to impress colleges. Growing up in an environment similar to that portrayed in the film, I felt like i was watching my classmates up there on the screen. It disturbed me to no end.
I feel like this movie has so much to offer, despite some glaring pitfalls. I didn't think Ben's character was extremely effective. Perry Shen's acting consisted of looking around a lot and blinking innocently while making puppy dog eyes at Stephanie once in a while. I understood the fact that he didn't like Steve, but when he actually picked up that baseball bat and KILLED him, I was completely suprised. I don't know, my friends explained to me it was Ben's supression of so many different emotions the led to the sudden violent outburst, but I just didn't see it. Maybe I'm blind, I don't know. But that's the only thing that bothered me the most. But other supurbly executed scenes canceled my dislikes for the most part. The scene where Daric and Virgil finalize Steve's death by suffocating him with alchohol is truly chilling and emotionally wrenching; I actually covered my eyes for part of the time, it was that effective. I liked the ending, despite the creepiness of Ben interacting so normally with Stephanie after killing her boyfriend only moments before. It just mirrors the fact that real life isn't so neat and tidy, justice isn't always served, even if you or I don't like it. The moral ambiguity of the film exemplifies this; morality is subjective, and that's the bottom line.
As for the message of this film, there are so many different things you take away from it. Power corrupts; money corrupts; the moral condition of human nature; the power of guilt; etc. I also saw a general commentary on today's youth, how we throw ourselves into making our existance fit into a college resume, ignoring personal fulfillment in favor of getting that extra activity onto our resumes. It desensitizes you, makes you numb to experiencing life and finding who you really are. It sickens me what people will do to get even the slightest edge over another person for the sake of college or whatnot. People have forgotten what it means to fulfill they're own dreams before fulfilling the expectations of their parents and society, and they've overlooked the fact of how dangerous it can all end up to be.
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