2002
Rated: R for nudity, graphic language, graphic violence, drug use, and racial slurs.
Genre: Drama
Directed By: Justin Lin
Running Time: 1:40
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 7/25/04
DVD Features:
Audio Commentary - 1. Justin Lin - Director, Ernesto M. Foronda & Fabian Marquez - Screenwriters
BETTER LUCK TOMORROW

 

Hollywood has no place for Asians, forget African Americans, forget Hispanics, Asian Americans are the ones who can't get any good roles in film or television. Asians have the ability to be great actors, it's just America doesn't want to give them a chance unless there's an action flick or a martial arts film they need to cast. "Better Luck tomorrow" proves that a film with a cast pre-dominantly comprised of Asian actors can be really good. It's sad that the only Asians that have gotten attention in the last year have been a goofy looking guy from "American Idol" who couldn't sing if his life depended on it, and it's sad that even though he's pretty famous, he's just taken as a joke for people to laugh at, he's a tool, not an individual.

"Better Luck Tomorrow" has the sentiment and heavy character depth of John Hughes combined with the violence, realism, and excellent dialogue of Quentin Tarantino, it reminds that though there is democracy in America, we haven't progressed socially, we're not willing to give Asian actors the lead role in a drama, or horror, only for action films.

There is no stereotypical Asian in this film, and that's what I loved about it. This film which was deemed the most controversial film of 2002 raising all sorts of arguments, debates, racial backlash, and protests from the Asian community about its negative portrayal of the Asian culture spawned a lot of talk, and was even defended by critic Roger Ebert whom was criticized himself for liking this.

This is not by any means a negative portrait of the Asian culture, this is more of a human portrait of the Asian culture because despite the race, we're human either way. Ben Manibag is a straight A student, employee of the month at his job, on the way to a full college education, and will likely become very successful, his friends Han (Sung Kang) and Virgil (Jason T. Tober) are also some of the smartest guys in his high school. They're all well adjusted, very smart kids who live in high class suburbia who know what they're going to become and know how to map out their future, but they're bored.

Having everything laid out in front of you with all sign posts pointing to where you're heading next in life is unsettling to them, and when Ben and his friend Virgil discover a dead body in a backyard, a plot device that all leads up to the shocking climax, we're taken back four months before. The view of his life is still there as we get a glimpse of Ben and his life with his friends. He's got his minimum wage job pegged out; he's been employee of the month for many months now and the customers are very happy with his service, he's getting straight A's all the time and is preparing to live a lush life in college, and to pass the time he
and his friends take merchandise from a store, hike up the price with tags, and return them getting back more money because, as Ben says "There's just nothing else to do", they lay around and watch television and try out for sports as the money piles up and engage in theft and vandal only because they're bored and because life isn't complicated.

So, after Ben is talked about in the school paper about he being the "token Asian" on his basketball team, he confronts the paper editor Daric Loo (Roger Fan) who makes him a proposition; they get into the life of dealing black market computer supplies, and eventually drug-dealing because there's nothing else to do, but they don't realize that even though they have everything, that's where their prison lies: they have everything they want, they know what will become of them, and they're hoping to break out of it and add mystery to their life.

As the character Steve says, it's a brutal cycle of happiness and inevitably you want it to end, which is dictated in his scheme to punish his parents leading to the climax, or what he says is a "wake up" call, or just an invite to misery to break the happiness he can't stop. Sound's stupid, but sometimes if life is too easy it's not fulfilling. So, eventually as they dominate the drug-dealing world and as the money piles up faster than they can spend it, they begin turning on one another, and soon everything goes down hill.

Ben has everything he wants except for Stephanie (Karan Ann Cheung), the hottest girl at his high school, she's the only thing he wants but can't get and won't get because she has a boyfriend named Steve, sort of a symbolic mirror reflection to Ben. He's a man who has everything he wants, he's in a good college, but Ben can't get Stephanie because Steve and he are too much alike.

There's just no pleasing races of all kinds, if you portray a race in a comedic tone it's offensive, portray a race in a serious or negative tone and it's offensive. While "Better Luck Tomorrow" is a great film, there's no reason why there should be backlash about it; it's daring, and it's bold (at risk of sounding cliché) and while it does border on offensive in some points, it dares to be just that and throws aside any inhibition. Justin Lin is an excellent director, and Ernesto M. Foronda and Fabian Marquez' script and story while familiar is often very engrossing.

We watch these characters go through a life of monotony and routine while they struggle to break free from it though there's no kidding with the audience and with them that they're doomed in their happiness and paradise. There's also not a doubt that the entire film is well acted comprised of a talented cast of young actors especially that of John Cho whose work
mostly consists of comedy including small roles in the "American Pie" films and in the short-lived sitcom "Off-Centre", is very convincing here and is one of the high points tackling the dramatic end with much success.

He's the equivalent of Ben's character and they're practically the same but he's constantly the obstacle Ben faces in his pursuit of Stephanie, Parry Shen is great as well as Ben the
unlikable and sometimes obnoxious main character whom we get to know throughout the film, a boy who is driven by so much boredom he engages in illegal activities just to ease it, he doesn't care about being caught by the police or going to jail because he so desperately seeks to put his perfect life to an end, that he welcomes obstacles with open arms.

The characters' parents are never seen, because within the luxury and wealth and happiness they're really just alone in the world, doomed, without a choice or option, to a life of monotony, routine, and countless mundane activities, and while the film does get bold and gets really violent by the climax, Justin Lin should be applauded for his willingness to make Asians human and break them from the stereotypes that Hollywood has instilled, and his utter balls for taking a recycled film concept and turning it into something fresh and original. The film is a rather realistic and engrossing eye opener, and makes me wish there were more films like this.

Original, innovative and edgy, Justin Lin succeeds in shocking audiences with a story that breaks the mold with a talented cast of Asian actors that show how much Hollywood is missing out on pure talent.

 

 

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