The film follows a group of four Asian-American pals discontent with their affluent, sterile, suburban lives. Generally high-achieving and well-meaning, the friends--including Ivy League-bound Ben (Parry Shen), academic-decathlon team captain Daric (Roger Fan), wise-ass Virgil (Jason Tobin) and his cousin Han (Sung Kang)--commence their societal rebellion slowly enough, dabbling in cheatsheets and petty theft. Their moral descent gradually spirals out of control, escalating to an ending that, though certainly discomforting, is wholly in keeping with the subversive framework of "Better Luck Tomorrow."
Identity politics are almost impossible to remove from the few filmic representations of Asian Americans, and they are naturally a part of "Better Luck Tomorrow." Lin, however, is subtle and purposeful--rather than didactic--about his representation of what it means to be an American teenager who just happens to be of Asian descent. Forced to confront occasional stereotypes and racism? Yes. Feeling and behaving radically different than white counterparts, who get bored, reckless and face the pressures of impending adulthood? Absolutely not.
Though "Better Luck Tomorrow" is not a perfect film--think "Fight Club"-lite in terms of its disillusionment theme and pseudo-"Pulp Fiction" in its use of black humor and violent mishaps--solid performances by the cast and Lin's expressive storytelling techniques combine for an absorbing twist on this coming-of-age tale. Starring Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, Sung Kang, Roger Fan, John Cho and Karin Anna Cheung. Directed by Justin Lin. Written by Ernesto M. Foronda and Justin Lin. Produced by Julie Asato, Ernesto M. Foronda and Justin Lin. A Paramount Classics release. Crime drama. Rated R for violence, drug use, language and sexuality. Running time: 101 min