Better Luck Tomorrow

on April 11, 2003 by Francesca Dinglasan
After making waves at last year's Sundance Film Festival, the debut bigscreen effort of UCLA School of Film alum Justin Lin would appear to have found an appropriate distributor in MTV Films, a company that caters to a youth audience with a taste for onscreen high-school antics accompanied by a fast and furious soundtrack. That said, "Better Luck Tomorrow" proves itself superior to the recent flock of teen films with which it is likely to be categorized, skillfully incorporating the vanishing art of irony, whose demise has been especially rampant among movies dealing with the trials and tribulations of Gen-Y.

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

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