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Better Luck Tomorrow

I've Got the Brains.... Let's Make Lots of Money

Wrt. Justin Lin, Ernesto Foronda
Dir. Justin Lin
Str. Parry Shen, Jason J. Tobin, Sung Kang, Roger Fan

Better Luck Tomorrow is a thoughtful coming of age story centered on a message of social protest. Don't misunderstand here, the social protest and the comming-of-age are two distinct, unrelated things. Protest wise there is writer/director Justin Lin's complaint that Asian Americans are a completely marginalized piece of Americana. On-screen they are reserved to play the sidekicks, geeky bad guys, and ninja gurus of the cinematic world. Off-screen they are ignored completely. As he e.g'd at a recent press conference, when he walked into MTV studios (the music video-come-teenage marketing megalopolis is distributing Better Luck Tomorrow) he was shown a pie chart of the different racial demographics and it was explained how every single yes-man in the company felt that this movie would sell to their market perfectly. Curiously missing from the pie chart, he noticed, were the Asian Americans. The African Americans had a nice big chunk, the Latinos, and the Caucasians, but no Asians. When he mentioned this to his hosts, it was explained that the buying pattern of Asian American kids is exactly the same as that of Caucasian kids, so the one was just merged into the other.

Free Williamsburg
Film Archive


Cowboy Bebop
Better Luck Tomorrow
View From the Top

Laurel Canyon

Ordinary Sinner
Dark Blue
The Quiet American


Hell House
Good Housekeeping
Roger Dodger
Spirited Away
Punch-Drunk Love
Bowling For Columbine
Scarlet Diva
Full Frontal
Sex and Lucia
The Powerpuff Girls Movie
Read My Lips (Sur Mes Levres)
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Human Nature
Shot in the Heart
Jim Brown: All American
Stolen Summer
Ram Dass: Fierce Grace

There are more people of Asian decent in the world than any other ethnicity (that might not be true, but is sounds pretty good, doesn't it), they simply deserve their slice, Lin is saying (is that a pun, you ask? probably). And he's probably right. As Sundance last year, Better Luck Tomorrow got high marks for its bravery and originality. No one expected a movie like this to get distributed, since no one thought any one would touch it. Thank god MTV (creators of reality television and Joe's Apartment) will eat up anything with moderately young people and violence somehow intertwined.

But that's the social protest half of the film. The film itself isn't quite as brave as the message behind its existence. Much of the movie feels like an abstract Revenge of the Nerds. Imagine, if you will, that the nerds grew up and wanted to make a movie. Given the current state of American film it would obviously need to have drugs, crime, violence and money liberally peppered throughout. But instead of the protagonists being all edgy or bad-ass, they're totally brilliant, and they use their brains to fuel their lives of crime -- almost exactly like that Petshop Boys song, Opportunities-- except without the brawn... or the heavy gay undertones.

The nerds start small, of course, scheming Comp USA out of literally tens of dollars, and then they start to branch out and grow larger. Within what feels like a matter of weeks our main brainiac, Ben (Shen), transforms from a good little kid reciting SAT vocabulary to his fish and engaging in several over-wrought study montages to a fiending coke head with blood pouring out of his nose onto his nice clean sheets. Why, you ask, do they do all this? Cause they are bored and living in suburbia. What else are they gonna do? And that really is the justification for the entire movie.

Along the way towards the violent anti-climax there are tons of technical accidents and trips. Firstly the whole premise of Better Luck Tomorrow (sans the Asian American actors, and the fact that they're all honor students) is exactly the same as hundreds of other movies and because of that everything about it feels old and tired. The music doesn't fit with the scenes most times; you have to wonder if MTV didn't just throw some indie wannabees onto the soundtrack to make it all seem hipper. The writing is atrocious and pulls all of the other problems into clearly into the forefront. While Lin's direction and the temperamental acting save some of the scenes, for the most part everything just falls flat.

The Ratings

Two Monkeys Chained To Typewriters

It's the writing that really kills the movie. Lin and Foronda couple far too much drama and poignant symbolism with a host of clichés and horrific, shoddy dialogue.

Four Calls For Botox

None of these "seventeen-year-olds" looks a day under 22. Usually I can suspend my disbelief a little, but the age thing kept bugging me through the whole movie. Maybe if they were cuter... I don't know. Whatever it was I guarantee that a healthy shot of Botox Cosmetic* would have fixed this movie right up!

One Stupid Name

Better Luck Tomorrow? Sorry, but I still don't get it. Were they going to call it Better Luck Next Time, but thought that was too clichéd? And if so, what the hell do they mean by that? From the look of it, 'today' wasn't all that crappy for these kids, I mean sure, there's a dead body in someone's back yard, but aside from that they're smart and rich.

Two Hipsters Yearning For a More Diverse Future

The message is stronger than the movie, not hard since the movie is pretty weak. There are some beautiful moments of directorial achievement by Lin, and the acting hovers around par. While it's true that you get a raw, truthful glimpse into the ennui world of the Hollywood suburbs, you are forced to wonder why you bothered looking in the first place.

*this review and its reviewer are brought to you by a grant from the Botox Corporation

--B.C. Edwards
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[email protected] | April 2003 | Issue 37
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